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Springboard Blog

Meet Sami, one of the Youth Initiatives' Lewis Summer Interns!

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Hi everyone! My name is Sami Simon, and I am so excited to be joining the Youth Initiatives team as a Lewis Summer Intern.

To introduce myself, I am an incoming junior at the University of Iowa. I grew up in Buffalo Grove, IL and I have lived there my whole life. From a young age, I began my Jewish journey by attending Hebrew school for many years where I prepared for my Bat Mitzvah. After my Bat Mitzvah, I went on the 8th grade Chicagoland teen trip to Israel, otherwise known as IsraelNow. My short time in Israel quickly impacted my Jewish Identity. In high school, I began participating in youth groups like BBYO and NCSY which helped me create lifelong friendships and connections. My senior year I served as the president of my NCSY chapter, a very rewarding leadership role, after spending 2 more summers in Israel. On top of that, I took advantage of the opportunities that I found through Springboard, and I went on 3 different school break trips to New York City, Tampa, and Los Angeles. These once in a lifetime experiences have helped me feel extremely connected to my Jewish roots and values.

After high school, I knew that I wanted to stay connected to the Jewish community throughout college. Before beginning college, I was extremely nervous about finding my place because of the relatively small Jewish population in Iowa, which was something that I was not used too. Sure enough, I found the Hillel on campus which basically serves as my second home. I have loved connecting with the amazing staff, and other students, who have made my experience and truly gave me a sense of belonging. I have continued to increase my participation with Hillel by going to programs, weekly Shabbat meals, serving on the student board, holding a position as an ambassador for Iowa Hillel, and much more.

Growing up, I wish I knew that there is a place in Judaism for everyone. There is not just one way to “be Jewish” and that is the beauty of it. As a Lewis Summer Intern, I am hoping to share this message and help others find their path on their Jewish journey. I want to continue to build my connection to Judaism as well as the Jewish community who makes all this possible.

Sami Simon

About the Author: Sami Simon is a junior at the University of Iowa where she majors in Education Studies and Human Relations. 

Meet the Springboard Lewis Summer Intern, Staci!

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Hello everyone! My name is Staci Babich, and I am so excited to be a Lewis Summer Intern and to be joining the Springboard team! 

A little bit about me is I am from Glenview and am highly active in Hillel at Bradley University.  At Bradley, I am a rising senior, and this will be my third-year interning.  Last year, I was an engagement intern, and it gave me the opportunity to meet and engage with a wide variety of students at Bradley. I loved being able to do this and learn a little bit about everyone. My journey throughout college at times was a little rocky, but Hillel was always there for me and helped me to become the person I am today. There my connection with Judaism grew, and I also met my best friend. 

Fridays at Hillel were one of my favorite places to celebrate Shabbat last year. Not only is there great food, but during services there was a time when I had a smile on my face. I found a sense of community and trust. There, I was able to freely express myself to the fullest. I did not have to hide who I was and was not worried about being judged. The connections I have made with the people here are ones that will last a lifetime and I cannot be more grateful. The future for me may be unknown, but the possibilities and memories to be made are endless! 

Through the Lewis Summer Internship I hope to grow my identity and connect with some of my Jewish roots!  One of my goals this summer is to explore what Judaism means to me and how being Jewish has given me numerous opportunities for me to discover who I am.

Staci Babich

About the Author: Staci Babich is a senior at Bradley University studying psychology with minors in ethics and advertisement/public relations. I intend on graduating this upcoming December and can’t wait to start the next chapter of my life, whatever that may be!  


Introducing Yael Handelman, a Springboard Peer Ambassador

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About the prompt: We asked each Peer Ambassador to share with us a pivotal moment in their Jewish journey, what being a Peer Ambassador means to them personally, and what value speaks to them.

Check out Yael's blog post below as she shares how her Jewish community inspired her to be a Peer Ambassador this year.

I’ve grown up my whole life in the nurturing Jewish community. Whether that be Shabbat at Anshe Emet, middle school at Chicago Jewish Day School, or summer camp at Habonim Dror Camp Tavor, the Jewish community has brought so much joy and meaning to my life. I remember my first day of camp Tavor meeting the kids and playing ice breakers such as bang, not knowing that these friendships would stick with me forever.

I wanted to be a Peer Ambassador so I could connect teens to the Jewish community and allow it to be a positive influence in their lives the way it has been in mine. I have met many of my closest friends through Jewish outlets such as camp, shul, USY, and Jewish day school. I look forward to helping teens build their own connections to other teens and the Jewish community. As a Springboard Peer Ambassador, I will have the opportunity to plan creative programming for my peers and bring the Jewish traditions I love to a larger audience. I’m so excited for this year and the chance to be a Springboard Peer Ambassador and I hope to help build enthusiasm within my peers for Jewish values and traditions. 

Yael Handelman

About the Author: Yael is a graduating senior at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School and an active member at Anshe Emet Synagogue. She is going to the University of Minnesota in the fall. She loves spending her time at gymnastics and also serves as her school's varsity volleyball team captain. Yael is excited to take on responsibility as a Springboard Peer Ambassador because of the amazing and creative opportunities it gives teens to connect to the Jewish community.

Shavuot Learning from Avital Strauss

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The festival of Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and encourages people to be inspired by the wisdom Jewish tradition has to offer. One fun tradition is to learn with friends! We are excited to share our own Shavuot learning experience featuring interpretations of Torah written by students at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School (RZJHS).

Check out Avital Strauss's D'var Torah to learn how a cross country biking trip parallels the holiday of Sukkot through its story and values.

Cyclists

This summer, I biked 2,679 miles across America, and in doing so, I embodied the core values of Sukkot. Many of the quintessential aspects of my trip were remarkably similar to those of the story on which Sukkot is based, in which the Israelites wandered through the desert before reaching Eretz Yisrael. The Israelites roamed the desert for 40 years; I biked across America in 40 days. The Israelites traveled as 12 tribes; we traveled as 12 kids. The Israelites’ ultimate goal was to reach the promised land of Eretz Yisrael; our ultimate goal was to reach the promised land of San Diego. The Israelites wandered in the desert, or bamidbar; we wandered through the Walmart midbar in Paris, Texas. Our magical sustenance was not manna but rather gatorade and protein bars. Instead of shaking the lulav and etrog in our temporary homes, we shook our bikes before we left camp every morning to check that our gear was properly strapped onto our bikes so it wouldn’t fall off while we were riding. Our Moses looked a bit different from the hero in the Bible; even though she was only 5 feet tall, 22 years old, and lacked a distinctive beard, she was as tenacious as our Biblical leader.

On Sukkot, we recall the Israelites’ 40 years in the wilderness after escaping slavery in Egypt and before finding refuge in the Land of Israel. The Sukkah is emblematic of the temporary homes which provided shelter for the Israelites during their time traveling in the desert. And so, Sukkot is a holiday deeply connected to nature. It forces us to attend to the majesty of the world that surrounds us. In Biblical times, the Israelites' lives were defined by their direct experience with the natural world. In the age of social media, Sukkot encourages us to remove ourselves from our technology-centered lives and reconnect with the world and people around us. On my trip this summer, we did not have access to our phones for six weeks. This rule was a true blessing to me and my friends; it forced us to be present and not hide behind our phones. After riding more than 100 miles in one day, it would have been so easy for us to sit and scroll through Instagram. Instead, we channelled our exhaustion into productivity and made meaning out of our time together. After our rides, we would play cards, shoot hoops, swim in lakes, and go on walks, doing whatever we could to deepen our bonds. When we stopped on the side of the road, we didn’t pull out our phones to text friends back home; instead, we appreciated the glory of nature that surrounded us and explored the wilderness. The absence of technology forced us to be one with each other and one with nature, and that idea of stepping back from our technology-filled lives to appreciate the people and beauty that surround us is at the core of Sukkot.  

The natural world is unpredictable, and while technology helps us transcend the helplessness we feel when exposed to natural elements, Sukkot forces us to confront human vulnerabilities. In today’s world, we are so used to having control over our environment. When it gets hot, we can easily turn on our air conditioning to reach equilibrium once again. That is not so easy to do in a Sukkah. Likewise, I didn’t always have that option this summer; I couldn’t turn on the air conditioning when it was 125 degrees outside, and I was sleeping in the chapel of a tiny church in Brawley, California. There was nothing to protect me when I was biking in 105 degree weather on a relentless, 20 mile uphill stretch. On Sukkot we pray for rain, but on this trip we prayed for it not to rain, as I had no windows to close to hide in the shelter of my home when it was thunderstorming, and I was biking 25 miles per hour to out-race the threatening storm. Within the sukkah, we are similarly exposed to natural elements, living in a temporary shelter with a missing wall and a roof that can be easily permeated by rain, cold, or heat. 

On Sukkot, we emulate the Israelites' time bamidbar. The term “bamidbar” is often directly translated to “in the desert,” but I like to think of it as the wilderness beyond the borders of society. By this definition, we can experience the freedom of spirit and connection to nature that the Israelites knew not only in the desert. The scenery of our escape is irrelevant; what matters is the act of leaving the comforts of society and our modern lives and entering an entirely new world with rules determined by the laws or whims of nature. I think that the act of shaking the lulav, hadas, arava, and etrog in the Sukkah supports my understanding of “bamidbar” as beyond the borders of society. These species are there to remind us of the beauty of Israel’s harvest and are symbolic of the Earth’s primary habitats: the desert, mountains, lowland, and river, all of which can be found in Eretz Yisrael. The diversity in landscape that we celebrate by shaking the lulav on Sukkot can certainly be found in America, as well, as I learned this summer. Each state has a unique landscape. While Texas is known for its dusty plains, in Georgia you will find rolling hills and farmland, and New Mexico is filled with seemingly endless mountains. 

The exposure to nature bamidbar can elicit much joy, especially when coupled with a willingness to be vulnerable. Sukkot, a holiday during which we are expected to be joyful, closely follows Yom Kippur, the most solemn day of the year, during which we atone for our sins. Known as zeman simchateinu, the season of joy, during Sukkot, we are asked to embrace the delight of the holiday, which can be difficult to do after the emotional exposure we experienced on Yom Kippur. But, our joy can be understood to be a natural follow-up to Yom Kippur. After atoning for our sins, we look ahead and recognize that we will be able to continue experiencing the wonders of the world and that we have the privilege of being our authentic selves. Because we are able to be vulnerable, Sukkot becomes a holiday filled with happiness. Our relationship with God, ourselves, and our community is enriched because we looked inward on Yom Kippur. Likewise, the vulnerability experienced by celebrating Sukkot or embarking on a cross-country bike trip can bring forth true, all-encompassing joy. This summer, I found true bliss when I was exposed to the natural world. My heart swelled when I saw a vivid, pink sunset, a distant view of a rocky mountain, or a scarlet, fluted cactus. I was happy because I felt I was my authentic self.

Avital Strauss and friends

We also derive joy on Sukkot from the practice of Ushpizin, a ritual in which we welcome guests into our Sukkah. The medieval sage, Moses Maimonides, otherwise known as the Rambam, once remarked, “when one eats and drinks, one must also feed the stranger, the orphan, the widow and other unfortunate paupers. But one who locks the doors of his courtyard, and eats and drinks with his children and wife but does not feed the poor and the embittered soul—this is not the joy of a mitzvah, but the joy of his belly . . .” (Mishneh Torah, Laws of the Festivals 6:18). By sharing our joy, we can together practice the unity and emphasis on community that is essential to celebrating Sukkot. Though I am used to welcoming others into my home, this summer, I was the beneficiary of this custom, albeit not from other Jewish families, but from the strangers affiliated with the churches and community centers that hosted our group of cross-country bikers. Local families would often cook dinner for us and ensure that we were well-taken care of as we rested after a long day of riding. One morning in Springerville, Arizona, I was reminded of the importance of being kind to and hosting strangers. Generally on this trip, we woke up around 3am, and on this particular morning in Springerville, we awoke in a local church. The wife of the church pastor had spent the night at the church, and she, too, woke up at 3am - just so she could put out some food for us to eat for breakfast. This simple act of hospitality has stayed with me for months, and in the spirit of Sukkot, I was reminded that our community is strongest when we open our homes and hearts to Ushpizin.

In the Sukkot story, the Talmud recalls the emergence of an unlikely hero upon the Israelites' arrival at the edge of the Red Sea. The tribes are all debating who will enter the sea first, each too scared to be the first and potentially drown in the sea. Nachshon ben Aminadav jumps into the sea, unsure of whether or not he will survive, but sure that he must take the risk or else return to Egypt. The sea parts and Nachshon makes way for the rest of the Israelites, and as we all know, they make it safely to the other side. Nachshon takes a scrutinized leap of faith; knowing that he can no longer be limited by the oppression in Egypt and he must step up as a leader for his people, he considers his options and chooses to jump towards a new future for himself and embrace the opportunities that await him on the other side of the Red Sea. Nachshon teaches us that you must trust what is beyond you, be open to new opportunities and change, and be willing to make that jump. This summer, I took a leap of faith. I considered my circumstances and chose to take a risk. I chose to trust myself and be secure that I would be okay. I would be okay because I had faith and worked hard, and I would make my dreams come true. 

As we experience Sukkot this week, we have the privilege of welcoming others into our Sukkah but also of being exposed to the elements. I encourage each and every one of us to take that leap and embrace this opportunity. Try to appreciate the nature that surrounds you and derive joy from it. Have faith that you will be okay. Who knows -- it may just result in you biking across the country! 

Shabbat shalom, and chag sameach.

Avital Strauss

About the Author: Avital Strauss is a recent graduate of Rochelle Zell Jewish High School. She loves to engage with her school community through various activities such as being President of the Rochelle Zell Feminism Club, Mental Health and Wellness Club, and 8-time international champion Model United Nations team. She has a deep passion for advocating for social justice and being involved in local politics, which she has done through working on various political campaigns. Avital is deeply connected to her Jewish and Israel identity, having attended Jewish school her entire life and being one of JUF’s 18 Under 18 and the Midwest Regional Honoree of StandWithUs’ Leventhal High School Internship. An avid cyclist, skier, and hiker, she enjoys spending time in the outdoors. Avital will be taking a gap year in Bolivia, Peru, South Africa, and Israel before heading to Brown University next fall. 



Shavuot Learning from Annie Winick

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The festival of Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai and encourages people to be inspired by the wisdom Jewish tradition has to offer. One fun tradition is to learn with friends! We are excited to share our own Shavuot learning experience featuring interpretations of Torah written by students at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School (RZJHS).

Check out Annie Winick's D'var Torah to learn how RZJHS teaches the values of nivra b'tzelem elohim and chesed, which builds community and helps students come together to support one another during difficult times. 

When one of us hurts, we all hurt, and when one is celebrating, we celebrate together.

When I was in eighth grade, I started to experience an interconnected and caring community through my sisters, who were students at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School. We learned that my sister's best friend's mom had become sick. Her cancer, which had been in remission, came back, and we all came together to help the family. Abby's mom, Andrea, planted a garden every spring, but when her illness came back, she struggled to keep the garden. Good friends took on the responsibility of planting and then tending the garden for her during this difficult time.

Knowing how important the garden was to her, our community donated plants to the garden. We, as a community, would help the family travel to and from hospitals, come together in prayer, invite them to our houses for Shabbat and high holidays, and organize meal trains, so they had home-cooked meals that Andrea was no longer able to prepare. We, as a community, prioritized doing all we could to make the rest of her life enjoyable and relaxing.

After she tragically passed away, RZ provided a bus to the funeral, and everyone came together to grieve. The garden remains in their backyard and blooms again every spring.

Before I started at RZ, I observed the tight-knit community as more of an outsider, but I didn't think much of it and had yet to experience it fully. In my eighth-grade year and my years as a 9th and 10th grader, I assumed that everyone has communities that surround and support them in times of need.

Now I realize that our supportive and nurturing community extends from our Jewish roots.

Through our discussions in my junior Talmud class, I have begun to recognize what a unique environment RZ creates for everyone, based on the foundation the Talmud provides. The capacity to grow, love, learn and help. Nivra B'Tzelem Elohim and Chesed are key foundations for a Jewish life. Nivra B'Tzelem Elohim translates to "we are all made in the image of God" and therefore have infinite value. This concept presents itself in Genesis, from the story of creation, which shows how important it is in Jewish life. Nivra B'Tzelem Elohim describes how we should treat everyone with respect since we are all connected to God. The value of this concept is shown in the Mishna as it describes when one life is destroyed, all lineage of that person will be erased. Sanhedrin 4:5 goes so far as to say that, "anyone who sustains one soul, the verse ascribes him credit as if he sustained an entire world" (Sanhedrin 4:5). Nivra B'Tzelem Elohim also explains how we are all interconnected, as we all contain a likeness of God within us. As Abby's mom became ill, she was suffering; but it impacted the whole family. When our community supported her, we supported the whole family. When we recognize the value of someone and then see them struggling, our immediate response should be to help and restore their sense of value through acts of chesed. Rabbi Shai Held articulates, "We are asked to become like God by being creatures of chesed, of love manifested as kindness. Even more profoundly, we are asked to transform our suffering into love — to love the stranger, because, after all, we 'know the feelings of the stranger.'" (Rabbi Shai Held, "Daring to Dream"). Once we understand that every human being is infinitely valuable, it compels us to treat others with chesed. We are compassionate and filled with the capacity to love and help. When we recognize each other's struggles, we feel obligated to support one another.

I have come to understand why the environment and community at our school is so special and isn't an accident, as we recognize that we are all made in the image of God and thus understand the worth of every person. Through these insights, Jewish people grow from a young age, embedded with this reason. The core of our key Jewish concepts – the idea that every person is worthy and valued — remains the structure that our community is built around.

Our beliefs drive our actions. Understanding this foundation continues to impact my perspective of our school community. At RZ, students constantly discuss our school's connection with everyone's family and how we all come together in times of need. My realization in my Talmud class is that our community's care should not be expected and is not normal but continues because of our shared values of Nivra B'Tzelem Elohim and chesed. 

Going through these tough times with a community connects us. The community's help did not stop after providing a meal for the family or attending shiva; rather, this support created lasting connections. These relationships now look like having coffee with members of the family, calling them on the phone, or having them at our high holiday meals. Our Jewish values compel us to reach out and support one another during hard times, which creates this meaningful and irreplaceable bond.

Recently, we have seen this connection on a global scale. Through the acts of violence perpetrated upon the people of Ukraine, JUF works to help and deliver aid halfway across the world. Our community cares for strangers as well, as emergency efforts are being deployed to assist the Ukrainian community. Even though we don't know the Ukrainians halfway across the world, we can see them suffering and thus feel the duty to assist them, no matter how far removed they may seem.

Realizing how our shared values affect our community shifted my perspective this year. I now see these core values everywhere at our school. Friends here do not hesitate to ask for support because we all know that we are all infinitely valuable. I help my peers understand physics concepts because I recognize that they have infinite value. My teachers devote their entire lunch period to help ensure that I thrive in class because they recognize mine, and every student's, infinite value. Although many of us may think this type of community is "normal" because it is what we are used to, it is important to remember how special our environment at RZ is and the foundation for it. I will continue to use the ideas of Nivra B'Tzelem Elohim and Chesed in my Jewish life to help guide me in treating other people and creating a strong community.

Annie Winick

About the Author: Annie Winick is a rising senior at RZJHS in Deerfield. She belongs to North Suburban Synagogue Beth El in Highland Park. Annie is active in her Jewish community. For two years, she served as a member of RZJHS’s social justice club, DEAP, which stands for Direct Service, Education, Advocacy, and Philanthropy. She will serve as president next year. Annie loves food, exemplified by her presidency of Holla for Challah, a school club that facilitates challah baking for the whole school before Shabbat on Fridays. She also loves to play tennis and is looking forward to being RZ girl’s tennis team captain next year. She likes to hang out with friends and walk her dogs, Scout, and Jem, in her free time.

Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago Highlights

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The Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) is a teen board made up of members of various Chicago based Jewish youth groups and youth organizations. JTAC members are responsible for representing their youth groups on the board, gathering information about happenings in the Chicagoland Jewish youth community and sharing updates with their organizations.

 During JTAC's final meeting, they created a video highlighting their favorite memory from being a part of their organization this year. If you are interested in learning more about JTAC and how you can get involved email JessicaBank@juf.org.

We hope you enjoy learning all about these teen's amazing experiences!

My Jewish Journey: Introducing Zoe Klein, a Springboard Peer Ambassador

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About the prompt: We asked each Peer Ambassador to share with us a pivotal moment in their Jewish journey, what being a Peer Ambassador means to them personally, and what value speaks to them. Stay tuned over the next month to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Zoe's blog post below as she shares about how her Jewish journey impacted her identity and connection to her Jewish community.

I have been going to school at my synagogue since kindergarten. Every year I would learn about Jewish values and go to services, learning Hebrew along the way in preparation for my Bat Mitzvah. However, I was never quite sure if I fit into the Jewish community. I enjoyed having discussions with other members of my grade and our teacher, but I didn’t feel the same sense of connection that I do now. 

I went through those first few years not really attaching much meaning to my Judaism, but then my friend asked me to come to OSRUI summer camp with her the summer before 5th grade. I was nervous, the idea of spending 2 weeks away was not very appealing to my 9 year old self, but I decided to go. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The first moment I stepped into camp, I felt a new connection blossoming. I spent those two weeks making so many Jewish friends: celebrating Shabbat together, doing activities together, and exchanging addresses so we could stay in contact after the session was over.

Zoe Klein in Group

From that moment on, I did everything I could to replicate that community that I had at camp. I went to OSRUI for the next 4 years, looking forward to the next summer the second I went home. Once I went to high school I joined my temple youth group, Oak Park Temple Youth (OPTY), which introduced me to NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement. I went to NFTY  events where I was introduced to Springboard and the JUF as a whole. I went on Springboard trips where I met mentors and friends who introduced me to the JCC Jewish Student Connection chapter at my high school.

I have had a whole web of activities and experiences, all connecting me back to one of the most important parts of my identity. I am now a leader at Oak Park Temple and have a strong connection to my Jewish community and identity. As I am finishing up my year as a Peer Ambassador and getting ready to graduate, I am most proud of my work connecting with my community, especially my younger peers. 

Zoe Klein

About the Author: Zoe is currently a graduating senior at Oak Park River High School and belongs to Oak Park Temple. She is very active in the Jewish community and loves trying new programs and meeting new people! She also loves hanging out with her friends, eating burritos, and talking about Harry Styles. She will be a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison next fall! 

Why I Love Write On for Israel, by Norah Kopolow

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Write On for Israel is an intensive yearlong fellowship that empowers students to make a tangible impact on their future college campuses and beyond. The Write On fellowship includes immersive travel to Washington, DC, and Israel, where they turn their passion into effective leadership. This fellowship brings in experts in history, current events, politics, and campus affairs to provide students with the skills and knowledge necessary to articulate their own perspectives about Israel. Fellows gain critical thinking, historical fluency, and strategic communication skills; doing so empowers them to move forward well equipped to master college classes, campus life, and challenges well beyond. Write On for Israel is for juniors and seniors and is a one-year cohort.; Learn more and apply at JUF.org/WriteOn.

Write On for Israel 1

Write On for Israel (WOFI) has been an intense yet rewarding program that has equipped me with numerous valuable skills. During monthly meetings, my peers and I learn about current events in Israel and in our own backyards. We take situations from the Government in Israel to Universities around the United States and are informed and educated about them. We analyze these situations and even come up with our own solutions and possible plans of action for them. We learn how to effectively communicate with adults and those in positions of power to successfully advocate for our views regarding Israel.

Write On for Israel 2

Throughout the program, my peers and I are able to learn and grow together as we acquire our new skills. We are given opportunities to work in groups together, and experience peer review to grow together. A unique aspect to WOFI that cannot really be found elsewhere is getting a close look at the parallel histories between Israel and Palestine. We are able to learn each side to large events in history, all the way from the Balfour Declaration to the First Intifada we are given a well-rounded view on Israel. WOFI is also a safe space for my peers and I to freely share our opinions without being judged. During discussions, we are able to build off of what we share with each other to form our own views and we learn how to respect the views of others.

Write On for Israel 3

In the spring, we have the amazing opportunity to lobby members of Congress, and later in June, we travel to Israel for meetings with a wide range of people, from authors to Knesset members. From in-depth looks into the history of Israel to learning about current challenges on college campuses, WOFI has provided me with what I need to successfully contribute to campus discussions and general interactions with my peers regarding Israel.

Norah Kopolow

About the Author: Norah Kopolow is a junior at Champaign Central High School in Champaign, Illinois. She enjoys participating in band and other extra curricular activities such as Girls Who Code and Model UN. She attends Sinai Temple where she is a Madricha for Kindergarten and Pre-K, and helps teach Hebrew to elementary aged kids. 

How My Bar Mitzvah Shaped My Jewish Journey: Introducing Zachary Seaver, a Springboard Peer Ambassador

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About the prompt: We asked each Peer Ambassador to share with us a pivotal moment in their Jewish journey, what being a Peer Ambassador means to them personally, and what value speaks to them. Stay tuned over the next month to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Zachary's blog post below as he shares about his Bar Mitzvah, which was a pivotal moment in his Jewish journey.

Zachary's Bar Mitzvah

On August 30, 2019, I had my בר מצווה (Bar Mitzvah) at Congregation Or Shalom in Vernon Hills, Illinois. This was the day that I had been preparing for for over a year and had been dreaming about since my Jewish education began. My Torah portion was Re’Eh, which ironically is my older brother’s Hebrew middle name and the Torah portion we have framed on the wall in my house. This portion was about the process of decision making and how doing certain things can lead you down different paths in life. For my Bar Mitzvah, I decided to partner with Guitars over Guns, a non-profit organization that offers students from the most vulnerable communities a powerful combination of music education and mentorship with professional musicians to help them overcome hardship, find their voice and reach their potential as tomorrow’s leaders. 

Zachary with Guitars

My Bar Mitzvah party was themed around music and guitars, as that was and still is one of my biggest passions. Another theme that was mentioned more in my actual Bar Mitzvah service was equality and how I believe that everyone should be given the same, equal opportunities to be successful and have a good, happy life. In my D’Var Torah, I talked about this with my congregation and friends as it is something I firmly believe in. I also mentioned why I chose to partner with Guitars over Guns, and so much more. All in all, this experience is one of the most important ones to me that has definitely helped in a major way to shape the person I am today.

Zachary Seaver

About the Author: Zachary is a sophomore at Vernon Hills High School, who is a member of Congregation Or Shalom. He’s passionate about basketball, singing, playing guitar and more. He has been involved with NFTY and other Jewish programs for quite a while. As Peer Ambassador, he is excited to make new friends and help create fun events for people to meet each other. Zachary has also been a camper at OSRUI for 7 years now and has become very involved with his Judaism.

My Jewish Journey: Introducing Gaby Olbur, a Springboard Peer Ambassador

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About the prompt: We asked each Peer Ambassador to share with us a pivotal moment in their Jewish journey, what being a Peer Ambassador means to them personally, and what value speaks to them. Stay tuned over the next month to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Gaby's blog post below as she shares how NFTY shaped her Jewish journey in middle school and why she values curiosity as Peer Ambassador. Plus, Gaby shares her favorite recipe for "matzah crack". 

While attending Thomas Middle School, I learned about a program called NFTY from my brother, who was greatly involved in the program. NFTY is a youth group of teens grades 6-12th who come together as a community with special events and programs for those who are involved. I went to all the overnight retreats and met some amazing people! This program opened my eyes to the amazing Jewish community because people from all around the midwest were able to attend the overnighters at a jewish overnight camp called OSRUI. I got to bond with some of the best people ever and make jokes and spend 48+ hours together, going to water parks eating icees after shabbat dinner, eating donuts on Saturday mornings, and lighting the candles Saturday night before going back to the cabins and having the college kids tell you all about their lives.

Swimmers

Being a Peer Ambassador means that I get to be a leader and I love being a leader. This year I am looking forward to the 18 Under 18 celebration! I went last year to the drive-in and it was a fun experience. I would recommend going even if you don’t know any of the 18 Under 18 nominees.

One important value I follow is curiosity. Curiosity speaks to me the most because I am curious about the different Jewish events that I can be involved in and to meet new people. I want to meet new people and learn about what they like to do! I am curious about the future and what it holds for me in the jewish community! 

I wanted to share a recipe that I personally love to make on Passover and I know that everyone loves this recipe. I love this because ever since I was little I had made it and it’s one of my first memories of wanting to become a cook when I was older. It is called matzah crack! First you gather the matzah, chocolate, butter, and brown sugar. Next you heat the butter and brown sugar in a large saucepan on medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Once it boils, continue stirring for five minutes. Then you remove it from the heat. Next pour the toffee mixture over the top of the matzah and spread it evenly until it completely covers all the matzah. Put the baking sheet in the oven for 10 minutes until the top of the toffee is bubbling a darker brown. After taking the baking sheet out of the oven, sprinkle the chocolate on the hot toffee and spread it evenly across all of the toffee and matzah. After that if you want to add sea salt or any other toppings you can. Cool in the freezer or fridge until chocolate hardens, then serve! 

Gaby Olbur

About the Author: Gaby is a sophomore at Buffalo Grove High school. She enjoys swimming and water polo and hanging out with her friends. She works as a babysitter and is getting certified to become a lifeguard. She goes to BJBE in Deerfield. 

Introducing Caitlyn Altenberg, A Springboard Peer Ambassador

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About the prompt: We asked each Peer Ambassador to share with us a pivotal moment in their Jewish journey, what being a Peer Ambassador means to them personally, and what value speaks to them. Stay tuned over the next month to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Caitlyn's blog post below to read how her Jewish journey at Jewish Day School and Camp Chi have inspired her to become a Peer Ambassador in the community.

I attended Jewish Day School from nursery years up until 8th grade. Because of the friendships I made and teachers I met, I gained an amazing Jewish education that has served me well in life. In 8th grade I attended an Israel trip that allowed me to grow as a person and experience a whole new culture and life living as a jew. Not only was attending Hebrew school and an Israel trip an experience of a lifetime, I also attended a Jewish overnight camp, Camp Chi in Lake Delton Wisconsin, that allowed me to create bonds I never knew I needed. Going to camp strengthened my Jewish identity and gave me the confidence to participate in Jewish life to the fullest. For a few years now I have been a part of USY, which has made being in a Jewish community very important to me especially because I now attend a non-Jewish High School. 

Caitlyn Altenberg Image

Being a Peer Ambassador is an exciting adventure for my Jewish identity because I want to share and create programs that will get people excited about Judaism just as much as my friends and I are. I am so thankful that I was exposed to a bunch of amazing programs because not only do I want to get more involved but I also want to help other people become more involved in this big step in one's Jewish Identity. I would like to stay involved and become a leader in the Jewish community as I get older and I think that being a Peer Ambassador will give me the skills and experience to make that happen.

Caitlyn Altenberg

About the Author: Caitlyn is a Junior at Stevenson High School, where she participates in her school softball team and active leadership roles in her community. She enjoys playing softball and hanging out with friends. Through her love of overnight camp and counselor experience she has grown to strive for a higher grasp as a leader and become closer with her Jewish community. Caitlyn loves how flexible and rewarding the Peer Ambassador program is and she is very excited to start this adventure with everyone.

Hate Has No Home Here: Ilana Argentar's Speech at the United Against Antisemitism Rally

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Ilana Argentar, a current sophomore at Buffalo Grove High School and a Diller Teen Fellow was selected to speak at the United Against Antisemitism Rally on Sunday, April 24th 2022 in Glenview. The rally was connected to the Resolution Against the Rise in Anti-Semitic Hate and in Support of Cook County’s Jewish Population, which was unanimously passed on April 7th, 2022 by Cook County Commissioner Scott Britton.

Hi. My name is Ilana Argentar and I am a sophomore at Buffalo Grove High School. 

Thank you to the Commissioner and to all of you for being here today and standing up against hate. This is something I personally feel passionate about. 

My great grandparents faced unthinkable hate and antisemetism including pogrums and the Holocaust in the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s. My mom and grandparents fled Poland as refugees, escaping antisemitism in the 1970’s. 

And now, as a first generation American, I am proud to be Jewish. Growing up, I have had the opportunity to proudly attend Jewish day school, Jewish camp, Jewish youth groups and Jewish clubs. I confidently wear my Star of David necklace without fear. This kind of expressive Judaism is what my family had always dreamt of. 

As I hear about the rise in acts of antisemitism around the world, nationally, and even in our own community, I wonder why this is happening again. I have read about this in history class but I would have never thought it would happen here. I wonder what my great grandparents would say if they knew that the discrimination they had to endure was resurfacing. I wonder why people continue to hate us and target our community. I wonder if I will ever feel the need to hide my Star of David necklace for my safety. This feels sad and unthinkable to me. I wonder if there will be a time when we can finally live in peace. 

We can still reverse this. It is up to me and my generation to become educated about our history. We can still stand up against hate and say no. My hope for the future is that we will continue to wear the symbols of our tradition. We can gather and pray in our synagogues without fear. And that we will always be proud Jews.

Ilana Argentar

About the Author: Ilana is a sophomore at Buffalo Grove High School. She participates in gymnastics, diving, and water polo. She is part of Jewish Student Connection at her school. Ilana spends most of her summers at her summer camp, OSRUI, in Oconomowoc, WI. She is currently part of the Diller Teen Fellows cohort 9 and is looking forward to spending three weeks in Israel this summer. 

On Yom HaShoah We Take the Time to Learn and Remember

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Yom HaShoah (Holocaust Remembrance Day) begins the evening of April 27th and ends the evening of April 28th. On this day, we remember the 6 million Jews whose lives were lost in the Holocaust, celebrate the survivors, and honor the heroes who helped save Jews. While it can be difficult to reflect on this terrible moment in history, it is important that we never forget the Holocaust and that history does not repeat itself. When we have a good understanding of our history, we can recognize antisemitic behavior and speak up to make a difference in our world.

In honor of Holocaust Remembrance Day, our Springboard team wanted to share 6 ways you can commemorate the holiday:

1. Visit the Illinois Holocaust Museum

The Museum, located in Skokie, is dedicated to preserving the legacy of the Holocaust by honoring the memories of those who were lost, and by teaching universal lessons that combat hatred, prejudice, and indifference.

2. Learn and Share Survivors Stories

 A Springboard innovation grant supports, past 18 Under 18 Recipient Naomi Altman’s project, Messages From the Past: Never Forget. Once a month, you will receive a message featuring the stories of a Holocaust survivor who lives in the Chicagoland area. All the information in these messages comes from the book “Never Heard Never Forget” that was assembled by Holocaust Community Services at CJE SeniorLife and through interviews with Holocaust survivors themselves. To sign up, text “STORY” to (833) 711-0286.

3. Download the Yom HaShoah Candle App to Remember Those Who Died

The Yom HaShoah Candle App allows you to light a virtual candle on your smartphone. The Yom HaShoah Yellow Yahrzeit Candle Program perpetuates the memory of the 6 million Jew who perished in the Holocaust. The candle will be able to be lit by tapping the light button on April 27th and will burn for 24 hours.

4. Teach Others

You may have heard the phrase “Never Forget” in relation to the Holocaust. It is important to continue to share what happened with others. There are many resources to share with others such as the online exhibition at United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, books , and movies .

5. Lead by Example

Holocaust Remembrance Day is once a year but your actions on a day-to-day basis are what really make a difference in our world. Continue to learn about the Holocaust, ask questions, and make your voice heard when you see antisemitism or other forms of hate and injustice in our world.

6. Celebrate our Vibrant Jewish Culture

While we must Never Forget, we also are proud that the Jewish community keeps building upon our traditions and passing them on. Connect with your ancestry by cooking a meal that brings happy memories of togetherness. Learn to make Aranygaluska (Hungarian Pull-Apart Bread) or another fun dessert! Can you see what other recipes you find?

Yom Hashoah


Poshmark For Change

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By Alexa Turner, Tess Adelstein, and Gabe Goldstein 

Springboard loves to elevate the great things teens are doing in the community. So, when we learned about Poshmark for Change, which was founded by three Jewish teens from the Chicago area, we reached out to the founders to learn more about this great organization.

About Poshmark for Change

Poshmark For Change is a charity organization that raises money for different causes by selling used clothing donated by the Chicagoland community. All children’s clothing is taken to Cradles to Crayons, and clothing that does not sell after a few months is donated to the Epilepsy Foundation.

The mission is to make an impact in our community by raising money for those in need, and helping save the environment by keeping clothes out of landfills and encouraging second-hand shopping.

The Origins

Alexa: 2020 was a difficult year for everyone. For me, being alone during COVID quarantine was one of the biggest challenges. I suddenly had massive amounts of free time, and the only person I could hangout with was myself. To make this time easier, I tried to think of things I could do to pass the time. I realized I had tons of clothes in my closet that I didn’t wear, and I was in need of some extra money so I wouldn’t need to ask my parents for it anymore. That was when I found Poshmark, and first dived into the world of second-hand selling and shopping.

After a year of selling on Poshmark, I had learned so much about the fashion world. One of the biggest problems I came across was the amount of clothes that end up in landfills every year, especially coming from second-hand stores. When many people donate clothes, they think automatically that they are giving their clothes a second life. While many clothes are bought and re-used, a whopping 62.5% of donated clothes are sent to landfills, with another 18.7% being immediately incinerated. (Green America) As landfills start piling up, even more clothes are incinerated to make space. This matters because when clothing is burned, they release poisonous substances and large amounts of chemicals that can negatively affect the health of our planet and nearby communities. (PSCI) Donating clothes to second-hand stores, such as Goodwill or Salvation Army, is substantially better than throwing them out. These stores are important to our society because they allow for cheap, sustainable clothing options and help keep many clothes out of landfills. But, I wanted to think of a solution to help give clothes a chance for a new home before ending up in thrift stores, in order to help keep our planet healthy.

After some time, I came up with the idea for the original project. Using my background of Poshmark, I wanted to collect clothing in my community and sell it on Poshmark. Then, any money that is earned would be donated to a cause I was passionate about. But, I didn’t know where to donate. I told my camp friend, Tess, about my idea, and she was immediately on board to help. We discussed the project together, and eventually the idea bloomed.

Poshmark For Summers of Tomorrow (SOT)

Tess: One of the biggest values Alexa and I share in our lives is love for the sleepaway camp we met at, Camp Chi. Because of Covid, we sadly weren’t able to attend camp in the summer of 2020 and experienced our lives without camp for the first time in almost a decade. While we still kept in contact with each other and our other camp friends, we realized that camp should be something everyone can have the chance to experience. Sadly camp isn’t an option for many kids due to a range of different reasons, one of the biggest being the cost. When we were talking and researching different organizations to donate the money we made from the Poshmark, we found the Summers of Tomorrow Fund and knew it was the perfect choice. The Summers of Tomorrow Fund was made in honor of Former Camp Chi Director Ron Levin and provides support for “camp scholarships” for kids who can’t afford the cost of camp. Not being able to go to camp for even just one summer made us aware of how much of a privilege it is to have camp in our lives and continue to go each summer. We want other kids to be able to have the same opportunity and experience we had, which was our biggest motivator for choosing the Summers of Tomorrow Fund and calling ourselves “Poshmark for SOT”. From the time our Poshmark account was up and running in early 2021 until right before we left for camp in June of 2021, we were able to raise more than $2,000 in total for the Summers of Tomorrow Fund. 

Alexa: During our Summers of Tomorrow campaign, we realized that we could make an even bigger impact. Donating children’s clothing directly to organizations that give to children is important as most kids can’t shop or afford clothes for themselves. As most people donate to stores like Goodwill, we thought we could do good by driving all children’s clothes down to Chicago and donating them to Cradles to Crayons. Donated clothes can then be given to local Chicago children in need (Cradles To Crayons). Additionally, we didn’t want our clothing to sit in a basement forever with no use. After a few months of being available on Poshmark, we decided we would take them off the website and donate them to the Epilepsy Foundation. The Epilepsy Foundation donates its clothes to Savers, and its proceeds help provide free programs and services to almost 140,000 Chicagoland residents. (The Epilepsy Foundation). 

Poshmark For Change

Tess: Being able to help allow kids the opportunity to attend camp was something we were extremely grateful to have the ability to do. When we came back from camp at the end of August of 2021, Alexa and I realized that attaching ourselves and our Poshmark to one organization really limited the extent of the impact we were able to have on issues we cared about locally and globally. We wanted to do more for a larger scope of people, which is when we had the idea of changing ourselves from “Poshmark for SOT” to “Poshmark for Change”. Our plan is to work with different organizations and campaigns that focus on a wide range of issues that face our community and our world. During each partnership, we continue to raise money through selling clothes on our new Poshmark, “Poshmark for Change”, and donate all of the money we make during the duration of the partnership to the organization we’re collaborating with. In addition to this, we also use our other social media platform, Instagram, to share information about the organization and help spread awareness to their cause all in hopes of helping our community and the people in it.

Chi Therapy Collective: Campaigning for Trans Lives

Gabe: I’m Gabe, the newest member of the Poshmark For Change team, and a big part of why we chose the Chicago Therapy Collective as the latest organization for our next campaign. The CTC is a Chicago based LGBTQIA institution. The central campaign of the organization is Trans Inclusive Chicago, a movement that seeks to increase advocacy and protection against violence and discrimination of transgender individuals in the Chicagoland area. I’ve been in the fight for transgender equality for a few years now, connected to the issue through my mother, Gearah Goldstein. My mom identifies as transgender and has been at the forefront of activist movements for transgender rights as well. Through the relationships she had built in the Trans-feminine community, I got to know another person well too. Elise Malary, a founding member of the Andersonville Chicago Therapy Collective, was a very close friend and fellow advocate of my mom’s. During the time that I spent with her over the time that I knew her, it was clear to me that Elise was a brilliant, vibrant, warm young individual who cared deeply about the unjust issues affecting her community. Sadly, in mid-March, Elise was found dead on the front of Lake Michigan in Evanston. To honor her life, the values she stood for, and the organization she helped found and cared so deeply for, the next campaign of Poshmark For Change will be raising money for the Chicago Therapy Collective. It is crucial now that we raise money for this charity, so that we can save transgender lives and build a safer Chicago for transgender individuals.

Support Poshmark For Change

You can support us in many ways! The main way to help is by donating used or unworn clothing from your closets. You can drop off clothes at our houses located in Highland Park and Chicago. We can also pick up from anywhere within 30 minutes of the Chicago area. 

We are looking for mostly any type of clothing, but specific items that can help are:

  • Jeans
  • Tops
  • Dresses
  • Shoes
  • Athletic Gear
  • Pants

Clothing Donation Form Link

Secondly, we have been working hard everyday to list new items on our Poshmark! Get yourself a new outfit while supporting a great cause!

Poshmark Link

Lastly, we also take cash donations if you cannot donate clothes or purchase from our Poshmark. 

Paypal Donation Link 

Venmo Donation Link 

We thank Springboard and our community for all the support we have had! We could not make anywhere near as much of an impact without the help of others. 

-The Poshmark For Change Team



Why Are These Nails Different From All Other Nails? How Judaism Inspires My Nail Art.

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By Eva Spangler 

Springboard loves to elevate the great things teens are doing in the community. So, when we saw that Cosmopolitan magazine featured Eva Spangler in their 7 Best Passover Nail Ideas and Inspo for 2022 we reached out to Eva to hear more about her nail journey.

Q: How did you get started with creating nail art?

Eva: My passion for nails started in middle school when I had a teacher who always had beautiful nails. I have also always loved art, so it felt like a great way to combine the two passions. When the pandemic started two years ago, I was really bored. To pass the time, I started looking up YouTube and Instagram videos on how to make nail art. I taught myself new designs and started to learn how to paint on press on nails. 

Q: How did you connect with Cosmopolitan?

Eva: They reached out to me!!! I posted some of my Passover nails last year and they found them when they searched the hashtag #passovernails and #jewishnails. I was so excited when I saw the DM from Cosmopolitan Magazine. 

Q: That is so cool that you create Jewish themed nail art. What inspired you to start doing that?

Eva: I am really proud to be Jewish and love to express myself. I like to create my nail art around Jewish holidays if they are coming up. I’ve made nails for Passover, Chanukah, Rosh Hashanah, and also evil eye themed nails. It is a fun way to get in the holiday spirit!

Q: Do you ever sell the press on nails that you make?

Eva: Yes, I do! I love taking requests from friends and making nail art for them. It is fun to see people wearing my art to school.

Q: What do you think is next in your nail art journey?

Eva: I know I plan to continue making nail art in college, but I am not sure what else is in my future for my nail art journey. I am just really glad I have this passion now and I am excited to continue learning and creating new nail art.

About the Author:

Eva Spangler

Eva Spangler is a senior at Oak Park River Forest High School. At school, she is a color guard section leader and a leader at Jewish Student Connection club. She also helps with special Olympics and is trying to learn sign language. Eva has her own nail business, which you can follow on Instagram @fakenailsbabe.

Evil Eye Nails

Evil Eye themed nail art

Chanukah Nail Art

Chanukah themed nail art

3D Passover Nail Art

3D Passover nail art

Rosh Hashanah Nail Art

Rosh Hashanah themed nail art


Apply to Join jGirls+ Magazine’s Teen Staff Community! by Joelle Reiter and Dalia Heller

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jGirls+ is a online publication and community by and for Jewish non-binary and female identifying teens, led by a teen editorial board and a staff photography department.

The Ed Board, as we affectionately call it, is made up of sixteen people representing four US time zones and thirteen states. We review content from all artistic genres submitted from all over the US, and even the rest of the world. Submissions are open year-round, and we accept content on any topic. Since many (though not all!) of the pieces submitted deal with complex themes related to feminism and Judaism, through disscussing them, we are exposed to a wide range of perspectives and gain an appreciation for the diversity within the Jewish community. Just recently, we’ve published a retelling of the Purim story, an essay about how Jewish values inspire social justice, and a personal narrative about self expression through music. When reviewing a piece, we discuss everything from organizational structure to how it will appeal to our community of readers, and ultimately—through exposure to so many people’s unique artistic styles and perspectives—we become more intentional writers and artists ourselves.  

It’s empowering to have so much autonomy over the decision making process when it comes to reviewing pieces, as well as about  jGirls+ policies more broadly. In a world of hierarchies, jGirls+ is a model of equal participation and input by all members. Just recently we decided, after advocacy from members of our community, to add a plus sign to our name to better reflect our range of gender identities (we plan to adapt our name even further to better suit our demographic). While there are leadership roles within the magazine, everyone has equal opportunity to shape the direction and purpose of our organization. 

Much of our job consists of emailing contributors. It is our responsibility to tell them whether or not their piece has been accepted, communicate necessary edits, and encourage them to submit again. There is an unbridled joy in helping other teens publish their writing or art—it's incredibly rewarding to see a piece go through multiple stages of edits and then share in a contributor's excitement when we let them know that the piece is finally on the website.

There is comfort in existing in spaces like jGirls+ where everyone identifies as Jews and feminists, and understands the intersectionality of our shared identities. However, perhaps more importantly, we also have a deep appreciation for the things that make us different. It is rare to find such an inclusive community of people who can balance serious passion with fun and friendship, and all value kindness, meaningful discussion, and the power of art. 

We are currently seeking applications for both teen editors and photographers. Apply here by April 14th! And be sure to submit your art and writing to jGirls+ here.  

Feel free to reach out to us with any questions at this email: info@jgirlsmagazine.org

About the Authors: 

Joelle Reiter Joelle Reiter

Hi! I’m Joelle, and I’m a homeschooled member of the class of 2022, who’s grown up in Queens, New York, and Chicago, Illinois. I’m passionate about different forms of storytelling. When I was younger, my favorite activity in the world was having my mom read aloud The Wizard of Oz series by L. Frank Baum. Currently I serve on The Steppenwolf Theatre’s Young Adult Council and I’m a member of 826Chi’s Teen Writers Studio where my writing has been published in their chapbook Let Us Keep What We Love. In addition, I’m a Goodman Theatre Cindy Bandle Young Critic and I work for the Chicago Public Library helping to plan and launch their annual ChiTeen Literary FestIval. My interests also include health sciences and social justice.

Dalia Heller Dalia Heller

I am a member of the class of 2022 at Adlai E. Stevenson High School and I live in Buffalo Grove, a suburb outside of Chicago. I play the flute in my school’s Honor Band and am a student leader in the marching band. I am also a part of my school’s National Honor Society chapter, as well as the Spanish Honor Society. I am passionate about learning about history and foreign languages (especially Spanish, Hebrew, and Yiddish) and enjoy taking visual art classes. In my free time, I love painting and drawing, switching back and forth between obsessing over The Office and Parks and Recreation, and hiking with my family in the woods near my house. I feel so fortunate to be a part of a community as inspiring and welcoming as jGirls+ Magazine, and I’m excited for my third year as an editor!

Springboard Beyond: After 18 Under 18 by Randi Wilk

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For as long as I can remember, both the Jewish community and the disability community have been major parts of my life. More accurately, the Jewish disability community has been instrumental in not only my upbringing, but in developing my passion for Jewish inclusion. 

My 18 Under 18 project centered around improving inclusion and accessibility in synagogues and creating a curriculum around disabilities, accessibility, inclusion, and ableism. While I made progress on this goal during my time as an honoree, I was less able to implement anything as my first year of college was interrupted by the pandemic. At that time, I had begun building a relationship with my University’s Hillel and Chabad and connecting with the Jewish community in Pittsburgh. 

While serving as a campus engagement intern (CEI) with Hillel in the 2020-2021 remote school year, I began to notice something: our campus Hillel was not as accessible as it could be. I knew that my personal experiences in the disability world gave me a unique perspective on this issue and allowed me to see areas for improvement that those who were less familiar might not have even noticed.

I brought my concerns to our Hillel director, Kari Semel, and she and I have been working together with the entire Hillel ever since. Currently, I work with Hillel as a Disability, Accessibility and Inclusion Liaison. This role encompasses multiple responsibilities, some of which include: educational presentations to leadership on disability, finding and creating solutions where we see areas of inaccessibility, and adapting our Hillel both in physical space and attitude to be a more inclusive space for all. 

In all my work I have done with Hillel, my 18 Under 18 experience has inspired me. I think of the young people I met in my cohort, all leading impactful change in our communities. Our cohort experience taught us all to step up, take action, and make a difference wherever we can. Together we learned to take our passions and change the world, and that is truly an experience I will never forget.

Randi

About the Author: Randi is a Junior at the University of Pittsburgh studying speech and hearing sciences, linguistics, and American Sign Language. There, she serves as the secretary for the university’s Best Buddies club (fostering friendships with individuals of all abilities), mental health chair for Rho Psi Eta academic sorority, and works with the campus Hillel JUC. She is an alum of 18 Under 18 in the 2019 cohort and has continued her Jewish involvement on campus through both Hillel and Chabad. 

Meet Jessica: Springboard’s New Teen Engagement Specialist

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I am so happy to join the Springboard team! In 2017, I had my first role at JUF, working as an intern as part of the Lewis Summer Intern Program. I knew right away that I was passionate about connecting with the local Jewish community and helping individuals find out what programs or opportunities excite them! 

I grew up in Buffalo Grove, Illinois. As a teen, I was involved with my local BBYO chapter. At my first meeting everyone was so warm and welcoming that I couldn’t wait to get more involved. I joined as a freshman in high school and liked that I was able to connect with teens in 8th through 12th grade. I later served on the board as the Sh'licha (Vice President of Jewish Enrichment) and Gizborit (Treasurer). I spent my summers at Beber Camp and met people from all over the country (including my husband) and got involved in activities I would have never had the opportunity to participate in otherwise. I learned to waterski, make jewelry, sail, and so much more!  

Jessica at Camp

These experiences shaped who I am today. Whether it was hosting a fundraiser for my BBYO chapter or traveling on 3-day canoe camping trip, these moments helped me make amazing friends, grow as a leader, and encouraged me to try new things.  

Those experiences are why I am thrilled to be on the Springboard team. It is incredible to think that my role is to connect Jewish teens with programs and opportunities that have the potential to change their entire lives and inspire them to explore their Jewish identity. I am driven by my passion to help connect teens with meaningful Jewish experience. Whether it’s through TOV Teens, USY, JSC, NCSY, JSU, NFTY, BBYO, Keshet, summer camp, or the dozens of other Jewish opportunities for teens in the Chicago area, I am excited to help each teen find the program or multiple programs that will leave a positive and lasting impact on their life. 

When I’m not connecting Jewish teens with programs, I enjoy group fitness classes, trying fun restaurants in Chicago, and taking walks by the lake. 

Jessica Bank


What Our Keshet Staff Have Gained From Working at Camp

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Long before and throughout the pandemic, Keshet continues to provide new opportunities for self-growth, new friendships, unique opportunities. However, this impact extends beyond our participants and can leave our staff with an equal amount of growth and belonging.  

Anxious, nervous, and not knowing what to expect are common phrases that we hear when staff reflect on their first experiences with Keshet. The great news is that it’s often followed up with comments that those feelings immediately went away once they saw how meaningful and impactful the programs were. “Stepping into Keshet on the first day, I automatically noticed how they make every person in the room feel included and accounted for,” Alix Eisenberg, who has been a Keshet staff member for five years, says. “Being able to be included into such a welcoming environment made my first experiences at Keshet truly memorable.”

In addition to the impact created for campers involved in the program, our staff members have equally gained so much from spending their summers at Keshet. Our staff create bonds with their campers that extend beyond the eight weeks of the summer and into some of our other year-round programs like Buddy Bowling, Baseball and Winter Camp. The integration with the staff at our partner day and overnight camps create long-lasting bonds and friendships that keep them coming back year after year. 

Keshet Experience

However, what may be the most rewarding are the skills and experiences that our staff gain from the experience. “After being able to take part in the many programs Keshet has to offer, I have gained responsibility, leadership, teamwork, and confidence,” Alix says. After spending their summers working for Keshet, many of our staff end up choosing a career path that allows them to further develop these skills, including Alix, who is now a sophomore at Miami University in Ohio studying Inclusive Special Education. The passion that our staff gain for inclusion while working for Keshet is unmatched and even on the toughest of days, our staff still leave with a smile on their face.

We promise you a summer of fun, and we know you will gain invaluable experiences and memories that will stick with you long after the warm days of summer end.  To capture all of the reasons in one post is impossible. What we do know is that Keshet stands for something greater than only one person, and we would love nothing more than to have you join our family. Apply today at:  https://keshet.campintouch.com/ui/forms/application/staff/App

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Special thanks to Alix Eisenberg for sharing her story.

You can learn more about Keshet and what we do by visiting us online at https://www.keshet.org

Please note:  All names of participants have been changed.

 

How Keshet Staff Can Create a Lasting Impact at Camp

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Keshet provides countless opportunities and programs for individuals with disabilities but our largest program by far is our summer camp program!  Keshet believes that everyone at camp benefits when everyone can participate. We provide opportunities for inclusion out in the community on field trips, assist campers in forming friendships, and ensure accommodations are available so that everyone can be successful at camp.

Our staff and volunteers are the backbone of our programs because they make all the magic happen! They all have their own unique stories about how they became involved and why they stay connected. They are passionate individuals who deeply care about the individuals that Keshet serves. Without each and every one of them, our services would not be possible. 

Keshet Photo

Keshet models inclusion from the beginning for staff and participants. With Keshet, campers can go to camp with a one-on-one staff member who helps them get through their day, makes the accommodations necessary, assists them in getting to know the group and ensures an amazing summer experience. “Nobody is a better friend to Keshet campers than their peers their same age,” says Abby Zucker, senior at Highland Park who was a Keshet counselor at “Z” Frank Apachi Day Camp this past summer. “At art, they would practice writing [my camper] Mitchell’s name and no matter where we were, the group always make sure Mitchell got a turn.” Inclusion at Keshet is not just a program, it’s a way of life!

In addition to fostering inclusion within the camping environment, our participants show immense growth throughout the summer. Katie Penn, a junior at Illinois State University and a long-time staff member of Keshet recounts back to her first summer spent with her camper, Sam. “From the beginning to the end of those eight short weeks, I saw tremendous growth in Sam. He became more independent and confident. And quite frankly, so did I.” When our campers succeed, we, as staff, feel just as accomplished. 

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Our staff love Keshet, and we know you will too. Keshet is so fortunate to have incredible staff who help blossom meaningful opportunities and friendships. We’re getting ready for Summer 2022, and are looking for new people to join the team. So, what are you waiting for? Apply today at:  https://keshet.campintouch.com/ui/forms/application/staff/App

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Special thanks to Abby Zucker and Katie Penn for sharing their stories.

You can learn more about Keshet and what we do by visiting us online at https://www.keshet.org

Please note:  All names of participants have been changed.

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