Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

A Letter From Maia Volk

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Hammer Girl


My name is Maia and I’m the Director of Youth Programs at Beth Emet Synagogue in Evanston, Illinois.  I’m so grateful to have the privilege of working with the amazing teens of the Chicago-area to learn about social justice and take action to make our world a better place. I’ve had so many incredible experiences with our teens exploring the Chicago-area to learn about the history of our city, different social issues affecting our community today, and how to take action to make a difference.   

When I first heard about the possibility of this Springboard School Break trip with Tivnu and TOV Teens, I was ecstatic. I know the social justice aspect of the trip and the opportunity to work with marginalized communities and explore the root causes of poverty and houselessness is something our teens would really enjoy; not to mention the gorgeous scenery, hiking, and fun group-bonding. However, the aspect of the trip that really catches my eye is the opportunity to physically build tiny homes, which will have a direct impact on people’s lives.   

Being able to have this kind of physical impact is something that has been important to me from a young age. Growing up, my favorite place in the world was summer camp. I loved to escape my schoolwork and chores to spend two months a year in an alternate reality where kids ruled the world.  My summer camp was modeled after a kibbutz, so we spent our mornings doing Avodah (work), which included cleaning the bathrooms, chopping vegetables for our meals, building benches, blazing trails, and more.  You would think I found this as boring as my chores at home during the year, but I loved our morning Avodah.  I loved the gratification I felt sitting on the bench I made during meals in the Chadar Ochel (dining hall), showing my parents a mural I helped paint on Visitors Day, and eating a meal for which I helped chop the carrots.  The crucial element of what made camp such a special place to me was that my peers and I had physically built it to be the open, accepting, and loving community that shaped who I am today. 

While Tikkun Olam with Tivnu will a very different experience from my summers at camp, I can’t wait for students to feel the gratification of literally and physically shaping our world to match our values on this trip.  I hope you can join us over Veteran’s Day weekend for this unique and special opportunity. 

Thank you, 


Tomer Eres: A Dramedy in 3 Acts

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Tomer Eres

Act 1:

Scene 1

(The curtain opens to reveal a hospital in Dayton, OH)

A young Israeli couple emerges the hospital with a new baby. They named him Tomer – unaware of how difficult life will be growing up in the south with an Israeli name. They celebrate the birth of their second (and clearly favorite) son, before returning home to their firstborn, who requests they return the new baby to sender. Scene.

Scene 2

(14 Years Later; Lexington, KY)

The now high-school aged Tomer begins to take voice lessons, discovering a passion for music and singing. Tomer becomes heavily involved in USY, attending conventions, organizing services for the region, and traveling to Israel at any opportunity. Tomer is accepted to the University of Michigan School of Music; On a family trip to Israel, Tomer is told that he hasn’t been released from military duty, and interviews on a military base to prove that he is the American child of Israeli’s and has plans to go to college.  

Act 2:

Scene 1

(The curtain opens to a beautiful fall in Ann Arbor, MI)

Tomer begins his studies at the University of Michigan, taking voice lessons, studying Italian, French, German, and Czech. Four years fly by in a whirl of classes, parties, and performances, culminating in his first operatic role. Tomer finishes his degree and accepts an offer to pursue his Master’s degree at the University of Houston.

Scene 2

(The fall of 2016 in humid, hot Houston, TX)

Tomer begins pursuing his Masters degree at the University of Houston. During this time, Tomer begins exploring his love of baking, inspired by “The Great British Baking Show,” his grandmother, and a great heritage of Jewish baked goods. Upon completing his degree, Tomer starts teaching voice lessons, religious school, and tutors b’nei mitzvah students at Congregation Emanu El. A friend convinces Tomer that he should go on Birthright; It is a life-changing experience, and upon his return Tomer becomes heavily involved in the Houston Hillel’s young professional organization: Jewston.

Act 3:

Scene 1

(August 2019, Chicago, IL)

Tomer moves to Chicago, Illinois on a whim! The JUF asks him to take on a role as the Israel Education Associate for their Ta’am Yisrael program. Tomer enthusiastically accepts the position! He is so excited to begin working with this amazing program, which offers an opportunity like no other, and hopes that everyone who can will join him in taking their own taste of Israel.


Meet Molly: Springboard's Newest Teen Engagement Specialist

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Molly BBYO

Hi everyone! I'm stoked to be joining Springboard as a Teen Engagement Specialist. I love theater but I'm not musically gifted so please enjoy this rap/poem/spoken word piece below to learn more about me:

(Shout out anyone born after the 90's who knows this) 

In Cincinnati, born and raised

Jewish day school is where I spent most of my days

Chillin out, maxin, relaxin all cool, 

Camp Livingston summers out by the pool 

When my parents decided to make a new plan, 

Moved us up north to a town called Cleveland.


Next to Milwaukee with my parents and bro's,

Every weekend spent in BBYO.

Went to college at Wisco, love me some cheese,

Lived in Israel while I got my degrees, 

Wanted to try something a bit new,

So I flew to Riga, Latvia to work with the Jews. 


I pulled up to Chicago a few weeks ago, 

Trying to find Graeter’s for some cookie dough, 

Cubs games at Wrigley and trips to The Bean,  

And, of course, super pumped to meet you and your teen!

 Molly Portrait

Molly is excited to be The Fresh Prince (aka Teen Engagement Specialist) of Springboard. She would love to find a time to meet you (ideally at Graeter’s) and help you discover amazing Jewish opportunities.


Rebecca Gross, a Research Training Internship alumna, shares important research on antisemitism

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Rebecca Gross

Last week, I had the chance to attend an incredible event in my role as Program Director for the Research Training Internship (RTI). Rebecca Gross, a participant in the RTI Cohort 5, was recently invited to speak at the National Council of Jewish Women Chicago North Shore Section’s (NCJW) City Salon about RTI’s antisemitism research. Each month, the women of the NCJW come together for a discussion group facilitated by Salon members at Salon members’ homes. The group chooses a new topic for each salon, and source materials links are then emailed to everyone to read. Topics include a wide variety of current progressive, feminist and social justice issues, very similar to RTI. RTI is a partnership between JUF and DePaul university for Jewish girls and non-binary teens to explore social justice issues through the lens of feminist research. Each year, the interns choose a topic they care about and research how it manifests in the Chicago area Jewish community. Rebecca was invited to speak at the Salon after her grandmother, a NCJW member, attended RTI’s end-of-year community presentation. 


Rebecca presented to a crowd of 50 women, the City Salon’s biggest event since starting earlier this year. Jonathan Mintzer, Assistant Regional Director at ADL Midwest, started the evening with an informational presentation about ADL’s work in tracking and combating antisemitism as well as tips for how we can combat antisemitic remarks we hear in our daily lives. Rebecca’s presentation was interactive. After explaining the work and methods that went into this year’s research, she asked the group questions from one of the surveys used in the report, and she invited audience members to share personal stories before she shared the statistics from the RTI report. Rebecca and Jonathan ended the evening with a question and answer session. 


It was very inspiring to see Rebecca take our research to the broader community. Her presentation is the second event in which interns have been able to share their research with the broader community. Earlier in August, Rachel Fadem, Ellie Goldsmith, and Sara Grostern, facilitated small group conversations about antisemitism in progressive spaces as a part of lunch put on by the Jewish Community Relations Council, the Jewish Women’s Foundation of Metropolitan Chicago and NCJW. One of the goals of RTI is to raise awareness around important social justice issues in the Chicago Jewish community. These presentations are a great example of how interns continue this important advocacy work even after their RTI year has ended.


Applications for this year’s RTI cohort are open until September 16th.  You can apply here.

Beckee Birger is the Program Director, Teen Leadership & Philanthropy at JUF.  She runs the Research Training Internship and Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation – two innovative programs for teens who want to change the world.  She's passionate about connecting young people to opportunities that allow them to explore complex topic and tackle the world's challenges head on. Outside of her teen work, Beckee is working with the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs to create spaces for Jews of Color in Chicago.

Pelah Cohen: A Masa Merit Scholarship Winner

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Pelah Cohen

This summer I had the privilege to go on Yad B’Yad, Yachad’s Inclusive Israel Leadership Experience. Yad B’Yad is a five-week program that travels around Israel with people who have special needs. This program teaches each participant how to create a proactively inclusive environment both on Yad B’Yad, and in each of our own communities back home. 

Walking in on the first day of camp was very intimidating. There were so many people from many different places; not being from New York or New Jersey, I thought I would feel like an out of towner, but I could not have been more wrong. Everyone took the learning sessions and sensitivity training to heart and after a couple of days, I felt like I had known everyone my whole life. 

My favorite part about the program is explaining to people why Yad B’Yad is not a chesed (kindness) based, volunteer program. We did no view hanging out with our friends as volunteer work, the kids with special needs were our friends. Everything we did was accessible, we stayed in the same rooms as them, and just hung out.  

Yad B’Yad was not just traveling and touring. We also had many learning sessions led by the amazing counselors. We learned what it means to truly find yourself in genuine happiness, how to be more inclusive, and how to connect to God. Through those learning groups and talking to the counselors and participants I created connections with, I grew both as a person and as a friend. I will never forget the lessons I learned on this program such as; giving someone a fifteen second summary of what you were talking about when they enter a conversation and always having an empty spot in a circle, so everyone feels comfortable joining. 

Unfortunately, every program comes to an end. Through the laughter and cheers, I can honestly feel the motto of Yachad, “Because everyone belongs,” becoming my favorite quote.  I will aim see everyone for who they are on the inside instead of what I see or hear about them  I learned despite our differences that everyone truly does belong.  

Pelah Cohen is a Junior at Ida Crown Jewish Academy and is going to be taking the lessons she learned from Yad B’Yad back to her school. Throughout the year, she will also be involved with Yachad as president of the High School board, helping plan and run events for the highschool peers and members with special needs. Pelah hopes to go to more international Yachad events and shabbatons year-round.  

We are proud to offer Israel Experience Merit Scholarships to high school students through age 23 who display leadership abilities and are committed to Jewish communal activities.  Anyone going on a summer or fall/academic year program are eligible to apply each spring.  For more information, please visit our website or contact Paula Harris at Paulaharris@juf.org

Looking for opportunities to go to Israel? Masa can help you get there - for more information contact Alissa Brown at Alissabrown@juf.org

Snowball, A Leadership Opportunity by Claire Tolman

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Response for Teens

My proudest accomplishment, and highlight of the year, was getting to be a director of Operation Snowball. This program has been around for far longer than I have been alive, but my first taste of it was last summer when I began my job at Response. My coworker and my supervisor in the Outreach department were also both brand new to their positions; when the director at Response told us about Snowball, we nodded along, but really didn’t have a clue what it would take to make it all happen. To paraphrase her explanation; “Operation Snowball is a weekend retreat for teens that is completely teen-led, where participants have discussions and engage in activities that deepen their knowledge of topics ranging from racism to photography.” That all sounds good and well, but how in the world would we go about planning such an event? 

The answer came to us with the help of others at Response, some creativity, and the support and insight of our wonderful 11 teen leaders. We met with our leaders every week for several months, and they brought so much energy, focus, and dedication to the process. Most of them had been leaders at Snowball before, and regularly expressed their love for the program and for the friends they had met along the way. I can’t tell you how many times I have heard from a Snowball leader or participant that the weekend retreat changed their life forever! Many of our leaders started out with ideas for topics that they knew little about; witnessing their growth and ownership of the material, and problem-solving skills was inspiring.  It was exciting to be able to help our leaders expand their individual strengths, and to create another weekend that would live up to everyone’s high expectations. In thinking back, I’d say we were able to do just that. Together with our fantastic group of leaders and enthusiastic participants, we succeeded in creating an inclusive, caring, and supportive space where we all learned from each other and gained new perspectives.  

Now, summer is almost over, and the process begins again. We are still accepting applications for new leaders and can’t wait to see what our team will look like this year. Meetings pick back up in mid-September, and now, with the knowledge and experience my coworkers and I have, we are excited to dive back in. Who knows what new passions we might be uncovered this time around! If you are interested in applying, or know someone who might be, here is the link to the application! We welcome new faces, new ideas and fresh perspectives! 

Claire Tolman is a Community Educator at Response for Teens. As a member of the Outreach team, she designs and teaches lessons on gender, sexuality, anatomy, consent, relationships, birth control, and more, in middle and high school classrooms across Chicago. She also serves as a director of Response’s Operation Snowball program, and is looking forward to another fantastic Snowball retreat this year!

Beyond Tourism: My Diller Israel Trip

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DIna Barrish

A tourist observes but does not experience. The distinction is subtle yet important: visiting Machaneh Yehuda to witness Friday afternoon chaos versus braving the balagan (lively chaos) to buy your own Shabbat groceries. True experience, however, requires understanding; you must comprehend a culture before immersing yourself in the lifestyle. 

This summer, the Diller Teen Fellowship allowed me to understand, experience and love Israel on a deeper level. Through the theme of Israel of Many Faces, I, along with 19 other Chicago fellows and four staff members, explored Israel’s diverse narratives. We acknowledged landmarks (such as the Kotel, Har Hertzel and Masada) but focused on Israeli culture, on people. We were much more interested in our tour guide Revital’s personality and stories than in whatever monument out the window she was explaining. And when an Israeli guest speaker scoffed that we were spending a week in Kiryat Gat, we held our heads high, knowing that the people there were our people-- the best host families and friends across Israel. 

Having been to Israel twice before, I found this new angle -- the emphasis on lifestyle over landmark -- refreshing and eye-opening. I challenged myself to engage in all that is Israel, to the extent that my scavenger-hunt teammates thought I was crazy for asking every passerby in Tel Aviv to join our Horah. 

Reflecting on moments I felt most absorbed in Israeli culture -- most unlike a tourist -- I recall my host home in Kiryat Gat. By my second day with the Cohen family during Community Week, I didn’t feel like a guest; I was family. I practiced my Hebrew playing games with Noam, my host’s, sibling and had full conversations with her parents while she was in a different room. I was initially nervous to stay with Noam’s family because I’m conservative, and Noam’s family is strictly orthodox. But as Noam and I savored our last Saturday night together, shakshuka on the stove and Israeli music in the background, I remember thinking, this is home. 

My stay in Kiryat Gat not only acquainted me with an authentic Israeli lifestyle, but also introduced me to Israeli perspectives. Friday night, Noam and I went to Bnei Akiva, her community youth group. The Rabbi was conducting a discussion about diaspora Jews, asking if we (the Israelis and single Chicagoan) thought that all Jews living outside of Israel must eventually make aliyah. An Israeli boy started aggressively claiming that diaspora Jews were illegitimate, an opinion I hadn’t heard before, and Noam -- usually shy, quiet, soft-spoken -- stood right up and defended me. I understood, loved, felt at home in her home, and she similarly appreciated mine. 

At the end of the trip, I encountered and loved homes beyond just mine and Noam’s. Surrounded by 640 teens from 32 cities worldwide at Diller Global Congress, the sea of white t-shirts and bucket hats didn’t overwhelm me. Thanks to Diller, I understood beyond a tourist’s limitations: I wasn’t afraid to experience diversity. 32 cities meant 32 cultures; 640 teens meant 640 homes. I was prepared, excited, to engage with new beliefs and customs, and I have friends across the globe to show for it. Thanks to Diller, I thrived. 

Dina Barrish is not only a Diller Teen Fellow, but a senior at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School in Deerfield and Editor-in-Chief of the school newspaper, The Stripe. She is co-president of Moriah Congregation’s USY chapter and interns at the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. She looks forward to returning to Israel in January 2020 with the RZJHS Senior class.