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Happy Chanukah: How Young Judaea Brings Light to My Life by Klara Walny

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Chanukah is a time for making the world brighter. Each night of Chanukah we’ll be featuring stories from teens serving on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) sharing how adding their Jewish experiences add light to our community. JTAC members are representatives of Chicago’s amazing teen programs. For the first night we will hear from Klara about her experience with Young Judaea.    

My name is Klara Walny and one of the organizations I represent this year on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) is Young Judaea Midwest.  

Young Judaea (YJ) is the oldest Zionist youth movement in the United States. YJ is based on Zionism, social action, pluralism, peer leadership, and Jewish identity – all of which are incredibly important to me. I have been involved with YJ for nine years and I have loved every second of it. After my first summer at Camp YJ Midwest, I could not get enough. I spent this past summer at Tel Yehuda (a Young Judaea camp in Upstate New York), and I am looking forward to traveling across Israel for an entire month next summer. Some of my best friends and closest connections have come from my involvement with YJ throughout the years. Especially during COVID-19, my YJ family was there to support and comfort me during such a difficult time.  

Klara Walny Group

One of my favorite YJ programs I have participated in over the years was called “Tikkun groups”, “Tikkun” being short for Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). My Tikkun group worked on projects specifically combating anti-Semitism. In completing this project successfully, we first educated ourselves on anti-Semitism in the United States and then brainstormed different ways to educate individuals on Judaism and Jewish history. Ultimately, we decided to present on the Holocaust and stress the importance of Holocaust education. 

My group met with representatives on Capitol Hill from the RJC (Republican Jewish Coalition), AJC (American Jewish Committee), ADL (Anti-Defamation League). Additionally, we met with Jewish representatives: Wasserman, Shultz, and Zeldin. These conversations provided us with the ability to push for the change we want to see in the world. Personally, this experience showed me that I, as a Jewish teen, can make a difference in not only my community but in my country. Young Judaea has been vital in the development of my Jewish identity; I have been able to grow continuously and begin to understand who I am as an individual.  

Klara Walny

About the Author: Klara is a junior at Glenbrook North High School. When she's not running laps around the school during cross country practice, you might find her writing stories for the school's newspaper or lifeguarding at her local pool. Klara is involved with Chabad of Wilmette and is a JCUA Or Tzedek intern.

Camp’s Little Moments: Introducing Alexa Turner, 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 few months to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Alexa's blog post below as she shares about her experience at JCC Camp Chi and how important it is to her to be a great role model for others

This past summer at JCC Camp Chi was my SIT (Staff in Training) Summer, and it was my first summer where I was able to see the staff side of camp.  Throughout my summers at camp, my number one priority was having a good time. This is pretty normal for a camper though, as the reason most people come to camp is for great memories and new friends. But, this summer was when I realized there is so much more to camp and it was a pivotal moment in my Jewish Journey. 

Alexa Turner Group

For 3 weeks of my summer, I was put into different cabins to help out and learn how to be a staff member. My first week with a cabin, I was with Tsofim, or 6th grade. As this was my first week with a cabin, it was my first week ever seeing camp from another perspective. That week was a super influential week to me. There was one girl in particular that made me realize the importance of listening and being there for my campers. She struggled a lot with mental health issues, just as I have in the past. I was able to relate to her and help her through what I thought were just small things. One time, she really needed a bandaid, and she started crying to me that no one was paying attention to her. I found one for her, and told her if she ever needed anything she could come to me. I think this really stuck with her, and on the day she had to go home, she hugged me sobbing and told me I was the best SIT ever. This made me cry as well. It was my first true experience understanding the impact counselors can have on campers. Seeing camp from the other side, I realized how important it is to be there for your campers and give them the best summer possible, so they can have a home away from home through camp. This guided my Jewish journey because I could see first-hand the impact I can have on others through patience, love, and the little moments.  

As a Peer Ambassador, I cannot wait to keep helping others and my community through what I learned as a SIT. Being a Peer Ambassador is important to me because I am able to connect others with programs that can also impact their Jewish journey. I cannot wait to give that little push to others, and see the reward of watching them grow into amazing Jewish leaders in our community. Community mindedness is a super important value to me because it creates connectedness in times where people may feel disconnected. By knowing what is needed in our community, we can create a community of understanding, passion, and little (or large) acts of good. 

Alexa Turner

About the Author: Alexa is a junior at Highland Park High School, where she participates in the school soccer team, and uses her love of editing to help with the school news. She is a passionate member of the Camp Chi family, which helped form her Jewish identity and find her passion for bringing together and bettering her community. She uses her passion in Jewish programs such as Chi Town Connection (CTC) and JSC General Board. 

Shabbat is a Journey: Introducing Daniel Weisskopf, a Springboard Peer Ambassador

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

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 few months to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Daniel's blog post below as he shares about his experience at Camp Ramah Darom and how summer camp taught him to apprecaite Shabbat. 

All my life I have been surrounded by Judaism, from preschool to high school. To me, every second of every day is special and connected to G-d and Judaism. Rather than one pivotal moment, my life has been shaped by the mundane, the waking up and brushing my teeth, the meals shared with family friends, the songs and tunes of Kabbalat Shabbat, but camp has also been a highlight of my journey.

Camp Ramah Darom

I go to Camp Ramah Darom, a camp in Georgia that belongs to the Ramah movement, and one of my favorite parts of the camp experience is Sloach, or Slow Ruach. Every Friday night after dinner, we sing songs of joy for Shabbat. You don’t need to be a good singer, that isn’t the point, when we sing together, we sound beyond anything the individual can achieve, but my favorite time comes after dinner on Saturday night, Sloach, named as the opposite of the Ruach. Here we express both our sorrow for the end of Shabbat and the hope for the new week. The emotions expressed rarely fail to reduce everyone to the point of tears. The powerful songs of Acheinu, B’Shem Hashem, and Hamalach urge all to join in. This is a chance for us to let go of all the tension and pent-up emotion, leaving us prepared for a new week. The contrast of Ruach, Sloach, and Havdalah, in which the camp is rowdy and dances, paints a wonderful picture.

Shabbat is a chance to get away from the rest of the week, the drama, and the strife. At Shabbat, we look forward to a new chance, a new beginning. These are perhaps the most defining moments of my Jewsh journey.

Daniel Weisskopf

About the Author: Daniel is a freshman at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School. He enjoys tennis, golf, reading, and hanging out with his friends. He is a member of Moriah Congregation and enjoys learning Torah. He has gone to Jewish schools all of his life and can't wait to share the love for Judaism he has developed! 

Judaism in My Life: Introducing Dylan Cohen, A Springboard Peer Ambassador

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

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 few months to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Dylan's blog post below as he shares about his experience going to Israel in 8th grade and how the value of leadership is shaping his Peer Ambassador experience.

A pivotal moment in my Jewish journey was going to Israel with Ta'am Yisrael (now IsraelNow) in 8th grade. This changed the way that I looked at the Jewish religion as a whole. Going to Israel helped me understand the background of many things that we do in Judaism. After coming back, it took me a bit to understand how much it connected me with Judaism, but it truly did. There were two moments that were especially meaningful to me that still stick with me today. First, when we went to the Western Wall it was beautiful to see how many people it brought together. Everyone at the Wall was there for the same exact reason and it was inspiring to see the mutual respect of people around. The second thing was going to Masada. Just being in a place with such a rich history was very touching.

The Masada

Being a Peer Ambassador is about getting more people in the area involved with the Jewish community. It is exciting for me to help grow the Jewish community and be a bigger part of it, since I have not been very involved in the past. I am looking forward to making new connections and building on my skills with reaching out to others. What speaks to me the most, though, is the leadership skills I will learn and how the leadership experience will help improve my skills in many areas. This world always has more room for leaders as they are the people that can uplift others in the toughest of times. Throughout this year, I hope to improve my leadership skills and Peer Ambassadors will help me accomplish that. 

Dylan Cohen

About the Author: Dylan is a sophomore at Deerfield High School, where he is participating in the Sophomore Exec Board and DECA where he uses his leadership skills. In his free time, he is very involved in cross country, he runs every day. He belongs to Congregation BJBE. He is very excited to be a Peer Ambassador because he wants to get involved with more Jewish activities, while at the same time getting his friends involved as well.



The Impact Alexander Muss High School in Israel Had On My Life By Kate Shapiro

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Kate Shapiro and Friends

Hi! My name is Kate Shapiro and I’m a current senior at Deerfield High School in Deerfield, Illinois. During second semester of my junior year, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad at Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI). I spent two months on a campus located in Hod Hasharon, a city located about 20 minutes outside of Tel Aviv, where I took all of my normal classes like math and English, as well as an Israel studies course. We also traveled all over the country to places like Jerusalem and the Kotel (Western Wall), Tel Aviv, the Golan Heights, and so many other beautiful and significant places. I found it incredibly enriching to learn history were it actually happened and walk in the shoes of my ancestors while simultaneously immersing myself in the local Israeli culture. Yet, what truly had the biggest impact on me was the people I was surrounded with. The community at AMHSI was one like no other and I met the most amazing people who inspired me to better myself and the world around me say after day. These people are now my family, and no matter how many miles away we live from each other, they will always be there for me. Leaving them was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.

Kate Shapiro and Friends Photo

 After my school ended, I decided to extend my stay in Israel for another two months in the summer. I felt such a strong connection to the Jewish homeland and I believed that my journey in Israel had just begun. During the hot summer months, I participated in a service trip called Roots Israel. Through Roots, I was able to volunteer in a school for refugees, paint bomb shelters in the south of Israel, and help plant trees and beautify the land. Roots gave me the opportunity to give back to the place that has given me so much the past two months. 

I will forever be grateful for being provided the opportunity to travel to Israel and further develop my Jewish identity. Being surrounded by 70 other Jewish teenagers has fostered a sense of unity and community that I have never experienced before at home. Meeting new people and learning about others has allowed me to learn more about myself as Jew, a Zionist, and a person as a whole. 

Kate Shapiro Portrait

About the Author: Kate is a senior at Deerfield High School in Illinois. Her and her family are members of Congregation BJBE. When Kate is not in Israel for the summer, she is usually at Beber Camp in Mukwonago, WI. 

My Jewish Journey: Introducing Ruth Prass, A Springboard Peer Ambassador

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I am growing up in a religious family. I was raised going to services weekly, attending both Sunday school and Hebrew school, going to a Jewish summer camp, and attending high holiday services. Every Friday before my parents and I went to services, we would do the shabbat blessings. My older sister would do the candle blessings, I would do the kiddush, and my little brother would uncover the challah that my mom had made.  Every hanukkah we opened gifts, made latkes, and lit the candles each night. As I got older, I came to realize that my Judaism was only a routine, and nothing else to me, but that has changed in the past year and a half. 

Ruth Prass Photo 1

I would say that the most pivotal moment in my Jewish journey has been attending Chalutzim at OSRUI. In this Hebrew immersion program, we spoke only Hebrew, learned about Israel as well as our connection with Israel and Judaism. Hebrew has always been a point of interest for me, so getting to learn and apply Hebrew everyday was a gift in my life. As I said, I grew up going to services every week, but I never found services at my home temple as engaging as they were at camp. Sitting with all my friends in nature, doing hand motions and singing energetic songs strengthened my connection to Judaism. The friends I made in Chalutzim are some of the people I am most grateful for in my life; we always had something in common, that we are jewish! Some of my favorite camp memories come from shabbat. After services and dinner we go to shabbat shira and sit together as a unit. Me and one of my best friends push our way to the front of the circle every time. We sing songs, do motions, and sum up our week to the rest of the camp. After shabbat shira, we go to rikkud (israeli dancing). Rikkud is one of the most chaotic situations i've ever been in. We have a ritual in chalutzim that before rikud we all scream the song “get loose get funky” and then the israeli music starts! Although it is only 20 minutes or so, everyone is laughing and dancing in their shabbat clothes and I can never stop smiling. 

Ruth Prass Photo 2

Now, my Judaism is strongly represented for my love of camp, and my ability to build connections. When I was nominated to be a Peer Ambassador, I saw it as an opportunity to be a leader, but more importantly, to build connections. I am looking forward to gaining skills in leadership and understanding my place in the world in regards to my Judaism. More specifically, I want to learn how to lead programs, have more meaningful discussions, and be more creative in planning! 

Ruth Prass Portrait

About the Author: Ruth is a sophomore at Deerfield high school where she plays soccer and basketball. She is an active member of her Israel club and Hebrew honors society. She belongs to Congregation BJBE and Congregation Beth Am. Ruth loves cooking, baking, exercising and hanging out with her friends. Through her attendance at OSRUI, her Jewish identity is strengthened through connections.



My Jew-velution: Introducing Tess Adelstein, a Springboard Peer Ambassador

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Growing up, I was one of the few Jewish kids at my school. Everyone knew that I was the girl with the super long, confusing last name who got to miss school in September for some random holidays. The majority of my friends didn’t understand when I’d explain to them the importance of those seemingly random holidays, and why I had services every Friday at my camp. Then when I had my Bat Mitzvah in eighth grade, seeing their looks of confusion as I chanted my Torah portion was one of the highlights of that day if I’m being honest. 

The one community where I knew I wouldn’t be seen as an outsider for my religion was my camp, Camp Chi. Everyone there was Jewish and understood the importance behind our traditions. They made me feel accepted and proud of my Jewish heritage rather than ashamed for being the odd one out at my school. I continued to go to this camp every summer for what ended up being eight, going on nine years, and the connection to the people and the community created within this camp grew bigger and bigger each year. Last summer while I was there, I got the opportunity to be a counselor in training, which gave me the ability to connect with younger campers and show them the importance of both our Jewish heritage and the connections you make at camp. This experience is something I will forever be grateful for, not just because I got to spend another summer at my favorite place, but because I was able to impact a group of people and teach them the importance of tuning into their “Jewish side”. 

When I heard about Peer Ambassadors and their mission of connecting with Jewish teens to help them grow their Jewish identity, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to continue impacting the Jewish community in almost the same way I was at camp. Becoming in tune with my own Jewish identity has helped me become the person I am today, and to think that I can help someone else have a similar experience makes me so beyond happy and proud to be a Jewish individual. If you were to tell my elementary school self that I would become a Peer Ambassador and be as proud as I am to be a part of the Jewish community, she’d probably walk away from you in disbelief. Never would I’ve thought that I’d grow my connection to Judaism into what it is today, let alone get to a point where I can’t imagine my life without it, and I can’t wait to keep growing it as a member of Springboard Peer Ambassadors!

Tess Adelstein

About the Author: Tess is a rising Junior at Lane Tech High School, where she actively participates in many clubs, including JSC. She loves to write, listen to music, and hang out with her friends. Since Tess has been attending her overnight camp, Camp Chi, for practically half of her life, she's been able to grow her Jewish identity through practicing Jewish values and learning about Jewish culture.

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