Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

If not now, when?: My Interfaith Civil Rights Journey

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“If not now, when?” My Interfaith Civil Rights Journey 

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” John E. Lewis, a former freedom rider. Walking into the museum part of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, I had to do a double take. My mind immediately jumped to the quotation from pirkei avot. Rabbi Hillel says:  

“אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי. וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי" 

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”  

everyone on the bus

The parallels portrayed in these quotations are one of many I encountered on my trip this spring break. I was a participant on the Springboard School Break Trip: Let’s Get Together, a civil rights and ally building trip. The trip brought together Jewish and African American teens to learn about each other's histories, traveling by bus from Chicago to Memphis, Little Rock, St. Louis, and Springfield.  

The quotation from the freedom rider, which is part of black history, and the quotation from Rabbi Hillel, part of Jewish history, both convey the message that we need to speak up and fight. Us — personally, and now. Throughout the trip, it was amazing for me to see how the thoughts of our histories are very similar. These quotes encouraged us to advocate for others and for ourselves. The theme of vocalization continued to appear throughout the trip.  

In St. Louis we went to see The Color Purple, which follows the life of a black woman named Celie in rural Georgia. The musical shows her growth from being raped, abused and belittled, to gaining confidence in herself and learning how to “wear the pants,” one of the musical numbers. The play began with the actors walking out in complete silence. Throughout the show there were many silences. Every scene change, awkward moment, intense moment, sad moment, or amazing moment was exaggerated by the silence. During all of Celie's struggle no one spoke out for her, no one helped her. She was silent and stuck. The silence of the play made me physically see the importance of speaking up for each other and ourselves. “אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי” We as individuals need to speak up when we see injustices in our own lives. 

But sometimes standing up for ourselves isn’t enough. On the bus we watched the movie Marshall, which shows the case of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell. Joseph Spell was a black man accused of rape and attempted murder in conservative Connecticut. Samuel Friedman was hired by the NAACP to defend him, with the help of Thurgood Marshall. The movie showcased an early example of a Jew aiding a black person and it served as an example for trip participants. Though Marshall was not forced to remain silent, as the movie claims, there is truth in Friedman using his voice to defend the accused African American. “וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי” We need to stand up for others when their voices are not loud enough.  

"וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי" “If not now, then when?” In Springfield we had an activity in the capitol building where we used our voices to suggest change. We broke up into groups, working to propose a bill. The leader of my group, Stephanie, asked us what issues we saw in Chicago. One boy, Josh, brought up the problems regarding funding for public schools. I mentioned gun violence in neighborhoods. Another girl, Mpatanishi, pointed out the problem with hate symbols. Her comment gave us the chance to share how hurtful the sight of a swastika is and how it still makes appearances, such as when the Loop synagogue was vandalized, and a rock was thrown through the window. The discussion progressed to cover hateful words about LGBTQ+ people, black or other minorities. This activity brought us closer together because it gave us insight into what each of us cared about and allowed us to share our personal experiences. It also gave us a chance to brainstorm together ways we could address these problems by collaborating and working together.  

Most of the trip was about “getting together”. My favorite moment of the trip was sitting in the room of one of my new friends on our last night because we wanted to savor every minute together. At first it was just a few girls, then others joined us, and the number kept growing. Someone turned on music and everyone started dancing and laughing with each other. One girl started singing a song and everyone else made up verses. We shared food and chatted about life. Our race or religion didn’t matter. It was just a bunch of girls hanging out together. It felt natural for us to just be friends.  

Visiting Memphis

At the first post trip meeting-- or reunion-- we all agreed that the next time there is a march we will show up together to support each other. On the trip we became a family, we recognize the need to be there for each other. If there is another Black Lives Matter march, or something in a black community, I want to be there to support my friends. If something happens at my synagogue, like what happened at the loop synagogue, I know I can count on the friends I made on the trip to be there for me. I want to use my voice to fight for them. I want them to know my history and about anti-Semitism. I want my friendship to go beyond the four days of the trip and for us to really be for each other. “If not us, then who?” We need to use our voices for each other. Not just me but US. It’s a communal effort that we need to take responsibility for. 

-Ariana Handelman, Let's Get Together 2018 Participant

Meet Your Honorees: Adina Arnet, Celia Giles, and Samuel Schwartz

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Meet Adina Arnet 

Adina Arnet

Hi! My name is Adina Arnet and I am a senior at Ida Crown Jewish Academy. I am passionate being involved in my school and community. My participation in various activities and organizations is my way of giving back to the community that has given me so much. Being involved is an integral part of my identity and has shaped who I am today. From President of Yachad to StandWithUs intern to school clubs - I give it my all! Through all my pursuits, I have learned how to be the best leader I can be. I see myself as someone who is constantly engrossed in meetings and events, an avid learner, and enthusiastic friend. I cannot put words to my appreciation for my encouraging parents, advisors, directors, and everyone else who has helped me get to where I am today. I could not have accomplished this much without you.  

Dream Job? Social media marketing  

How do you give back?  I give back by taking what I learned and using it to make an impact. I am constantly sharing what I gained with others so one day, they too can inspire future leaders. 

Who is a leader that inspires you? Randy Pausch (author of The Last Lecture) 

Meet Celia Giles 

Celia Giles

Hi! I'm a Sophomore at Glenbrook North High School. I currently serve on Regional General Board for CHUSY. I am an active member of Congregation Beth Shalom, serving on a board that allocates money to charities called Acharia and the Vice President of my chapter for USY. For the past 8 summers, I've attended Camp Chi, a Jewish overnight camp run by the JCC. At school, I'm in a show choir and an avid member of theatre. I am beyond grateful to be granted this outstanding award! I'd like to thank my parents for helping me enrich my Jewish experience and value my Jewish identity. It's an amazing honor to be a part of this group of high achieving teenagers. I know this award will and has already motivated me to be even more involved with Jewish education and make a difference in our Jewish community. 

Dream Job? Marine Biologist 

How do you give back?  I volunteer with kids at an agency called Study Buddies and tutor them in all subjects at school. Whenever possible, I volunteer with Holocaust survivors at Holocaust Community Services. Also, every Sunday, I'm a teacher's assistant at my synagogue, Congregation Beth Shalom and help out with 5th graders.  

Who is a leader that inspires you? My Grandfather, Conrad Giles who is currently serving as President at World ORT 

Meet Samuel Schwartz 

Sam Schwartz

I’m Samuel Allen Schwartz, Sammy for short, and an extremely thankful to be honored as an 18 under 18. I attended Solomon Schechter Day School from kindergarten until 8th grade graduation. Now, I attend Niles North High School and am on track to graduate following the spring semester of 2019. I enjoy having conversations, learning from others, and staying active. I’m able to impact my community through my involvement as Hebrew Honor Society president, founder of Middle School Israeli club, founder of mental health education club (renamed Erika’s Lighthouse following our partnership), Executive board member of D219 dance marathon, tutoring club, AJC LFT fellow, and numerous other organizations. This summer I will be volunteering at an Israeli orphanage and can’t wait to begin fostering new friendships. Special thanks to my parents who have given me everything I need and more, my sister for blazing my path to success, and my brothers for pushing me to be better each and every day. 

Dream Job? General Manager of the Chicago Bears 

How do you give back? Volunteer weekly at Soup at Six, tutoring club (tutoring elementary students), Moat Chitim, destigmatizing Mental Health issues, executive of district Dance Marathon, Kol Hanaerim mentor, and being nice to those around me. :) 

Who is a leader that inspires you?  Haiym Solomon 

Meet Your Honorees: Carly Colen, Sawyer Goldsmith, and Danielle Wolff

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Meet Carly Colen

Carly Colen Picture

Carly Colen is a junior at Buffalo Grove High School. In the Jewish community she is involved with Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation, Jewish Teen Funders Network Youth Ambassador Council, and Beber Camp. Carly is passionate about making a difference and hopes to pursue political science. She would like to thank Stephanie Goldfarb for teaching her about Jewish philanthropy and being a great mentor, Tamara Stein for her encouragement, and her family for being so supportive in all of her endeavors. Carly would like to encourage others to go out and engage in Tikkun Olam. She would also like to wish all the other 18 Under 18 nominees a big Mazel Tov. 

Who is a leader that inspires you?  President Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand 

How do you give back? Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation and by encouraging my peers. 

Being Jewish is... being part of a community. 


Meet Sawyer Goldsmith 

Sawyer Goldsmith

Hi! My name is Sawyer. If you happen to find me, and I’m not doing work for USY or school, I will most likely be working on some other project either for Keshet, or another organization I am passionate about. I love advocating for human rights, creating art, and playing music. But I’m also fascinated by all things Jewish. I have a strong passion for Judaism, and for me that passion is constantly changing, as is my view of the world. As the world changes, so do we, and we must adapt. I'd like to thank everyone who has supported me throughout my life. Each and every one of you has made an impact on me, and has made me into the person I am today. Todah Rabah! 

Who is a leader that inspires you? Abraham Joshua Heschel 

How do you give back? I strive to make sure that everyone feels comfortable in the spaces that they are in.  

Being Jewish is...  striving to make a change in the world. 


Meet Danielle Wolff 

Danielle Wolff

I go to Vernon Hills High School. At my synagogue, Congregation Or Shalom, I’m a Hebrew tutor, President of the youth group, and a part of the post confirmation class. I have been involved with NFTY-CAR, the Chicago Diller Teen Fellowship, and URJ OSRUI.  
I would like to thank my Or Shalom family. I couldn't be where I am today without you. I thank you for your support, faith, and the energy that you have given to me. The clergy, my friends, Jew Crew, and all the students that I have been blessed to have worked with have truly sparked my passion for Judaism. I would especially like to thank Marcia Cohen for being my mentor and supporting me through my Jewish journey.  
My biggest thank you goes to my biggest cheerleaders: my parents. Mom and dad, I love you a lot and thank you for supporting me through it all. 

Who is a leader that inspires you? My mom  

How do you give back? I give back by encouraging young Jewish people to get involved in their communities and by teaching young people about Judaism and helping them form their own Jewish identities.  

Being Jewish is... being able to be a part of a worldwide community.

Meet Your Honorees: Jordana Bornstein, Zev Blumenthal, and Abbey Finn

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Meet Jordana Bornstein 

Jordana Bornstein

My name is Jordana Bornstein and I am a senior at Deerfield High School and will be attending the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University in the fall. I am honored to have been selected for this award and would like to express gratitude to my parents for supporting me and Naomi Segal for nominating me. In high school, my proudest accomplishments have been my work as a Research Training Intern, interning with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and helping to create Deerfield High School’s Genocide Commemoration Day. I am unsure of what I want to do in the future, but I am passionate about literature, politics, art, and history and I hope to discover and engage in all of these fields and more in the years to come. I am also a member of Temple Jeremiah, and in recent years have become more involved in both my synagogue and Judaism in general. I hope to continue this path of self-discovery in college and beyond. 

Dream Job? Author 

Something most people don’t know about me is... I have a really good sense of direction/navigation 

Who is a leader that inspires you? My mom! Lizzy Garlovsky  

Meet Zev Blumenthal 

Zev Blumenthal

My name is Zev Blumenthal and I am currently a senior at Niles North High School. My involvement in the Jewish community began freshman year when I started attending local NCSY events. Attending these events and regional conventions allows me to strengthen my connection to Judaism. I want others to experience the inspiring transformation I have been so fortunate to have at NCSY. I give back to my community in many capacities, most recently as the chapter president of NCSY as well as the Midwest regional VP of education. Outside of NCSY, I am involved in my school's robotics team, video broadcasting, and photography. I love, hiking, technology, and spending time with family and friends. I would like to show gratitude to those who have helped guide and nurture me: my supportive parents, friends, advisors, and directors. If it weren’t for you I would not have achieved what I have. 

Dream Job? My dream job would be as a CEO of a technology company. As a CEO though I would still want to be involved hands on with my company. 

Something most people don’t know about me is... I am a computer geek but rarely do I ever play video games. 

Who is a leader that inspires you? There isn't a single leader that inspires me. I find inspiration from the leaders that surround me every day and those that have personally touched me or those I know. 

Meet Abbey Finn 

Abbey Finn

Abbey Finn is a sophomore at Buffalo Grove high school, where she participates in theatre, serves as vice president of her choir, is a student council representative, and is the president of Jewish Student Connection. Outside of school, she is heavily involved in the Jewish community. She is an active member of USY, serving on CHUSY region’s general board, and Beth Judea USY’s executive board. She is also a participant in Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation, where she found her passion for philanthropy and helping fund nonprofits. This year marks her 7th summer at JCC Camp Chi. Abbey also serves on the multi-generational board for the Children of Abraham Coalition- which is an interfaith group working to foster relationships across religions. Abbey would like to thank her mom and dad, family, friends, and youth advisors for helping mold her into the Jewish teen she is today. 

Dream Job? Something involving political leadership at a nonprofit 

Something most people don’t know about me is... I have a very type-A personality, and I've been that way since birth when I was born on my due date! 

Who is a leader that inspires you? Barack Obama 

Meet Your Honorees: AJ Katzenstein, Mindy Kramer, and Isaac Freedman

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Meet AJ Katzenstein

AJ Katzenstein

I am a Senior at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois. I love sports and I love to have fun. I am fortunate enough to be serving as the Great Midwest Region's (Illinois) current Regional President for my Jewish youth group, BBYO. I am passionate about every individual finding their passion and their purpose, as well as empowering those around you to make a difference to their communities and to those around them. I live by my three L's: Learn, Laugh, and Love. I'd like to thank JCC Camp Chi and BBYO for all that they have given me throughout the years. I give special thanks to Doug Winkelstein, Bridget Rundquist, Brett Musick, and Joelle Kelenson for working hard and being incredible. I'd also like to thank my grandparents, my parents, Michael and Michelle, and my brother Grant for always believing in me and supporting me. 

Something most people don’t know about me is... that my favorite thing in the world to do is to learn something new. 

Being Jewish is... amazing and a lot more fun than many others believe it to be. 

How do you give back? I give back in any way that I can, sometimes through donations and other times through time. Giving people your time is something that I believe is extremely important.  

Meet Mindy Kramer 

Minday Kramer

My name is Mindy Kramer. I am 16 and a Sophomore at Grayslake North High School. At school, I am a three-season athlete in which I compete in tennis, basketball, and track. Also, I am a proud member of Beth Hillel Temple in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where I teach on Sundays, and am involved in my temple’s youth group. This year, I will be volunteering at Camp CAR which takes place at OSRUI, which is where I’ve been a camper for the past 6 summers. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, playing with my dog, Zeus, and being active outdoors. I would like to use this opportunity to thank my family for all the encouragement they have given me throughout my life. I would not be the leader I am today without them. 

Something most people don’t know about me is... that I love to watch Jeopardy in my free time.  

Being Jewish is... an important aspect of my life because it has helped me learn about myself and create bonds that will last forever.  

How do you give back? I give back by putting my time towards organizations that have helped me in the past, and by donating money to causes that I care about.  

Meet Isaac Freedman 

Isaac Freedman

In the fall, I will be attending Northwestern University in the pre-med track. Thank you to my father, Dr. Lee Freedman, for teaching me to song lead and inspiring both the Jewish and school work I do. At NSCI, I serve as the youth group president and teach K-6 music and 5/6th Hebrew. I would not be the person I am today without the constant love, encouragement, and support from my mother. Thank you for being there for me and picking me up when I am down. I strive to be like my sisters, Sadie and Tilly. Thank you to my greatest teacher, mentor, and friend, Cantor David Goldstein. Thank you to Rabbis Wendi Geffen, Lisa Greene, and Ryan Daniels. Also, thanks to Neil Rigler and Alan Goodis, for enabling the work that I do, being role models, and always lending an ear. 

Something most people don’t know about me is... I know everything there is to know about the Sears (Willis) Tower: There are about 120,000 light fixtures and 80 miles of elevator cable- the fastest elevator moves at 1,600 ft/min etc. I promise I didn't just google that :) 

Being Jewish is... the foundation of my personality and an opportunity to learn, grow, sing, laugh, and pray in a loving community. 

How do you give back? I began volunteering at my temple in elementary school. In addition to organizing and participating in social action projects through the youth group, I give back to the Jewish community through my music. I offer a spiritual and inclusive environment through music and prayer.