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Chicago Celebrates the Jewish Teen Community

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On Sunday, April 25th, the Chicago Jewish community came together for the 2021 Celebration of Chicago’s Jewish Teen Community. This annual event is the only one of its kind, bringing together Jewish teens of all ages and backgrounds, professionals, volunteers, clergy, Jewish teen stakeholders and community members. The celebration publicly recognized the 18 Under 18 Honorees, the Jewish teen community, and the youth professionals, clergy, educators and families who make it all possible. The event kicked off with Shout Outs submitted by people from across the community sharing milestones and accomplishments from the past year.

The celebration was led by talented and hilarious teen MCs, Sophia Fine, Noah Shapiro, and Jacob Zucker, who reflected that despite the unexpected twists and turns of the past year, one constant was the incredible support, creative programming and meaningful friendships that took place in the context of Jewish teen programming. This point was underscored in the Year In Review Video, featuring teens and professionals sharing highlights and memories from the last year. 

During the program each of the 18 honorees shared how they are making a difference in the community and how being named an 18 Under 18 honoree enabled them to bring attention to an issue that they were passionate about. In his welcome, Lonnie Nasatir, the President of JUF shared that these teens do not represent the leads of tomorrow because they are already leaders today. Check out: 18 Under 18 honoree speeches 1  and 18 under 18 honoree speeches 2 and the Recognition Book to learn more about the honorees and their Impact Projects.

Event attendees enjoyed a performance by the comedy troupe, Shalom Collaboration, a live performance by the teen band, Six On Friday, and a video from Tik Tok star Michael Winner. Finally, we had a chance to celebrate this year’s LEAD Award for teen serving professionals and volunteers. The LEAD Award is special because nominations and the review process are teen led. View the LEAD Award Video to learn more about this year’s LEAD Award Nominees: Isaac Freedman, Maia Volk, Kevin and Allisa Horwitz, Alana Ben Zeev, Mady Frischer, Zoe Russek and the LEAD Award winner Jessie Morris. 

The event was hosted by Springboard and JUF. Springboard was created to empower teens to find and create meaningful Jewish experiences, elevate teen voices in the Chicago area, and connect teens and their families to fantastic experiences. The Community Celebration provided a change to celebrate the teens, professionals, and organizations that make our community so amazing.

Special thanks to JTAC, the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago, a teen board with representatives from different youth groups and organizations, who helped plan the event and were instrumental in selecting the honorees and the LEAD Award winner.  

Where are they now: Featuring Sophie Frankenthal, Past 18 Under 18 Honoree

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Sophie Frankenthal photo 1

I owe my passion for volunteerism primarily to my upbringing in a home which upheld a paradigm of love and kindness at all times and which taught me that to be a Jew is to give and to care- that my community is intrinsic to my identity. During my time in high-school I was provided with the tools and opportunities to become involved in my immediate community in a variety of facets, from working with individuals with special needs to volunteering in the local old age home, and while these experiences were absolutely invaluable, I feel that they were just the starting roots of my journey. Through introducing me to 17 exceptional teens who were actively working to make tremendous differences in their communities and beyond, my experience as an 18-under-18 honoree back in 2019 inspired me to venture beyond my own 4 corners and to expand my impact not only to the greater Jewish community, but to humanity at large.

This newly-inspired drive stayed with me throughout the duration of my gap-year in Israel and it ensured that an integral part of my experience included an active involvement in the betterment of the land and the needs of its people. In addition to my school-organized weekly volunteer excursion to the hospital, I was privileged to be part of Kedma’s Volunteer Cohort, which provided me with a diverse range of opportunities such as providing warm drinks for the homeless, harvesting produce for the hungry, and spreading joy to young orphaned immigrants- experiences whose impact spanned across the population.

Today, I am proud to say that the inspiration which I gained from my fellow 18-under-18 honorees is still alive and well, and that because of it, my passion for volunteerism has grown even further- enabling me to give back to the general population in addition to the Jewish community. I am currently a pre-med student at Stern College for Women (YU), although I am studying sociology (a bit confusing, I know). Sociology has infused me with a newfound appreciation for different cultures, and it has inspired me to pursue a field in global health. Due to COVID, I have been attending classes remotely from my home in Chicago, and while at first this had me extremely frustrated and somewhat disappointed, I can now confidently say that a lot of great opportunities have emerged from it. My presence in Chicago has allowed me to become involved in a wonderful organization called RefugeeOne, through which I am now tutoring a young Syrian refugee in a variety of academic subjects as well as acting as a mentor and friend to her. This experience has been truly remarkable as it is my first real volunteer experience beyond the Jewish population and it has provided me with a better understanding and appreciation for a culture other than my own. Additionally, my university has introduced me to a similar and equally rewarding opportunity through an initiative called START Science in which YU and Stern students educate under-privileged public school students in STEM through interactive science modules. Right now we teach the students over ZOOM, but I am looking forward to being able to work with the students in-person soon!

Being in Chicago also means that I have another year to give back to the community and home to which I owe so much of my personal growth and development. I am now working as a staff member at Lev- the respite center for individuals with special needs where I had volunteered throughout most of high-school, and to be back there in a stronger capacity has been incredibly meaningful. Additionally, in the past few months, numerous organizations in the orthodox community have joined together to open a community vaccine clinic and I am proud to say that I have had the privilege of volunteering weekly in a semi-medical capacity. The clinic has successfully vaccinated thousands of individuals of all faiths, cultures, and nationalities and to be a part of that has been an absolutely beautiful and heartwarming experience. 

Although I have come so far, I am still only at the beginning of my ‘giving’ journey, and I know that there is so much more that I can and will do. I am so grateful to everyone who has encouraged me on this path, and I am excited to see what opportunities the future may hold. I wish a heartfelt Mazal Tov to this year’s 18-under-18 cohort and I hope that this well-deserved honor inspires and enables you to pursue even greater things from here on out!

Sophie Frankenthal photo 2

Biography:

Sophie Frankenthal is currently a sophomore at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women where she is studying pre-medical sciences and majoring in sociology. She works at a community respite center for children with special needs and is a volunteer tutor with RefugeeOne. Additionally, Sophie just received her EMT certification and she hopes to volunteer on an ambulance with Magen David Adom in Israel this summer!



Where are they now: Featuring Abby Tzinberg, Past 18 Under 18 Honoree

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Abby Tzinberg Photo

I was an 18 Under 18 Honoree in the first cohort when I was just a freshman in high school, so now, four years later a lot has happened! In my sophomore year, I participated in the Research Training Internship’s fourth cohort. The Research Training Interhsip an internship created in collaboration with DePaul University and the JUF for Jewish teenage girls where the cohort conducts a research project about a topic in the Jewish community. We studied disordered eating and its impact within Jewish spaces, you can find our research here.

I have also continued my participation in several of the programs I was a part of when I was an honoree. I served on my synagogue, B’Nei J’ehoshua Beth Elohim (BJBE)’s youth group board for three additional years, with two spent as the social action vice president and one as a co-president. I also continued my work as a staff member for NFTY’s Camp CAR program, although my final year was cut short due to Covid-19. I have also continued my work as a religious school teacher at BJBE.

I am currently on a gap year between high school and college where I will be attending Drexel University. This year I have been fortunate enough to be a part of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA)’s College-Aged Fellowship where we undergo community organizing and social justice training. I also worked with JCUA on the campaign to pass the Fair Tax Amendment. I am incredibly grateful for all of the work I have been able to do in the past four years and look forward to what the future holds!

Where are they now: Featuring Josh Pogonitz, Past 18 Under 18 Honoree

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Josh Pogonitz

Hi! My name is Josh Pogonitz. I am 18 years-old and I live in Skokie, IL. The high school I went to is Ida Crown Jewish Academy. Currently, I am taking a gap year in Israel at a yeshiva located in Jerusalem called “Yeshivat Torah Vi’Avodah.” This upcoming Summer, I plan on working at a Jewish overnight camp called Moshava, Wild Rose, where I was a camper for four summers. In the Fall, I plan on attending Loyola University Chicago.

Throughout my life, I have struggled with anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and depression. During my sophomore and junior years, I struggled with self harm and suicidal ideation. I attended treatment programs. This journey is when for the first time in a long time, I rediscovered happiness and life worth living. This is also when I grew very passionate about mental health awareness. 

Before I went to those treatment programs, I never spoke publicly about my mental health. The reason why I started afterwards is because once I found hope and joy again, I wanted to help others find their hope and joy. Two of my struggles are feeling like an exception to therapy helping and feeling like I was a terrible person. I was so certain that the only way to feel happiness would be if I was just a better and good enough person. I felt this way for many years and so when I was able to view things differently, once I was able to fight my thoughts from imprisoning me for the first times in a long time, I thought that if I could share my experiences and what I’ve learned, then it could help people who are also struggling and who feel so certain that nobody can help them. 

During my senior year of high school last year, I was nominated to be a JUF 18 Under 18 honoree. Springboard allowed me to continue pursuing mental health awareness as I did so for my impact project. I would like to thank Springboard for the incredible experiences I had. It was such a learning opportunity and gave me a foundation that I can forever use during my further journey in mental health awareness.

This past December 2020, after speaking at mental health organization No Shame On U’s annual event in November 2019, I wrote an article for the organization’s annual report. The article included my personal mental health experiences, my experience of speaking at the annual event, and about my 18 Under 18 project itself. This past January, I spoke on Zoom with the head of No Shame On U, Miriam Ament, to the eighth grade class of Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School. I spoke about my own personal struggles and lessons I’ve learned along the way. 

As I wrote before, this year I am taking a gap year at a yeshiva in Israel. It has been a year filled with many valuable, meaningful, important, and unforgettable experiences despite COVID. I have been able to continue learning Torah, learning about my mind and emotions, and see, as well as experience the land. Going on this gap year is really one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. 

One of the many incredible experiences I’ve had was during my Passover break, I went on a program in which I volunteered on a kibbutz and army base. For the first time in my life, I was able to experience two places I always wondered what they were like. Volunteering and living at both places for a few days each were beyond cool and nothing I had ever done before. It was also a way for me to give back to Israel for my time here this year.  

Lastly, one of the many meaningful realizations that I have been able to continue to strengthen this year is as follows. My goal for combatting my mental illnesses is to manage them, not to cure them. When I started making progress during my junior year, I used to worry that when I had a setback, all of my progress would disappear. I have learned that there may be times of anxiety and depression while at the same time, that doesn’t take away from any of the progress being made. In the big picture, there can be anxiety and also happiness. During my gap year, I have struggled. And at the same time, I am having many meaningful, happy, exciting, fun, and inspiring experiences. In fact, I have even discovered new things I never knew I loved. I was able to graduate high school last year, I have been able to live away from home for eight months, I can meet with my therapist weekly, and still do what I love and live my life. 

Once again, I’d like to thank Springboard for giving me the honor and opportunity to be an 18 Under 18 Honoree. This journey is just the beginning as I hope to continue pursuing mental health awareness however I can at Loyola University Chicago and the future beyond.

Biography

Josh is currently taking a gap year at a yeshiva in Israel. For high school, he attended Ida Crown Jewish Academy. He played basketball there for three years and ran cross country for four years. During November of Josh’s senior year, he gave a speech at mental health organization No Shame On U’s annual event. This was the first time he spoke publicly about his struggles and experiences of mental illnesses. This Summer, Josh plans on working at Camp Moshava, Wild Rose and then plans to attend Loyola University Chicago in the Fall.  

Where are they now: Featuring Max Marino, Past 18 Under 18 Honoree

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 Max Marino Photo

Hello! My name is Max Marino and I was a JUF 18 under 18 Honoree in 2018. Currently, I am a sophomore at Tulane University majoring in Political Economy with a minor in Public Policy in the Murphy Institute.

Since graduating Highland Park High School in 2019, I have enjoyed taking classes while exploring the city of New Orleans and becoming an active member of Tulane's student body. On campus, I am very involved in Hillel as a member of the Tulane Jewish Leader's program and as a song leader for shabbat services my freshman year. Additionally, I am a tour guide and orientation leader, a chair for the Tulane High School Model United Nations conference, and a member of social Greek life.

Professionally, I have had the honor to serve as a Congressional intern for Congressman Brad Schneider (IL-10) in his district office over the previous nine months. My main role in the office was to track the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccination effort in the district. Additionally, I worked on data management and constituent outreach for the office and advocated for court reform to the legislative team. I am forever thankful for the opportunity to have been involved in the Chicagoland Jewish teen community.

The leadership skills I learned as a fellow and Junior Counselor in the Diller Teen Fellowship, the advocacy skills I learned in Write On for Israel, and the professional skills I learned as a Voices Alumni board member I still use today and have made me successful in my endeavors on and off campus.

Additionally, I continue to maintain the relationships I made in these programs and have made lifelong friends through them. I would like to give special thanks to Sam Rodin, Shiran Posner, Stephanie Goldfarb, and Hallie Shapiro for being invaluable role models during my high school career.

My advice for high schoolers today would be to take advantage of the many amazing programs that JUF and Springboard have to offer. I can confidently say that I would not be the person I am without the experiences I had through these programs. Congratulations to the 2021 JUF 18 under 18 Honorees and I look forward to seeing the amazing work you all will continue to do!

Yom Ha’atzmaut with Hannah Adams and Josh Glucksman

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Yom Ha'atzmaut is a day of celebration. We celebrate Israel, its freedom, independence, and beauty. While for those of us in Chicago, Israel is 6,208 miles away, it's still close to our hearts everyday and especially today! This year to celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut, we decided to reach out to some of our friends in Israel to share with our community some of their favorite places in Israel! Check out videos from Josh Glucksman, and Hannah Adams who are both currently in Israel on gap year programs! If these programs, or others are of interest to you, let us know and we can help you learn more! 

Stop the Stigma By Hannah Dalinka

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Hannah Dalinka

One night, I was at my close friend’s Bar Mitzvah party (before COVID) when I heard the DJ yell, “Dance like you’re having a seizure!” The DJ probably meant that we should all dance “crazy”, but I was mortified, to say the least. This was not the first time I heard someone tell a joke about a seizure, but this was the first time it really hit me hard. I have a personal connection with epilepsy and this DJ had just joked about a serious neurological disorder in front of probably 200 people. I did not know what to do. I came home crying because of how upset I felt. My parents and I then contacted the DJ company. The people there were very apologetic and explained that they just did not realize how bad what they said was. I knew, from then on, that I needed to do something to end the stigma and “jokes” surrounding seizures and epilepsy.

In 2015, we noticed that one of my relatives started having, what we called, “space outs''. They would stare into space and their eyes would go blank. This family member was soon diagnosed with epilepsy. They had non-convulsive seizures, which do not involve the typical symptoms of a seizure that are portrayed in the media. Luckily, my relative was put on medication and has been seizure free for a very long time now. Unfortunately, my relative still does not feel comfortable discussing their condition because of all of the stigma surrounding epilepsy. They did not want people thinking they were uncontrollable or weird.

Epilepsy is a very common neurological disorder, in fact, as it states on the Epilepsy Foundation’s website, “More people live with epilepsy than with autism spectrum disorders, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy - combined.” In addition to this, 1 in 26 people in the United States will be diagnosed with epilepsy at some point in their lifetime. This number probably shocks you. This is because epilepsy is often considered a hidden disorder. Sometimes, with treatment and medication, seizures can be minimized or controlled. This disorder, therefore, is not as normalized as other, visible disorders. However, it does not make epilepsy any less real. 

I decided for my mitzvah project to not only raise money for the Epilepsy Foundation, but to also educate others on epilepsy to try and break the stigma. I realized, from the experience with the DJ, that some people just genuinely do not know how horrible it is to make fun of seizures and use that word in a joking way. I created posters and gave out booklets with tons of information about epilepsy. I also gave people some surprising statistics on the number of people living with epilepsy and just how many people are affected by it. I urged people to call others out when they make jokes about someone else looking like they’re having a seizure. I talked about how it is not okay to make fun of seizures, just as it’s not okay to make fun of someone with cancer or with Alzheimer’s. All of these are unchosen, unwanted, and serious and should never be joked about or made fun of. I felt that the more people I could spread the word to, the more epilepsy would be normalized and hopefully, I would be doing my part to break the stigma. 

I will admit though, it is hard to call other people out when they use “seizure” in a joke. I have been able to call out people before but just the other day, I was on zoom with friends and one of them was showing us a tik tok where the screen was flashing lots of different colors. One of the girls said, “Stop! Are you trying to give me a seizure?” She laughed and was clearly joking. To be honest, I was not able to call her out on it. This was a newer friend and we were in front of other people and I couldn’t pull her aside and talk to her on zoom. These things are hard. Also, this was not the first friend who has said things like that. I have heard both kids and adults, some who were even at my Bat Mitzvah, make fun of seizures. 

I feel guilty, still, about not being able to call my friend out, but that only encourages me to keep going in my efforts for breaking down the stigma surrounding seizures and epilepsy. People should not feel like they should need to hide the fact that they have epilepsy in fear of what others will say about them. I genuinely believe that a majority of people who make fun of seizures do not understand that it is a serious medical disorder and one that can not be controlled by someone’s free will. I will continue to educate others to make everyone more aware of seizures and epilepsy so that they will not use those words jokingly or to make fun of others. 

Thank you so much for hearing my story. I urge you to become more familiar with epilepsy and seizures. Learn about it, and educate others. Also, try to call people out when they talk about seizures in a joking manner. I know it is hard, but it is necessary in helping to make people living with epilepsy more comfortable. I will close with this: There were about 200 people at the Bar Mitzvah when the DJ joked about seizures. Using the fact that at least 1 in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy in the US, I can conclude that 7 people had epilepsy or will have epilepsy in the future who heard that comment. That is not to mention people like me, who have family members, friends, or other loved ones who they know who struggle with epilepsy. The stigma needs to stop, and it will not stop unless we work together to educate ourselves and others. I also invite you to check out the Epilepsy Foundation’s website: https://www.epilepsy.com/. This is a great resource to use for finding tons of information about seizure disorders and epilepsy.

Hannah is a Sophomore at Glenbrook North High School where she is involved in theatre, student government, Relay for Life, and speech team. Additionally she is the President of Varsity Spartan Choir, the Vice President of Ladies First (GBN Show Choir), and volunteers as an ARC Tutor. Outside of school, Hannah is a songleader and on the Mahonick Leadership Board at North Shore Congregation Israel. She is also currently in the URJ Songleading Fellowship Program. Hannah is proud to attend JCC Camp Chi and is currently the Vice President of Chi Town Connection.

Where are they now featuring Abbey Finn, past 18 Under 18 Honoree

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From 18 Under 18 honoree to college student:  What I’ve been up to the past three years

When I was in high school, being involved in the Jewish community was a definitive part of my life. It was sparked by my love for USY (United Synagogue Youth), and led to a multitude of other experiences such as Diller Teen Fellows, the Maimonides Scholars Program, and Springboard school break trips to New York and Los Angeles. Being an 18 Under 18 honoree in 2018 was an amazing experience, and I’m so happy that I’ve been able to serve on the reviewing committee for two years since then to see the incredible work that teens are doing in the community today.

I’m currently a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying special education. Starting college in a pandemic has had its ups and downs, but I love it here. I’m part of Epsilon Delta, an education fraternity, and Alpha Epsilon Phi, a Jewish sorority. I’m also active in Chabad and Hillel, and I love the Jewish community here on campus. I’m passionate about my future as a special educator, and I have a job working with U of I students with disabilities. I participate in the Best Buddies program here as well. I’m also a part of the Student Education Association, where we work with teachers across the nation to advocate for an equitable education for every student.

I have many different interests and passions, but the one arguably closest to my heart is interfaith work. I joined the Children of Abraham Coalition (COAC) my freshman year of high school. COAC is an organization dedicated to educating about Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, while creating dialogue and hosting events that advocate for peace. In a world where there is so much religious hatred, I find this work to be incredibly important. I served on the board of directors for COAC throughout high school, and with the virtual nature of meetings and programming, I’ve been able to remain on the board in college. I helped create an initiative called Peace Camp three years ago where we bring middle schoolers to a mosque, a synagogue, and a church, and teach them how to stand up to faith-based hatred in their schools. Since the start of the program, we’ve reached over 80 middle schoolers, and have spread our mission to high schoolers through zoom peace camp events. On campus, I’m working with Bend the Arc Champaign-Urbana, the Muslim and Jewish Student Alliance, and a student organization called Interfaith in Action to fight against racism, antisemitism, and Islamaphobia. I’m proud of the work that I’ve been a part of, and where I am now in my life since my own 18 Under 18 experience three years ago. I’m so excited to see where my future takes me and I’m so proud of all of this year's 18 Under 18 honorees!

Abbey Finn Photo

Abbey Finn is a freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she is studying special education. She is on the board of directors for the Children of Abraham Coalition, and does interfaith work on campus. Additionally, she is a part of Alpha Epsilon Phi, and serves on the Diversity and Inclusion committee. Over the summer, you can find her at JCC Camp Chi. She loves the Jewish community both at home and at her college town!

How to Ensure Never Again

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Never Again. The phrase graces hundreds of Instagram stories and posts come Yom HaShoah each year. The phrase people shake their heads and mutter after another anti semitically charged shooting. Never again we say. But how? How do we ensure that something like the atrocities of the Holocaust never occurs again? And to that loaded question, I answer, remembrance. 

Memory is not a foreign concept for us. The instance of a Jewish grandparent sitting down with their grandchildren recalling a story from long ago is quite frequent. Our religion is founded on the concept of collective memory and remembrance. The memory of a covenant between Abraham and God. The memory of our exodus from Egypt and the spiritual awakening at Mount Sinai. Our memories are the nourishment that has lasted us through centuries of persecution. They define us. They save us. 

As the number of survivors still with us dwindles and we are tasked with teaching the next generation leaders about the atrocities of the Holocaust without their first-hand accounts, we must teach them not to remember the destruction but to remember what was destroyed and to revitalize and commemorate the culture and lives lost. Teach them to say 6,000,001 lives lost as each one of those numbers was a dreamer, an artist, an athlete, a writer, a scholar, and someone’s child. To preserve our ancestor’s legacies, our religion, and above all, democracy, we must never forget. To ensure never again, we must never forget. 

Forgetfulness

Further readings: 

Ross, L., n.d. The Importance of Remembering | My Jewish Learning. [online] My Jewish Learning. [Accessed 5 April 2021].

Tomlin, C., 2021. Why It’s Still Important to Remember the Holocaust – The Arc. [online] Tyndale.com. [Accessed 5 April 2021].

Hannah Goldwin

Hannah Goldwin is a Junior at Walter Payton College Prep and plays tennis as well as dabbles in ultimate frisbee and basketball. She leads clubs devoted to Alzheimer’s awareness, Jewish Community, and the discussion of a top notch educational show, the Bachelor. She watches football religiously and recently graduated from the Diller Teen Fellowship.

My Jewish Journey by Kayla Chandler

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During my sophomore year of high school, I was faced with a problem. I wanted to be more involved in the social justice world, but specifically through a lens where I could see the Jewish values I had learned so much about at my Jewish day school come into play. 

I had no idea where to start my journey, but I was able to find a group of Jewish teens in the Chicago area with a similar goal as mine. We wanted to do better for our city wide community, and in the process, also better our own community, starting with ourselves. Through social media posts increasing our outreach, canvassing for projects, phone banking to raise awareness, and more, we each grew to be familiar with collaboration, patience, and community. Learning to handle disagreements and misunderstandings as a group helped us grow as leaders and individuals, but also created a family-like atmosphere of determined people in the process. 

Since then, I have wanted to stay active within the Jewish activism community. As I learned more about organizations and programs, I noticed that there were not many spaces where Jewish youth could come together and share their modern day experiences, pleasures, or hardships. Being a part of Peer Ambassadors excited me as it is a space where teens can come together and create the spaces that are currently missing for youth like themselves. It allows your creativity to flourish and connects you with others to build communication skills.

In the future, I hope to continue my participation in the Jewish community and learn as much as I can about others and their identities.

Kayla is a lover of makeup, cooking, music, and running. She is currently participating in the Peer Ambassador program, and is excited to learn more about Judaism from youth around Chicago!


Where are they now featuring Josh Glucksman, past 18 Under 18 Honoree

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Two years ago, the beginning of my junior year, I was nominated as an 18 Under 18 honoree. My work in the Jewish world had just recently begun, when I picked up my phone and started to create and share fun videos about the amazing Jewish youth experiences I was starting to attend. I was fairly good at it and ended up making some friends and engaging previously disengaged Reform Jews in the process.

I got more involved in a youth group called NFTY, and was elected President of the Chicago chapter my senior year. Here is when I started learning about Israel, Palestine, and the Z-word, Zionism. I had a very limited understanding of what this “Holy” desert in the middle of the east was really about, so I started to talk to some of my Rabbis and educators, and got really involved in what I consider one of today's most nuanced global issues.

As I was continuing my work in my own community, and as my senior year was nearing its melancholy, virtual end, I had a big decision to make post-high school. COVID sure made that decision easier, and it landed me in Jerusalem a few months ago on a gap year program called Aardvark Israel! Since I have gotten here, my entire outlook on Judaism has fundamentally changed (for the better)! I have a renewed passion and drive to learn about the historical, religious, linguistic, and spiritual roots of the Jewish people, and there is no place better to do it here than in the most complicated, disputed, and holy place on Earth. 

While my time here has challenged my beliefs unlike anything else, I wouldn't have done it any other way. I hope to come home after this year and pour all of the energy and passion in my life right back into my community, starting with teaching Hebrew at URJ OSRUI this summer! 

Josh Glucksman

HEY! Look over here! These author blogs are always so dry so let me make this as readable as possible. My name is Josh. I am from “Chicago” (the suburbs). I am currently living in Israel on a gap year before college. I spend my time learning, fighting for a liveable planet, and trying to live the happiest life I can. You can contact me at jzglux@gmail.com for any questions about what I say or write!

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