Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

My Jewish Community by Sammy Kasselman

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In the spirit of Thanksgiving, Sammy Kasselman shares how thankful she is for the Jewish community she found for herself through Hillel was. While transitions are hard for everyone, finding people who make us feel at home make everything easier. Whether it is going from 8th grade to high school, starting at a new camp, attending an after-school club for the first time, or graduating high school and starting college, the Jewish community is there for you.  


Researchers say the greatest determinant of Jewish continuity is having a Jewish community. Although it took me until college to find one; I couldn’t be happier that I finally did. 

A few weeks after I attended the Freshman Shabbat Dinner at Hillel, I realized that I had a special connection with the girls I sat with. If you’re anything like me, you probably don’t FaceTime someone after one conversation. But this time I didn’t even think twice as I put my high school’s motto to the test and truly embraced the awkward. I FaceTimed these 3 girls because I couldn’t wait to tell them I found an open dorm room on their floor and I was moving in. I still remember them sprinting down the hall to show me how close my room would be to theirs. While this was touching, I still had no idea how close we would become as friends. 

As weekly Shabbat dinner attendees for 2 years now, I can confidently say Hillel’s activities fostered a connection amongst my friends that runs deeper than just shared experiences and circumstance.  When the year gets busy and schoolwork takes over our week, Hillel feels familial in a way nothing else does. Not only did I learn new things and meet new people, but I also found a space to express myself authentically. From stealing challah from all the tables at Shabbat dinner to playing games at the Purim carnival and volunteering to educate students on Jewish genetic screening, Hillel has provided me a community that role models healthy relationships and strong leadership.  

I’m now going into my junior year and I am counting down the days until I move into a house with all my best friends. Between our plans to decorate the attic to more games of ‘Set’ (A great card game) to hosting our own Shabbat dinners, I truly cannot wait to see what the year has in store for us. 

Are you interested in finding a Jewish community on your college campus? Check out College Road Trip a Springboard School Break to tour Jewish life on college campuses this Spring.

A Re-imagined Bat Mitzvah Speech by Yardayna Ben-Simon

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Becoming a Bar or Bat Mitzvah is a significant milestone in one’s Jewish journey. This is because at age 12 or 13 one is considered to be an adult in the eyes of Judaism; this is a substantial responsibility at which point one is asked to stand in front of your community to reflect and share wisdom. By this point in life, you are able to developed your own outlook on life, and question your identity, Jewishly and otherwise, which is encouraged by Judaism. But, the questioning doesn’t stop here which means that your perspective is bound to change many times over. How will your reflections change if you were asked to share sentiments again later in life? What better way is there to see personal growth and change in perspective than being asked the same reflective question at a later point in life. Here to share new nuggets of wisdom, and what her Bat Mitzvah speech would look like two years out of college is Yardayna Ben-Simon.

I’m being honest: I barely remember what I wrote for my Bat-Mitzvah speech, probably because it wasn’t really true to who I was. But how could it have been? I was only 12, having very little life experience to say something “wise” or true to my heart or beliefs. 

If I could rewrite my Bat Mitzvah speech as my current 20-year-old self, I would talk about mistakes, particularly within the context of leadership. There are a myriad of characters and leaders in the Torah who made life-threatening and even nation-threatening mistakes, which put themselves and the people of Israel at a disadvantage. Aaron and Miriam spoke Lashon Hara (gossiped). Moses broke the Luchot. David committed adultery. Saul disobeyed G-d’s commands. As Jews, we recognize all of these names and acknowledge each person’s undeniable greatness and fierce connection to G-d and Judaism. But I recall that in day-school, my teachers and fellow peers were afraid to also acknowledge their mistakes. We were hesitant to debunk these leaders’ greatness. But I don’t think mistakes are a bad thing. I think mistakes are so human, separating us from G-d’s imperfections. The mistakes that the above-mentioned leaders made lowered them from the level of G-d to the level of the nation and society.  

A B-Mitzvah child enters young adulthood and is suddenly accountable for the future of the Jewish people and its continuity. They are the future leaders. That’s intimidating! However, as leaders, they have to understand and learn from our past leaders in Jewish tradition. Mistakes make people human and they drive one towards self-awareness, which is, I think, one of the most important qualities in a leader. Mistakes make you look back and say “huh, I see what I did wrong there,” hoping that you’ll grow from it and become even more self-aware. So, I would tell my 12-year-old self: don’t let things just happen to you in a passive way. Don’t just say “oops” and not think about what you did wrong or how you could fix it. Get to know yourself, how you interact with people, your strengths and weaknesses, and be OK with making mistakes and hold yourself accountable for them. That is how you can develop into a true leader, and it’s only human. 

Olivia Hirshorn: Still Singing Along to the sound of Songleader Boot Camp

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When I first found out I was going to Songleader Boot Camp, I was initially hesitant. All I knew was that I would be attending a five day songleading conference in St. Louis. But when I arrived at Union Station, my perspective changed. I was immediately greeted with warm hellos and hugs from the fellow Springboard teens. This first interaction and fun filled train ride perfectly set the tone for the next five days. Every day, I had the chance to meet a wide range of people, all from diverse backgrounds and interests, who all shared a commonality; a love for music and Judaism. Every day was action packed—filled with seminars, spontaneous jam sessions, and meaningful conversations with individuals. Coming in knowing very few people, I left with  a new best friend and community that became family to me. The most powerful moment of SLBC took place in the Blackbox theater. It was Havdalah and everyone who attended the conference was huddled together, standing in a large circle. With new friends and educators on both sides of me, I felt like I had found my people. We all sang in harmony, the sounds of many voices coming together as one. This experience and conference not only allowed me the opportunity to form new bonds, it helped me find myself and my true values. Not only am I already planning on attending this amazing experience next year, I am now top 12 in the Jewish Star competition! Stepping into the unknown to attend this conference was the best decision I ever made. I still ride the SLBC high with an uplifted spirit and soul. 

Who’s excited for Big Apple Adventure Round 4?!?

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Big Apple Adventure Round 4

Who’s excited for Big Apple Adventure Round 4?!? 

We are! And we’re here to tell you our TOP 5 Reasons why! 

#1: You get to spend 5 incredible days in the city that never sleeps! Experience some of the city’s greatest attractions including the Statue of Liberty, the iconic Times Square, and Rockefeller Center!  
#2: You’ll make new, lifelong friendships with other Jewish teens from across the Chicagoland area. You’ll also have the opportunity to build relationships with our incredible college-age advisors and staff!  
#3: One of the best parts of the trip is that you’ll have the chance to give back by volunteering and helping our Jewish brothers and sisters in need. You’ll also learn about the different volunteer organizations that serve Jewish communities in New York and across the world.  
#4: You’ll explore Jewish Brooklyn as you shop for Shabbat, bake your own delicious challahs, and gear up for a Shabbat experience you won’t soon forget!   
#5: As if reasons 1-4 weren’t enough, you’ll also have tons of fun!  

Can’t wait for you to join us this Presidents’ Day Weekend for the trip of a lifetime on Big Apple Adventure! 

Jeremy Schaechter,  

Big Apple Adventure Director & NCSY North Shore Director  

#TravelTuesday Ski & Snowboard Adventure

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Ski and Snowboard Adventure

"The Ski and Snowboard Adventure program is one of the highlights of my year. Not only do I love to ski, but I love to see new people learn this amazing skill every year. Seeing someone who doesn’t even know how to step into a pair of skis or a snowboard on day one racing past me on a black diamond on day four is unbelievable. However, this program is more than a group of teens learning or enhancing a skill, each year I see a group of strangers become a group of friends. Every year I hear about the teens involved meeting up after the program and becoming good friends. In my opinion, that is what the program is all about. Forget about school and homework, at the Ski and Snowboard Adventure teens are able to get away from Chicago, spend their winter break on the slopes skiing, snowboarding, and snow tubing, they try out some of the best indoor waterparks that the Wisconsin Dells has to offer, and leave with a new group of lifelong Jewish friends from across the Chicagoland area."

- Kyle Kolling, JCC Camp Chi Program Coordinator

Springboard Teen Engagement Specialist Sam Grobart Signing Off

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Over the past year and a half, I have had the privilege of working as a Springboard Teen Engagement Specialist. The teens, parents, and professionals I have been able to work with along the way have reassured me that this community will continue to thrive. Being able to be both a teen and professional in this community has been an eye-opening experience. As a teen, there were many things I took for granted and never gave much thought to what went on behind the scenes. As a professional, being able to use my experience as a teen to provide meaningful and engaging programs proved invaluable. I am confident that without my experience as a Jewish teen in this community, I would never have become a Jewish youth professional.

Sam Grobart

It’s been an incredible experience, one that cannot be summarized in a single blog post. I’ve decided to focus on a few lessons I’ve learned as a Teen Engagement Specialist:

1. There is no better day than today to make a difference.

As a Teen Engagement Specialist, I felt empowered to take initiative and create unique, memorable experiences for Jewish teens. None of that could have happened without amazing supervisors and team members, knowing that I had their trust to put ideas into action and take initiative in making a difference in our community. 

2. Jewish youth professionals need to have lots of hats ready in the closet.

One day you may be tasked to organize excel sheets and perfect mail-merge skills. The next day you’ll be speaking to another group of professionals about different email hacks. And a third day you’ll be driving up to an overnight camp to run an immersive and engaging program for teens. Jewish youth professionals need A LOT of different hats and knowing when to wear which. Mentor hat? Yes. Facilitator hat? You bet. Technology wiz hat? Without a doubt. I have come to appreciate the vast amount of skills and areas that come with being a Jewish youth professional.

3. Jewish teen leaders of today are the Jewish youth professionals and leaders of tomorrow.

As cliché as it sounds, it's true. There is no better experience when looking at Jewish youth professional roles then authentic experience in these programs. It is something that cannot be explained but only felt. You just know. For the teens reading this that look up to their staff and other Jewish mentors, they were just like you not so long ago. The amazing experiences you have in your programs don’t need to end when you graduate.

4. Relationships are everything.

As a Teen Engagement Specialist, my number one priority was to build, cultivate, maintain, and enhance relationships. Whether with teens, parents, and professionals, having these strong relationships makes the work we do possible. I want to thank everyone that I have worked with, in any capacity, and allowing me to make even just a small positive difference in the Chicago Jewish teen community.

It’s been a pleasure getting to know so many teens, parents, and professionals in our community. Thank you to all those who have let me learn and grow both personally and professionally. My email will remain, and I won’t be moving far (less than 100 feet to be exact), so please continue to reach out as I begin my new role at the JUF. This is Teen Engagement Specialist Sam Grobart signing off. L’hitraot!

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, 


18 Under 18


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