Blog with Springboard

The Springboard blog highlights the experiences of Jewish teens and Jewish teen professionals participating in community programs across Chicagoland and beyond. Dive into blogs about different Jewish teen events, leadership programs, trip opportunities, and more! Join us in celebrating the unique perspectives and contributions of Jewish teens and professionals in the Jewish community. To post a blog, please email

Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

What I learned from witnessing my classmate wear a Nazi-esque Halloween costume by Gabi Josefson

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When I went to school on Halloween, I thought my biggest worry would be finishing up my college applications. Little did I know that the actions of one of my peers would lead to one of the most difficult times in my high school career.  

Witnessing a classmate walk around my school in an East German soldier Halloween costume, while goose-stepping on stage and giving a Nazi salute to the crowd was traumatizing.  

The question now: How do we prevent future acts of antisemitism and other forms of bigotry from occurring in my school? The answer, I believe, is through unity and education.  

As members of our school’s Jewish student group, Jewish Student Connection, we thought it important that our organization take the lead in advocating for improved Holocaust and genocide education at Jones. 

In the weeks since the incident, we—and our allies—have worked to pressure leadership to better comply with the law that made Holocaust education compulsory in public schools in Illinois, the first state in the country to mandate Holocaust education more than 30 years ago.   

In addition to genocide education, we’re also urging our teachers to consider ways they can weave Jewish education into other lesson plans. We also recommend that our peers do their own research, such as by visiting the Illinois Holocaust Museum and Education Center. We’re optimistic that the school will implement revised Holocaust curricula in the classroom as soon as next year.  

Our school has garnered a lot of negative attention in response to this incident. The administration’s handling of the event unleashed a firestorm that threatened to dilute the gravity of the student’s behavior in wearing the costume.  

It’s frustrating that over the past year, the portrayal of Jones has failed to highlight the warmth of teachers and students in the face of challenging events, as that is a part of our culture that I am incredibly proud of.  

I am uplifted by the way our school’s teachers and students have supported the Jewish community at Jones in the aftermath of this incident, striving to counter antisemitism at our school. I’m inspired to work toward building a curriculum at Jones that focuses on educating our students on subjects of critical importance. Education, after all, is the key to uplifting perspectives and combatting antisemitism, racism, and all forms of hate in our community. 

Chicago Public Schools ultimately suspended Jones College Prep Principal Joseph Powers for his handling of the Halloween costume incident and the school is pending an investigation.

Gabi Josefson

About the Author: Gabi Josefson is a senior at Jones College Prep, where he serves as co-editor-in-chief of the school newspaper, co-president of his school’s Jewish Student Connection, and a member of the tennis team. Outside of school, he is involved in BBYO and JUF Voices. Gabi belongs to Anshe Emet in Chicago.

Look out for Gabi's article about this expierence in the December/ January edition of Jewish Chicago. Watch the interview about the incident on WTTW news here

Our Experience at our Kol Koleinu Retreat by Talia Polish and Rosie Smith

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I scrolled through a list Jewish groups on my computer, skimming the screen. I paused when I saw Kol Koleinu. A Jewish, feminist group? I did some research, and it seemed right up my alley: this was a place where I could meet others that shared similar values with me, and it was also an opportunity to make actual change. So, along with people from all over the US, we both applied to be involved in the change-making fellowship for teen Jewish feminists. We were put into a group of 13 girls all the way from Miami, to, of course, Chicago. Our first meeting was a 24-hour experience designed to start off the program; I didn't know what to expect. I was nervous, had never met these people, and was worried about forming connections. Was I going to feel brave enough to find my voice to discuss issues and share my honest opinions? Would my ideas be appreciated? Would my voice be heard?

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Finally, after a flurry of COVID tests, email, and logistical communication, it was time for the retreat. I was one of the first to arrive at the temple we were staying at, and I remember my heart pounding and  thoughts circulating through my head. Would the other girls be nice, or cliquey and judgemental? Would this be a space where I could make meaningful change? But within minutes of interacting with the people around me, I soon realized my worries were irrational. 

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We excitedly exchanged music tastes, anecdotes of our trips to the temple, and more. It took no time to get to know one another, and within an hour, we all felt significantly more familiar with the group. If someone was looking at how we interacted, they would’ve never guessed we had known each other for less than a day. 

The instant connection was one I’ve never felt before and I can imagine it was because we had so much in common. We were each passionate about feminism, our Jewish identities, and social change. Never has another group of people made me feel more comfortable, more stimulated and excited to talk about things from social change and Jewish identity to our favorite form of potato. Yes, a real question I felt necessary to bring up which brought about some passionate and unique answers. 

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That weekend I not only formed meaningful lifelong connections with girls I would have otherwise never known, but I also engaged in conversation that was exhilarating. I opened up about things I would have never felt comfortable talking to anyone else about before. We all shared stories connected to our identity, whether our journey to becoming a feminist, or antisemitism we had experienced that had shaped our Jewish identity. Swapping stories made me realize that I wasn't alone in any way, I wasn't alone in the hate I had experienced, or in the passion I felt to create change. In a way, it felt surreal. This was a chance to get away from our normal, stressful school life, and it was refreshing to be with a group of new people that we didn’t normally spend time with.

Now that we’re no longer able to be physically together, we’ve stayed in touch through social media and zoom calls, and we excitedly await our next in-person retreat at OSRUI. In the next few months, we’ll begin creating our social change projects that involve issues we’re passionate about. Kol Koleinu has been such a wonderful experience so far, and we are excited to have this opportunity to create change and continue fostering this community with this group of girls! We are grateful to Moving Traditions for creating this Jewish platform to sponsor education programs for teens, allowing us to delve deeper into our passion for social change.

About the Authors:

Rosie Smith

Rosie Smith (she/her) is a senior at Deerfield High School. She plays the clarinet, is a member of the warrior marching band, and participates in pit and pep band. She volunteers at Gigi's Playhouse: Down Syndrome Achievement Center where she tutors literacy. Over her summers she works as a camp counselor for kids aged 5-7. Rosie is a member of Temple Jeremiah. For fun Rosie enjoys reading, baking, listening to Taylor Swift and hanging out with friends.

Talia Polish

Talia Polish (she/her) is a sophomore at Evanston Township High School where she plays flute and is a yearbook editor. Outside of school, she is a member of the Actors Gymnasium Teen Ensemble, through which she teaches, learns, and performs circus arts. She is a member of North Shore Congregation Israel where she participates in the youth group, is a teen tutor for b’nei mitzvah students, and assistant teaches second grade religious school. Talia enjoys baking, swimming in the lake, and spending time with friends and family!

Why Our Words Matter By Olivia Graham

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As an avid watcher of The Kardashians, I always follow up on Thursdays to see the latest episode. I listen to Kanye West's music and enjoy seeing all of the obscure designs that he comes up with for his collaborations with Adidas, GAP, and his own company, YEEZY. I now feel a budding sense of shame that I (unknowingly) supported an antisemite.

On October 8, 2022 Kanye tweeted that he would go “death con 3 on JEWISH PEOPLE”. I don’t actively use Twitter and had no idea that this was even going on until one of my Jewish friends posted about it on their Snapchat story with a bunch of emojis - one with its head exploding, another with a cocked eyebrow, and one with tears streaming down its face. I too was all of these different expressions. But my first reaction was to laugh. I laughed. His tweet was absolutely absurd!

It is known that Kanye has Bipolar Disorder so my logical response was to give him the benefit of the doubt that he couldn’t really mean what he had written. I understand mental illnesses are hard to deal with and knew that  sometimes he had manic episodes. I constantly refreshed my Instagram page and looked at different news sites and even Twitter to learn more. There was nothing. Not one statement was released from him or his team stating that he didn’t really stand behind his comment, that it wasn’t actually something that he believed, or that it was connected to a manic episode. Instead, I found nothing.

Kanye West once said: “I feel like I’m too busy writing history to read it”. I mean, obviously. If he had bothered to “read history” maybe he would know that these biases he holds against Jewish people have constantly been debunked. They are clearly false and dangerous things to say.

I was deeply troubled by his comments and I asked my friends what they thought about the situation. Everyone, including my non-Jewish friends, uttered words like “horrible” and “sad” and how bad they feel for the Jewish community. Once again I headed to Instagram to see what I could find. While my Jewish friends and other accounts that are affiliated with the Jewish community posted about the situation by discussing how antisemitism was absolutely inappropriate and how they stand by the Jewish community… my non-Jewish friends' accounts were dormant. Not one of those friends had voiced those same opinions or support on Instagram. I wondered where the public outrage from my friends was. If they thought the situation was appalling, why didn’t they post about it? It doesn’t take much to show solidarity by clicking “add to story” and sharing publicly how you feel. 

I started to ponder why they wouldn’t post something related to Jewish Activism… was it “controversial”? During 1st period while discussing momentous moments in American history, I couldn’t help but turn to my friend and peer at the desk next to mine and ask, “why didn’t you post about the Kanye situation, like actually?”

“Umm… well because I didn’t want to be labeled in a certain way that would make me weird to my friends”, they responded.

Oh. I didn’t think that posting about things related to the Jewish community would be considered controversial, and could end up with someone even being made fun of. We have, unfortunately, had many opportunities recently to practice allyship and I wondered what was stopping them now. Their response made me see that antisemitism has, and may continue to be, rooted in not only political ideals but also social ones too. The situation seemed to worsen and it did so quickly. My Instagram feed, TikTok For You Page, and TV News Station became flooded with content from Nazi sympathizers. There was a post with a group holding up a banner that stated that “Kanye is right about the Jews” and that people should “Honk if you know”. Kanye is right about the Jews? Right about… what?

That feeling of shame that I (unknowingly) supported an antisemite grew. I liked Kanye. I put money in his pockets. I inspired him to express his values to the world and encourage others to do the same. For the first time in my life (that I can remember) someone I supported, even looked up to, was openly antisemitic. Someone I admired was voicing a prejudice towards me and my entire community and I don’t know what to do about it. Just as problematic, many of my friends who also admired Kanye were writing this off as being connected to his Bipolar Disorder, rather than holding him publicly accountable.  But what hurt the most was that Kanye West is 45 years old and should know better than to say such false and inappropriate things, but my friend is 17 and felt that speaking out publicly against Kanye might make things weird. We can’t let future generations be scared of standing up for what's right. So, I personally am going to make it my job to make sure nobody gets made criticized for being an upstander, rather than idly watching hate continue to grow. Hate is a lot like a tree… But I suggest that instead of letting the roots dig their hate into the dirt of society, I think that expanding with our branches, reaching out, and not being afraid to blossom will lead to a more harmonious society.

I looked for the voices of people speaking out against him and his hateful words so I could find and lift up more allies. His ex-wife, Kim Kardashian, released a statement saying that what Kanye did was unacceptable and that she sides with the Jewish community. Then GAP and Adidas both dropped their partnerships with him, ending their successful relationships of many years. Twitter and Instagram silenced his accounts. Then I saw a TikTok with 500,000 likes that showed Kanye’s entire collection scattered across the musty floors of GAP, clothes everywhere with red dots indicating that everything was 75% off.  It was reassuring but was it enough? What can we do about the problem that has already taken root?

The Holocaust Musuem located in Los Angeles publicly stated that they would give Kanye a private tour of the museum so that he would “understand just how words can incite horrific violence and genocides”. Soon after, during a podcast, he rejected their offer. I was shocked. The faculty of the Holocuast Museum in LA showed immeasurable amounts of goodwill by inviting him there, and he rejected them, denying their offer. Albert Einstein said, “education is the progressive realization of our ignorance”. How can Kanye realize his ignorance if he doesn’t want to be educated? How can we expect him to admit he was wrong if he doesn’t want to be informed?

I don’t know what to think. I guess I am writing this blog to let people that hold these prejudices against Jews know that they are simply wrong. I am a 17 year old girl living in the Chicagoland area, close to where Kanye grew up. I am like any other teen. The Jewish people I know are all ordinary people, just like everyone else. I worry about those around me that aren’t speaking out. If they don’t speak out against antisemitism, is that because they may be like Kanye and believe in antisemitic lies? As Kanye famously said in his song Violent Crimes, “people never change, they just get better at hiding who they really are”. I hope that isn’t true. I hope that those who aren’t sure, or who say things they shouldn’t, are open to being educated about the danger of their words. I hope we can do more to educate people and make it clear that this type of speech is not okay.

We need more role models and influencers who are aware of the world and can acknowledge other people's differences, whether that's race, language, culture or more. I know this wasn’t a definitive answer to the whole situation. My opinions and thoughts are constantly changing and racing as I read new information and see different people’s reactions. I know one thing for certain, that allowing influencers and celebrities to get away with sharing hate speech, should not be a precedent for the future. It’s our job to hold people accountable for their actions, not just in private conversation, but in public words and actions.

About the Author: Olivia Graham is a current junior at Vernon Hills High School. She attends Congregation Or Shalom has been teaching there for a number of years. For the last three years, Olivia has helped students learn Hebrew at Congregation Or Shalom through different movements. She is the current president of Jew Crew, the youth group at her synagogue and she is very excited to see what this year holds for that as well. Outside of youth group and synagogue, Olivia enjoys doing gymnastics, playing trumpet, and baking. 

Introducing Molly Fidlow, the New NFTY Midwest Teen Mentor

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Hi everyone! My name is Molly Fidlow and I am super excited to be serving as the new NFTY Midwest Teen Mentor. As part of my role, I will be overseeing both NFTY-CAR and NFTY-NO, working with members in each region to help foster community and build Jewish events after being online for so long. 

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I have been involved in the Jewish world my whole life. Growing up, I was a camper at OSRUI, a Madricha at my temple, and a participant and leader in NFTY. Both camp and NFTY helped shape my Jewish identity in more ways than I could ever imagine. They allowed me to connect with my Judaism, ask questions, and meet other Jewish teens my age. To this day, I am still friends with some of the people I met doing these programs!

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This past May, I graduated from Loyola Chicago with a B.A. in Political Science. I am very excited to see where my new post-grad life takes me, and am particularly looking forward to using my degree in our NFTY social justice programs. During my time at Loyola, I worked on both Loyola and Metro Chicago Hillel leadership teams, with my last year being spent as the President of Loyola Hillel. In addition, I worked for 3 years as the Israel Education Intern under the Jewish United Fund. I was thrilled to be able to find such a strong Jewish community in college, and hope I can foster a similar feeling for our NFTY high schoolers. 

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Feel free to reach out with any questions about NFTY, or if you just want to chat!

The Collab: The New NFTY by Josh Jury

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NFTY has been the Reform Jewish Youth Movement for the last 83 years, but the pandemic presented challenges to its future. Now NFTY is back, in its entirety, and led by ambitious leaders looking to pick back up where we left off. 

‘The Collab' was a monumental event for the future of the Jewish youth movement. It had been several years since an in-person NFTY North American event, and in my time involved in NFTY, this made it my first. 

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When I first found out this event was happening, I was beyond excited. And the fact that my home camp, OSRUI, was hosting was just an added bonus. The group comprised of people from across the U.S., from the east coast to the west coast, the midwest, north and south, all regions across the board were present and made an effort to join in on the fun. This event was oriented toward enhancing the leadership skills of Jewish high schoolers in the Reform Movement. And this event was important for setting NFTY back on track. 

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We arrived on Shabbat and after some ice breakers and many rounds of Jewish geography (some unplanned!) we were instantly connected despite our diversely different backgrounds. The first dinner was a little quiet. We were all happy to be together, but not fully introduced as a group, just excited for what was ahead. 

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By the next day, things were really kicking off with a plethora of activities planned for us. The day was guided toward our own personal leadership skills and growth. We attended a storytelling training program where we learned how to better public speak and narrate interesting stories, cultivating more captivating ways of communication. We learned about a 1:1 conversation, which is a very intentional and formal conversation that aims away from the “what” and toward the “why”. Shortly after 1:1’s we had a voting program, which was organized and led by friends of mine that I met this summer on NFTY in Israel! I was thrilled to be asked to help lead in this program about restrictions and language barriers in voting. This is under-represented topic that I personally became more educated through in preparing to present to our rotating groups. We moved on to other programming, some more regional specific, to further develop connections between our local groups, and even a mock trial to gear in on more politically active aspects of what justice looks like. 

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All NFTY events are enriching; whether through social action, fun programming, social justice initiatives, or just through exploring new friendships in an accepting and inclusive Jewish community. ‘The Collab’ was action packed and I couldn’t possibly summarize everything. I came back from this weekend really inspired and with a smile on my face. There was definitely an energy with this group that I’ll never forget. And I met many amazing new friends just in those few days. For everyone who attended, although the weekend is over, it’s clear that this is just the beginning of something new and exciting ahead for all of us. 

About the Author: Josh Jury is a member of temple Etz Chaim and a junior at Homewood-Flossmoor High School. In his free time he likes to read, bike, travel, and he enjoys photography. Josh is active in NFTY-CAR and has served on the social action committee and is currently the NFTY-CAR Israel Chair. He enjoys spending his summers at URJ OSRUI.