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Why I Love Write On for Israel, by Norah Kopolow

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Write On for Israel is an intensive yearlong fellowship that empowers students to make a tangible impact on their future college campuses and beyond. The Write On fellowship includes immersive travel to Washington, DC, and Israel, where they turn their passion into effective leadership. This fellowship brings in experts in history, current events, politics, and campus affairs to provide students with the skills and knowledge necessary to articulate their own perspectives about Israel. Fellows gain critical thinking, historical fluency, and strategic communication skills; doing so empowers them to move forward well equipped to master college classes, campus life, and challenges well beyond. Write On for Israel is for juniors and seniors and is a one-year cohort.; Learn more and apply at JUF.org/WriteOn.

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Write On for Israel (WOFI) has been an intense yet rewarding program that has equipped me with numerous valuable skills. During monthly meetings, my peers and I learn about current events in Israel and in our own backyards. We take situations from the Government in Israel to Universities around the United States and are informed and educated about them. We analyze these situations and even come up with our own solutions and possible plans of action for them. We learn how to effectively communicate with adults and those in positions of power to successfully advocate for our views regarding Israel.

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Throughout the program, my peers and I are able to learn and grow together as we acquire our new skills. We are given opportunities to work in groups together, and experience peer review to grow together. A unique aspect to WOFI that cannot really be found elsewhere is getting a close look at the parallel histories between Israel and Palestine. We are able to learn each side to large events in history, all the way from the Balfour Declaration to the First Intifada we are given a well-rounded view on Israel. WOFI is also a safe space for my peers and I to freely share our opinions without being judged. During discussions, we are able to build off of what we share with each other to form our own views and we learn how to respect the views of others.

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In the spring, we have the amazing opportunity to lobby members of Congress, and later in June, we travel to Israel for meetings with a wide range of people, from authors to Knesset members. From in-depth looks into the history of Israel to learning about current challenges on college campuses, WOFI has provided me with what I need to successfully contribute to campus discussions and general interactions with my peers regarding Israel.

Norah Kopolow

About the Author: Norah Kopolow is a junior at Champaign Central High School in Champaign, Illinois. She enjoys participating in band and other extra curricular activities such as Girls Who Code and Model UN. She attends Sinai Temple where she is a Madricha for Kindergarten and Pre-K, and helps teach Hebrew to elementary aged kids. 

How My Bar Mitzvah Shaped My Jewish Journey: Introducing Zachary Seaver, 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 month to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Zachary's blog post below as he shares about his Bar Mitzvah, which was a pivotal moment in his Jewish journey.

Zachary's Bar Mitzvah

On August 30, 2019, I had my בר מצווה (Bar Mitzvah) at Congregation Or Shalom in Vernon Hills, Illinois. This was the day that I had been preparing for for over a year and had been dreaming about since my Jewish education began. My Torah portion was Re’Eh, which ironically is my older brother’s Hebrew middle name and the Torah portion we have framed on the wall in my house. This portion was about the process of decision making and how doing certain things can lead you down different paths in life. For my Bar Mitzvah, I decided to partner with Guitars over Guns, a non-profit organization that offers students from the most vulnerable communities a powerful combination of music education and mentorship with professional musicians to help them overcome hardship, find their voice and reach their potential as tomorrow’s leaders. 

Zachary with Guitars

My Bar Mitzvah party was themed around music and guitars, as that was and still is one of my biggest passions. Another theme that was mentioned more in my actual Bar Mitzvah service was equality and how I believe that everyone should be given the same, equal opportunities to be successful and have a good, happy life. In my D’Var Torah, I talked about this with my congregation and friends as it is something I firmly believe in. I also mentioned why I chose to partner with Guitars over Guns, and so much more. All in all, this experience is one of the most important ones to me that has definitely helped in a major way to shape the person I am today.

Zachary Seaver

About the Author: Zachary is a sophomore at Vernon Hills High School, who is a member of Congregation Or Shalom. He’s passionate about basketball, singing, playing guitar and more. He has been involved with NFTY and other Jewish programs for quite a while. As Peer Ambassador, he is excited to make new friends and help create fun events for people to meet each other. Zachary has also been a camper at OSRUI for 7 years now and has become very involved with his Judaism.

My Jewish Journey: Introducing Gaby Olbur, 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 month to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Gaby's blog post below as she shares how NFTY shaped her Jewish journey in middle school and why she values curiosity as Peer Ambassador. Plus, Gaby shares her favorite recipe for "matzah crack". 

While attending Thomas Middle School, I learned about a program called NFTY from my brother, who was greatly involved in the program. NFTY is a youth group of teens grades 6-12th who come together as a community with special events and programs for those who are involved. I went to all the overnight retreats and met some amazing people! This program opened my eyes to the amazing Jewish community because people from all around the midwest were able to attend the overnighters at a jewish overnight camp called OSRUI. I got to bond with some of the best people ever and make jokes and spend 48+ hours together, going to water parks eating icees after shabbat dinner, eating donuts on Saturday mornings, and lighting the candles Saturday night before going back to the cabins and having the college kids tell you all about their lives.

Swimmers

Being a Peer Ambassador means that I get to be a leader and I love being a leader. This year I am looking forward to the 18 Under 18 celebration! I went last year to the drive-in and it was a fun experience. I would recommend going even if you don’t know any of the 18 Under 18 nominees.

One important value I follow is curiosity. Curiosity speaks to me the most because I am curious about the different Jewish events that I can be involved in and to meet new people. I want to meet new people and learn about what they like to do! I am curious about the future and what it holds for me in the jewish community! 

I wanted to share a recipe that I personally love to make on Passover and I know that everyone loves this recipe. I love this because ever since I was little I had made it and it’s one of my first memories of wanting to become a cook when I was older. It is called matzah crack! First you gather the matzah, chocolate, butter, and brown sugar. Next you heat the butter and brown sugar in a large saucepan on medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Once it boils, continue stirring for five minutes. Then you remove it from the heat. Next pour the toffee mixture over the top of the matzah and spread it evenly until it completely covers all the matzah. Put the baking sheet in the oven for 10 minutes until the top of the toffee is bubbling a darker brown. After taking the baking sheet out of the oven, sprinkle the chocolate on the hot toffee and spread it evenly across all of the toffee and matzah. After that if you want to add sea salt or any other toppings you can. Cool in the freezer or fridge until chocolate hardens, then serve! 

Gaby Olbur

About the Author: Gaby is a sophomore at Buffalo Grove High school. She enjoys swimming and water polo and hanging out with her friends. She works as a babysitter and is getting certified to become a lifeguard. She goes to BJBE in Deerfield. 

Introducing Caitlyn Altenberg, 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 month to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Caitlyn's blog post below to read how her Jewish journey at Jewish Day School and Camp Chi have inspired her to become a Peer Ambassador in the community.

I attended Jewish Day School from nursery years up until 8th grade. Because of the friendships I made and teachers I met, I gained an amazing Jewish education that has served me well in life. In 8th grade I attended an Israel trip that allowed me to grow as a person and experience a whole new culture and life living as a jew. Not only was attending Hebrew school and an Israel trip an experience of a lifetime, I also attended a Jewish overnight camp, Camp Chi in Lake Delton Wisconsin, that allowed me to create bonds I never knew I needed. Going to camp strengthened my Jewish identity and gave me the confidence to participate in Jewish life to the fullest. For a few years now I have been a part of USY, which has made being in a Jewish community very important to me especially because I now attend a non-Jewish High School. 

Caitlyn Altenberg Image

Being a Peer Ambassador is an exciting adventure for my Jewish identity because I want to share and create programs that will get people excited about Judaism just as much as my friends and I are. I am so thankful that I was exposed to a bunch of amazing programs because not only do I want to get more involved but I also want to help other people become more involved in this big step in one's Jewish Identity. I would like to stay involved and become a leader in the Jewish community as I get older and I think that being a Peer Ambassador will give me the skills and experience to make that happen.

Caitlyn Altenberg

About the Author: Caitlyn is a Junior at Stevenson High School, where she participates in her school softball team and active leadership roles in her community. She enjoys playing softball and hanging out with friends. Through her love of overnight camp and counselor experience she has grown to strive for a higher grasp as a leader and become closer with her Jewish community. Caitlyn loves how flexible and rewarding the Peer Ambassador program is and she is very excited to start this adventure with everyone.

Hate Has No Home Here: Ilana Argentar's Speech at the United Against Antisemitism Rally

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Ilana Argentar, a current sophomore at Buffalo Grove High School and a Diller Teen Fellow was selected to speak at the United Against Antisemitism Rally on Sunday, April 24th 2022 in Glenview. The rally was connected to the Resolution Against the Rise in Anti-Semitic Hate and in Support of Cook County’s Jewish Population, which was unanimously passed on April 7th, 2022 by Cook County Commissioner Scott Britton.

Hi. My name is Ilana Argentar and I am a sophomore at Buffalo Grove High School. 

Thank you to the Commissioner and to all of you for being here today and standing up against hate. This is something I personally feel passionate about. 

My great grandparents faced unthinkable hate and antisemetism including pogrums and the Holocaust in the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s. My mom and grandparents fled Poland as refugees, escaping antisemitism in the 1970’s. 

And now, as a first generation American, I am proud to be Jewish. Growing up, I have had the opportunity to proudly attend Jewish day school, Jewish camp, Jewish youth groups and Jewish clubs. I confidently wear my Star of David necklace without fear. This kind of expressive Judaism is what my family had always dreamt of. 

As I hear about the rise in acts of antisemitism around the world, nationally, and even in our own community, I wonder why this is happening again. I have read about this in history class but I would have never thought it would happen here. I wonder what my great grandparents would say if they knew that the discrimination they had to endure was resurfacing. I wonder why people continue to hate us and target our community. I wonder if I will ever feel the need to hide my Star of David necklace for my safety. This feels sad and unthinkable to me. I wonder if there will be a time when we can finally live in peace. 

We can still reverse this. It is up to me and my generation to become educated about our history. We can still stand up against hate and say no. My hope for the future is that we will continue to wear the symbols of our tradition. We can gather and pray in our synagogues without fear. And that we will always be proud Jews.

Ilana Argentar

About the Author: Ilana is a sophomore at Buffalo Grove High School. She participates in gymnastics, diving, and water polo. She is part of Jewish Student Connection at her school. Ilana spends most of her summers at her summer camp, OSRUI, in Oconomowoc, WI. She is currently part of the Diller Teen Fellows cohort 9 and is looking forward to spending three weeks in Israel this summer. 

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