Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

My Hebrew Story by Mia Strubel Iram

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My relationship with Hebrew began long before high school. I began speaking Hebrew as a little kid. At home I heard my dad speak it, and throughout my nine years of Jewish Day school my connection to Hebrew deepened as I was immersed in the language. I was initially drawn to the language because of what it represented: my family who lived in Israel, my culture and my Judaism.  

When I left Chicago Jewish Day School, for the first time in my life I had the opportunity to choose the language I wanted learn; I no longer had to learn Hebrew. For a moment I thought of taking Spanish, I considered questions like: Isn’t Spanish a more useful language? Do I really need to take Hebrew if I’ve already been learning in? Those doubts didn’t last long before I realized that I did not need to take a more traditional class to get the things I wanted out of speaking a foreign language. Hebrew is an extremely valuable language. It is unique and will stand out on my future college applications. While Hebrew is a language that I have a religious connection to, many other religions have a connection to Hebrew too, and therefore, my classes could be very diverse. My decision was made clear through the ultimate question: how could I give up on learning a language that I have such a strong connection to? 

If it isn’t clear, I decided to take Hebrew my freshman year at Niles North. Since then, my connection to the language has increased exponentially. My Hebrew class has always been a time in the day that I look forward to, and one where I am happily exposed to new topics. I have learned so much more about the culture and intricacies of the language. Choosing to take Hebrew has impacted my high school experience immensely. It has helped me become more involved in my school and outside community. Looking back, I cannot imagine how different my high school experience would be, had I not chosen to take Hebrew.

A New Lens on the 10 Plagues

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New Lens on the 10 Plagues

On Passover, we are commanded to re-tell the story of Jewish liberation from slavery.  One of the most dramatic parts of the story is the ten plagues.  To free our people, G-d sent the plagues to Pharaoh as reminders of all the injustice happening during his rule.  As we think about about justice and liberation today, what are some of the “plagues” that remind us that even today not everyone is free?  We asked three Research Training Interns to think about what are some of the modern plagues they observe in society today.

Political polarization is a modern plague because it forces individuals to take one side on an issue and does not allow for compromises.  Social and political divides are being created and perpetuated due to the idea that people can only take one extreme side of an issue rather than meeting somewhere in the middle.”  -- Sara Grostern

Social media is a modern-day plague.  It creates unrealistic standards of perfection that negatively affects so many people, primarily young people.  Climate change is also a modern plague because it destroying the world as we know it.   Climate change disproportionately affects people of color, women, people living in poverty, and indigenous people.  Although it is still such a major issue, many people are blind to its effects.” – Gwen Tucker

Internalized racism is a modern-day plagues because of the ignorance towards it.  People internalize stereotypes and unconsciously apply them into their lives, causing racial inequity.”  -- Ellie Goldsmith

What would you name as a modern plague?  Think about these and other pressing social justice issues with other teen girls and non-binary teens in the Research Training Internship – a 10 month feminist research internship exploring social justice issues in Chicago.  Applications for cohort 6 are now open.  Learn more and apply here.  Please contact Beckee Birger, Program Director, at rebeccabirger@juf.org with questions.   

Reflections on being a TYG advisor and this year's LEAD award winner by Neil Rigler

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Niel Rigler

It’s hard for me to imagine a time in my life when I was not working with Jewish teenagers. I grew up in a synagogue where both of my parents served as president, so I was constantly surrounded by that community. During high school I was an active participant in our temple’s youth group and in NFTY (JFTY at the time - go New Jersey!) events, both regionally and nationally. The day after graduation I started working at URJ’s Camp Harlam, where I spent 11 summer as counselor, unit head, and leader of their 6-week summer trip to Israel. When I moved to Chicago after college, I worked at OSRUI for two years and was hired as the youth advisor at North Shore Congregation Israel, where I have been honored to work for the past twenty-six years. I must take a moment to note I was initially hired as a co-youth group advisor - my partner then is my wife now - the world works in mysterious (or perhaps quite deliberate) ways! During my spare time I’m an English Teacher at Deerfield High School, where I enjoy the opportunity to work with a wide range of students but worry a bit less about boxes of costumes and ordering pizza.

To me, the different aspects of the LEAD award (Leader, Educator, Advisor, Dugma/Example) are all essential and interwoven components of what it means to be successful with this challenge. However, what they each mean is not so straightforward. For me, being a leader means standing on the side while my students lead. If I am the one in the front of the room or running an activity, they are passive participants instead of growing their skills in communication and organization and a hundred other areas. As an educator, my main roles are to ask questions and encourage reflection. After every program we consider not only what worked and didn’t, but also the parts each person played in everything from the brainstorming to social interaction to physical work. Being an advisor means being a listener - I long ago learned to be aware of the needs of each student, and that everyone carries a heavy backpack. I set a high bar of expectations and work hard to create it with each of them - the strengths and challenges of each student are unique. Lastly, being an dugma/example means I must be aware of our goals and the ways in which I model them. If I am being phony about it, students are aware of that right away. If I engage with my Jewish identity in a genuine and meaningful way, I can better help be a participant in the important conversations they have about what that can mean to them - about the role Judaism plays in their daily lives and how to explore those questions.

In my jobs as both teacher and TYG advisor I am constantly learning from my students. They are the ones who teach me about current ways of thinking and existing, about their ways of navigating our complicated political and social times, and about the galaxy of forces impacting their thoughts and beliefs. (As a music nerd I try to hold my own in that category, and always manage to surprise a lot of kids when I’m closer to the stage at Lollapalooza than they are). I like to tell people I have the best job in the world - that every day is different, and that I get to be present when teens are at their most curious. Yet those opportunities coincide with their most vulnerable moments, and times when they most feel like challenging and questioning everything. I embrace that. Those are the moments of growth and I’m truly honored to have the opportunity to be there and help guide the pathway for the next generation of Jewish leaders. I’m so fortunate to have so many fantastic people to work with at North Shore Congregation Israel. I’m thankful to Springboard and all of the great work they do, for this wonderful award, and for the chance to reflect on my journey up to this point.