Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Write on for Israel

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For this week’s #RepairTheWorldWednesday we are featuring three Write On for Israel Fellows. The Write On for Israel program is inherently one that helps our community and it all begins with education. Israel education and advocacy are pillars of the Jewish community here in Chicago and beyond. Education is the first step toward advocacy and action, and it’s action that truly repairs the world. If you would like to learn more about the Write On for Israel program please contact Zach Sandler at ZacharySandler@juf.org or click here.


To read about Avi Shapira's Blog Post Titled "Counting Down the Days Until I Travel to Israel with my Write on Peers" Click here

To read Naomi Scholder's Blog Post Titled "You Get Out What You Put In" Click here

To read Isaac Shiner's Blog Post Titled "I wanted to Take my Love for Israel to the Next Level" Click here

three WOFI students

I Wanted to Take My Love for Israel to the Next Level By Isaac Shiner

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Isaac Shiner

Write On Fellow

Ida Crown Jewish Academy

Isaac Shiner

My name is Isaac Shiner and I’m a Junior at Ida Crown Jewish Academy. My extracurricular activities include participation in my school’s Israel Advocacy club. I’m also a member of Bnei Akiva, a Jewish youth program that is centered around a love and connection for the State of Israel. Through Bnei Akiva, I spent summer 2019 in Israel on their Mach Hach BaAretz program. That trip reinforced my lifelong love of Israel. It also reinforced that I wanted to take my love for Israel to the next level by complementing it with the knowledge and skills to be able to advocate for Israel. This is why I joined JUF’s Write On for Israel. 

Several months in, below are a few things that I’ve gained so far as a Write On for Israel Fellow: 

  1. Personal connections. WOFI has given me the opportunity to meet a diverse group of Jews from the Chicagoland area, who I now call my friends. While we may come from different backgrounds, our Cohort is unified, at its core, by our shared love for Israel.
  1. Connection to Israel. In 1948, the Jewish people had virtually all odds stacked against them. Yet, David Ben Gurion, as well as Israel’s other founders, seized the opportunity created by Britain's departure to establish the Jewish State. The WOFI curriculum has helped me to understand what a miracle and privilege it is that the State of Israel exists. 
  1. Israel’s achievements. While the Jewish nation has called Israel home for millennia, Modern Zionism is relatively new and the Modern State of Israel is even newer. This context makes Israel’s achievements, breathtaking in their own right, even more impressive. The WOFI curriculum reflects this by delving into Israel’s biblical history, the different waves of Zionism of the 19th and 20th centuries and the many technologies that originated in Israel. In learning about Israel’s technological achievements, I took a quiz to test how much I already knew about the subject, which also expanded my knowledge. For example, I learned that Israel invented the flash drive and Waze. Israel has also won the Eurovision song contest four times. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, our learning has not stopped. We’re using an online learning site to continue learning and sharing new developments going on in Israel.  
  1. Advocacy. In order to defend Israel effectively, it’s important to know what Israel is up against. During Cohort meetings, we read articles about groups with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel agendas. The WOFI curriculum teaches the background to the issue at hand. We use that background to formulate responses to those anti-Semitic and anti-Israel agendas so that we can defend Israel at college and beyond. We also learn public speaking skills and persuasive writing skills, which we apply regularly as part of WOFI by preparing speeches or articles that discuss topics in the Israel advocacy space. 

You Get Out What You Put In By Naomi Scholder

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Noami Scholder

Write On Fellow

Rochelle Zell Jewish High School

Naomi Scholder

Hi! My name is Naomi Scholder, I’m from Northbrook, IL and I am currently a junior at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School. At school, I play volleyball and soccer, am a part of our school’s newspaper, and am involved with our school's chapter of STAND (a student-led movement to end mass atrocities). Over the summer, I attend Beber Camp, a Jewish overnight camp in Wisconsin, and have been going there for the past seven years. I’m super into music and my favorite genre is indie.

I attended a Jewish day school and currently attend a Jewish high school, so I always believed that I had a pretty good understanding of Israel’s history. However, within forty-five minutes of our first Write On seminar, I became aware that the information I had been taught about Israel was lacking. Write On for Israel does not shy away from the ‘ugly’ parts of Israel but, rather, wants us to look at the history of the state holistically and understand Israeli and Palestinian perspectives. 

Though there is some work that has to be done outside of seminars, the assignments have only helped enrich my understanding of the complexities within Israel. The objective of many assignments is to look beyond your personal beliefs and find articles, social media posts, etcetera that expose you to different facets of Israel.

  The program has also helped me create bonds with people that I otherwise would have never met. Fellows in my cohort come from all around the Chicagoland area, all denominations of Judaism, and with different passions and interests -- but we are all united by the common bond of wanting to advocate for Israel. Overall, being a Write On fellow has helped me look beyond the scope of my own perspective and truly understand Israel’s complex identity. You truly get out what you put in.

Counting down the days until I travel to Israel with my Write On peers By Avi Shapira

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Avi Shapira

Write On Fellow

Evanston Township High School

Avi Shapira photo

I am a junior at Evanston Township High School. My love for all things relating to Israel (including politics, Hebrew, music, food and the IDF) was fostered throughout my years as a student at Chicago Jewish Day School as well as many special summers at Camp Ramah. In addition to my studies, I am passionate about sports. I’m a member of  the ETHS soccer team and ultimate frisbee team as well as a manager of the Varsity boys basketball team. Additionally, I am an active participant in the ETHS Israeli club, which provides educational activities related to Israeli cuisine, politics, Hebrew, music, dancing and holiday celebrations. 


JUF’s Write On for Israel (WOFI) program has helped me hone valuable life skills in leadership, communication and perseverance. My WOFI journey began last September at the orientation event at the JUF building in downtown Chicago where I first met my insightful WOFI cohort as well as the impressive mentors who are guiding us through this program. We listened to Carl Schrag, the program director and an excellent public speaker, as he outlined what the program would look like for us this year. He told us that WOFI will challenge us to wrestle with complex issues facing Israel and push us to write about complicated topics we’ve never explored before. He promised that Write On will be a rewarding experience that will ignite our desire to learn more about Israel in order to become effective Israel advocates in the future. 

Write On has more than delivered on that promise. During each monthly seminar, we are presented with multiple opportunities to read, write and discuss Israeli current events, politics and history through different activities such as mock game shows or creative presentations. These exercises have helped me hone my leadership and communication skills. Collaborative group work is an essential life skill and the only way to improve is to engage in group work and discussions, which we do consistently in Write On. 

The program presents a wide variety of perspectives on Israel, and engaging with these perspectives has taught me how to form my own opinions on these complex issues. The WOFI program has also provided me a unique opportunity to form friendships with a diverse group of Jewish teens from across Chicago and the suburbs, who I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet. Although my Write On experience has looked different than originally planned given the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, I am counting down the days until I get to travel to Israel with my Write On peers, bringing all of our learning full circle. I hope future Write On participants will have the opportunity to explore the ideas, values and lessons that I have discovered through this valuable program.

Self-Validation By Josh Pogonitz

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don't let yourself ...

Over the course of the past few years, I have learned about self-validation and how helpful it is to practice each day. I want to share with you all knowledge and insight that I have learned. I hope it can be helpful to you as well! 

Many, many times in my life, I have invalidated how I was feeling. For me, as someone who is hard on themselves, a lot of my anxiety stems from worries that I am a bad person based off whether or not I am enough as a person, etc. As a result, I often invalidate myself as a person. My anxiety and OCD want to imprison me by my emotions and thoughts creating a barrier that is comprised of self-invalidation and being hard on myself. One way I avoid defining myself by these worries, by this anxiety, and instead combat them, is by validating what I am feeling and thinking, as well as validating myself in general.  

you're worthy

What are some ways to self-validate? 

1) Actively listen and pay attention to our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors  

2) Allow and be tolerant of ourselves to feel whatever we are feeling whether it is anxiety, depression, distress, anger, or other. Also, trying not to judge ourselves for how we are feeling can be very valuable.  

2a) Similarly, it can also be helpful to not “should“ on how we’re feeling. For example, “I should not be feeling depressed.” By trying not to use these types of phrases, we are allowing ourselves to feel.  

2b) Judgements include both positive and negative ones. An example of not judging how we are feeling is, “Wow, I am feeling very sad right now.”  

3) Respond to how you’re feeling in a way that we’re taking ourselves seriously by accepting that how we’re feeling is okay. An example: “it is not pathetic, soft, nor stupid to be feeling how I am feeling.”  

3a) This step, in particular, may be subconsciously skipped over and so it is important to pay attention to not doing so. 

4) Perceive our emotions, feelings, and thoughts as acceptable, making sense, and accurate in a current situation even if it is not felt to be necessary. 

4a) Oftentimes, we may feel that self-validation is not going to be helpful, necessary, or is not deserving. It can be difficult to practice it, and still it is important that we still self-validate until we reach a point where our mindsets are clearer so we can then better deal with the pain we're experiencing.  

4b) I can’t count how many times I have felt that I did not deserve validation and/or it would not help. Then, after some time, it helped me cope with my anxiety and depression. 

5) What would you say to your friend if he or she came to you about how he or she was feeling? For me, this can be a helpful technique while self-validating because I find it beneficial to imagine a friend coming to me about how he or she is feeling. I would never tell a friend that he or she deserves to feel the pain they are experiencing. I would only treat myself like that. So, I like to tell myself to validate myself like I would validate a friend, or to “be my own friend.” 

6) When it comes to being harder on ourselves, it is important that we try and resist saying invalidating and mean things to ourselves.  

7) It can be helpful to hang up a sticky note on our bedroom walls, make a background, or even just keep a card in our wallet that reminds us to validate ourselves  

What are some signs of self-invalidation? 

Sometimes invalidation can be unintentional, so I wanted to share a few ways we recognize it. Some signs include associating our emotions, thoughts, and feelings as an overreaction, pathetic, stupid, soft, weak, not tough, not worthy of our time 

What are some of the benefits?  

Can deescalate intense emotions 

Helps self-esteem and helps to increase self-love 

Can be used as one of the first steps to coping  

Last but not least, a concept I have found interesting when it comes to self-validation is that in order to validate, we do not have to agree with, nor justify, the situation at hand. Even if we do not agree, it is important that we still validate how we’re feeling. For me, sometimes I do not agree, and after I validate and practice another coping technique, I have been in a clearer mindset and can better cope and soon love myself more, as well as be less hard on myself. An example of this concept is a case of mindreading a situation. The behavior of assuming and making judgement is unjustified and while the worry and anxiety associated with it is unjustified, the feeling is still valid.  

Once again, I hope sharing what I have learned about self-validation can be helpful to some of you readers! 

Sending my love to you all! Peace out! 

#selfvalidation #selfesteem #selflove #copingtechnique #youarenotalone #yougotthis #wegotthis  

What are Cognitive Distortions? By Josh Pogonitz

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cognitive distortions

One helpful way to cope with mental illnesses is to recognize the different ways that we are thinking. Learning about, recognizing, and then challenging cognitive distortions does just that.  

So, what are cognitive distortions? “Cognitive distortions” are unhelpful thinking styles. The word “cognitive” means the mental action or mental process of taking in knowledge and understanding of something through thoughts, experiences, and senses. In other words, it means a perception, sensation, notion, or intuition. A thought that is “distorted” is twisted, falsely interpreted, and misleading. 

The 10 different common cognitive distortions I have learned about are as follows. I have shared with you short explanations from two of the sheets I was given while in therapy. They contain explanations, different examples, and different ways to cope with each of them. Feel free to print them out!   

  1. All or nothing/black and white thinking - viewing situations, people, or yourself as entirely bad or good, there being nothing in between.    

  1. Mental filter - only paying attention to certain types of evidence.   

  1. Jumping to conclusions - the two different kinds of this distortion are mind reading (thinking that we know what someone is thinking or thinking they know what we are thinking) and fortune telling (predicting the future).  

  1. Emotional reasoning - thinking that the way we feel or the thoughts we have must be true. 

  1. Labelling - labeling ourselves or others.  

  1. Over-generalizing - based on a single event, we then make broad conclusions.  

  1. Disqualifying the positive - discounting the positives that have happened and only focusing on the negatives.  

  1. Magnification (catastrophizing) and Minimization - blowing things out of proportion and shrinking things to be less important.  

  1. “Should” Or ”must” - using terms like “should,” “must,” or “ought” 

  1.  Personalisation - blaming ourselves for things we are not actually responsible for or conversely.  

While in therapy over the past few years, I have learned about these cognitive distortions. Without realizing it, I often think in these ways. Also, for me, my anxiety and OCD tint my perceptions of life, causing me to think and believe in these ways. What this coping technique is, is to learn about and separate ourselves from them, from our mental illnesses. For me, that means separating myself from how my OCD wants me to think which is in the form of these distortions. 

I truly believe that it can be super helpful to learn about these unhelpful thinking styles, gain awareness about how these patterns fit our thought processes, and then challenge them. It may be difficult and painful to practice recognizing these thinking patterns, and that is okay and even normal. You are not alone. Everyone struggles with cognitive distortions. After deeply learning about them in treatment last year, I still find it difficult to challenge my cognitive distortions. Sometimes, it is very difficult to do so because I may strongly believe in the thought distortion I experiencing.  

Two cognitive distortions that I experience are “all or nothing thinking” and “mindreading”. Below are personal examples: 

  • An all or nothing thought- “I did a great job today at basketball practice for the first hour and 45 minutes, but that does not matter at all because I missed the last three shots I took. I played horribly today.” This is similar to other types of distortions.  

  • Mindreading - I often feel tremendous guilt and shame because I feel worried that someone is feeling angry, anxious, or depressed because of me. I may think this way because I worry that I offended them, or triggered anxiety or depression when I did not.  This is also similar to Personalization.  

I hope that learning about and recognizing what cognitive distortions are can bring a sense of hope and relatability to any of you readers. 

We can do this! Sending my love to you all! Peace out! 

#selflove #cognitivedistortions #copingtechnique #youarenotalone #fighter #warrior #yougotthis #wegotthis 

Imperfectionism By Josh Pogonitz

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self love

Since elementary school, I have struggled with perfectionism in many different forms. Here are a few examples of my perfectionist nature, I often tried to make sure my handwriting was perfect, when I worked really hard on an assignment I tried to make sure the paper I handed in was perfectly clean and not bent, and I was often hard on myself for not being a the nicest person I could possibly be.   


While in high school, my struggle to be perfect spiked off the charts. Different from elementary and middle school, I didn’t always realize that I was striving for perfection. The reason for this is because my perfectionism was a part of my OCD and became more surrounded with ”just right” feelings.  


A “just right” feeling is when we pursue whatever we are doing until we feel ”just right”. More so in the past, but still sometimes today, I may worry that I am not enough. I may worry that I am not working hard enough at the work I am doing, or being a good enough person. To illustrate, I have often tried being a perfect person who worked for a “just right” amount of hours and who put enough thought into the answers I wrote down for a school assignment. I have also strived to be someone who never metmy  own needs before meeting the needs of others. Someone who never yelled at anyone, someone who was never mean to anyone, and who never made any mistakes. In addition, I have struggled with perfect organization. Especially in my bedroom, I often feel that all of the things in my room must be organized and arranged in good enough ways, everything must be perfectly clean.  


One of the reasons why this was so painful to be living through is because the perfect and “just right” feeling standards changed over time. For example, when I would meet the perfect standards of hard work by working for three hours, then I would feel like I have to work four, then five, etc. If I did not meet these “just right” standards, I would feel a lot of distress, and a lot of anxiety. I have been extremely hard on myself and believed that I did not have any self-worth. It became extremely difficult to function.  


As I said before, not realizing that I was striving for perfection was because it is a part of my OCD. Until the third month of residential treatment, when I was confronted by my treatment team and by my parents that I was trying to be perfect, I ALWAYS disagreed with them. For many years, I wasn’t separating myself from my OCD, and therefore it took control of me. My OCD was distorting my thinking and tinting my perception, which caused me to solely think how my OCD wanted me to think.  


I have learned that the first step to healing is identifying what needs to be worked on and recognizing the mental illness. The reason why I could not see any other way of living besides being perfect was because for so long I had not separated myself from my OCD. 


One day while at art therapy in residential, I was making an object that I could use while experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression to ground and comfort myself. I was gluing together felt, faux fur, and other materials. At the time, I was feeling very passionate about writing and drawing the word “LOVE,” and so I cut out the letters using felt. When I was gluing the letter “L” to the object, I glued it on backwards. I was feeling so upset that I messed up; I was being hard on myself, and giving myself negative self-talk and then I realized something: it is okay to not be perfect. My backwards L became a  symbol that it is okay to make mistakes. We are human. I created a logo out of it that says “Self Jove.” In the logo, I colored in the letters outside the lines and colored them in in an intentionally scribbled and imperfect way. The logo represents that even though we make mistakes and that we are imperfect, it is important that we still love ourselves. 


It is important that we separate ourselves from perfectionism. In therapy, I have practiced challenging my anxiety and OCD by trying not to meet the “just right” standards and trying to live differently. 


We are not our mental illnesses. We can be imperfect and still love ourselves. We can be imperfect and still be worthy. There is hope.  


I hope this symbol can resonate with some of you and that my struggles with imperfection can, too. 


Sending my love to you all! Peace out!  


#selflove #imperfection #perfectlyimperfect #youareenough #weareenough #happiness #fighter #warrior #youarenotalone#yougotthis #wegotthis