Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Meredith Rivkin

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Meredith Rivkin

When we were unexpectedly quarantined, I decided it was a good time to brainstorm a new mitzvah project. I knew that we needed some cheer and inspiration, so for my bat mitzvah project, I designed an original lawn sign, sold them for charity, and installed them all over towns near me! I designed and purchased 300 of the lawn signs and personally installed about 250 of them. For people out of town, I also sent them a PDF of the sign to print and put in their windows. There were signs in windows in Texas, California, Oregon, Michigan, Maryland, Washington D.C, and New York!

In just a couple of weeks, I raised and donated more than $4,500 to local food pantries to help them support less fortunate people during the uncertain times of COVID-19. I distributed the money to five organizations that support food insecurity which is growing daily because of job losses and other struggles. I have given money to the West Deerfield Township Food Pantry, the Northfield Township Food Pantry, the Moraine Township Food Pantry, the Hunger Resource Network/Hunger-Free Northbrook, in support of 400 students, and Gratitude Generation, where twice I provided lunch for a group home and also 75 Waukegan-area students. My story also got local media coverage.  

I am so happy that my story is getting out there and that I made such a big impact on my community. I love that my idea was current and realistic to achieve. I had a lot of time and help from my family and my hope was that my inspirational lawn signs would help people get through the tough times we are living in and brighten up neighborhoods. 

My project was a huge hit and I sold out in the first week and had to order more! I was really surprised by how far the word got about my project and the signs. My mom was even tagged on a local social media page with more than 15,000 moms, and people all over our neighborhood were excited to know the project was mine.  

I am really proud of how many people knew about it and saw them on their walks and bike rides around the neighborhood. The directors at all of the organizations I supported were thrilled about how far the donations I made would go to help people in need. I helped people in so many ways, from providing smiles to much-needed food. They were all very grateful and so am I.  

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with COVID-TV

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Covid-TV: Connecting Teens Around the World During the Pandemic

As freshmen this year, learning that school would be cancelled for the rest of the year seemed like the end of the world to us. We had just gotten the hang of high school. We were making new friends, learning how to adjust to the amount of work we had, and finally starting to enjoy the year. But in a split second everything changed. School was cancelled, social distancing orders were placed, and no end date was in sight. We felt isolated and alone, and like no one knew what we were going through. But then we realized something. Teenagers around the world were experiencing the exact same thing as us, whether they lived in Chicago, California, or even India and Israel. We may have lost the in-person connection we used to receive at school, but we could still create some kind of connection to other teenagers around the world from our own homes. 

This is why we, Lauren Tapper and Krishita Dutta, created Covid-TV, the blog connecting teenagers from 7 different countries during the Coronavirus pandemic. Covid-TV first started out as a blog and forum that allowed teens to read and submit blog posts about their experiences in quarantine. This ranged from fun recipes to try, how they are adjusting to quarantine and online school, to even how teens were dealing with the fear and loss that came with the Coronavirus pandemic. Teens can even directly connect to others from around the world on our forum. 

But as Covid-TV grew, we realized that with a growing audience we wanted to do something more. Although quarantine was extremely challenging for us, the impacts of Covid-19 could be detrimental to some other communities. This is when we started the Community Projects page. Here we have other teenagers become ambassadors for one of our four projects: Food For All, Make-A-Mask, Support the Unemployed, and Speak Up. So far our ambassadors have raised over $14,000 for community efforts like No Kid Hungry or the Greater Chicago Covid-19 Response Fund, sewed more than 16,000 masks for hospitals and community centers, and written multiple state legislatures advocating for changes to address the pandemic. We wanted to show other teens that we have the power to help others during this pandemic, even though we may have to be at home. These projects are also empowering. It is incredible to see how teenagers have been able to take initiative and raise so much money, contact state officials, and sew so many masks. We may be young, but we have the power to change the world.

We have also tried to include social justice and advocating for equality on our site. We created an Editorials page, where we publish teen written articles about different social justice issues that are not gaining as much traction due to the pandemic. Some of these are the closing of abortion clinics around the U.S due to the need to Covid-19 treatment centers, the racial inequalities in health care and access to Covid-19 tests, and unfair food stamp procedures. 

Overall, we hope the Covid-TV is able to provide a sense of connection to teenagers during the Coronavirus pandemic. We understand how hard it is being separated, and hope that Covid-TV can make sure teens know that they are not alone, and can even make an impact on their communities during this time.

COVID-TV

Lauren is 14 years old and an upcoming sophomore at the University of Chicago Lab Schools. She is a member of her temple’s youth board, an assistant teacher at her temple’s religious school, and the co-founder of COVID-TV. At school she helped start the Jewish Students Association, and is a member of the Model UN team. In her free time she enjoys reading, hiking, hanging out with friends.

 

Krishita is a fifteen year old upcoming sophomore at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools. She works as a media director at the non-profit Circle of Hope Chicago (AIF), a reporter at her high-school’s newspaper, and the co-founder of COVID-TV. In her free time, she enjoys painting, reading, writing for local newspapers, and spending time with her friends.

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Gwen Tucker

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Fighting Racism and Anti-Blackness Starts in Our Own Jewish Communities by Gwen Tucker


We are experiencing a moment of extreme turmoil. COVID-19 is disproportionately affecting communities of color based on pre-existing social inequities, Pride Month is beginning for the first time ever in a national pandemic, and most notably, the murders of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery are leading to a national Black Lives Matter movement. Jewish communities across the country are springing into action, releasing statements and showing up in solidarity with Black communities in the streets. While Jewish people have a moral obligation to fight for justice, specifically racial justice, it is important that our work first begins in our youth groups, synagogues, and Jewish programs or organizations. 

For a while, I didn’t have many relationships with Jews of color and wasn’t cognizant of their contributions to the wider Jewish community. I grew up at a synagogue that was mostly white and mostly Ashkenazi, where most congregants fit into the Americanized norms of what Jewishness looks like. As I began to come into contact with Jews of various backgrounds from across the Chicagoland area and country at large, I realized my own perceptions were drastically skewed. When given the chance to create an individual project through RTI and 18 Under 18, I created a website, tinyurl.com/jewishdiversity, that focuses on diversity in the Jewish community. I chose to do this project because I have found that so much discrimination, both within and targeted at the Jewish community, comes from a false idea that all Jewish people look and experience life in one way. Over the past year, I’ve had the opportunity to interview more than twenty people about their stories and experiences with Jewish identity and spaces. My long-term goal is to create more conversation about different forms of intra-community oppression and continue to uplift the voices of Jews of color, queer Jews, and Jews of other unique or marginalized identities. 

Many of the people I spoke to had both positive and negative experiences in Jewish spaces. While some had found places where their whole identity was accepted and affirmed, others had experienced intense instances of racism or other forms of discrimination. It’s clear that more work needs to be done to prioritize the well-being of Jews of color and Jews of other marginalized identities.  

So, how can we combat intra-community racism and discrimination? First, it starts with visibility. We can’t fight discrimination in our community if we don’t know that Jews of color exist in the first place. We must uplift their voices and stories because that is what really breaks down barriers. That is the focus of my work. It’s important to actively listen to their stories, uplift them, and educate ourselves. I would encourage everyone to visit my website and not only read as many of the interviews as possible, but to watch some of the movies and TV shows, read some of the books and articles, and follow some of the social media accounts from the Resources page on my website.  

As Rebecca Pierce, a Black Jewish writer perfectly articulated in an article on jewishcurrents.org, “Racism in the American Jewish community cannot be separated from American racism more broadly; they have to be fought together.” As Jews, specifically white Jews, it’s time to check our biases and show up for other marginalized people. Most importantly, our anti-racist work must begin in our own communities, because we can’t change the world until we change ourselves 


Gwen writes for her school's newspaper and is a board member of SOAR (Students Organized Against Racism). Through her work with RTI (Research Training Internship) and JCUA (Jewish Council on Urban Affairs), her Jewish identity has become central to her passion for social justice. For her 18 Under 18 Impact Project, she has been working on a website showcasing the diversity of the Jewish community's looks and experiences in the Chicagoland area. 


#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Write on for Israel

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For this week’s #RepairTheWorldWednesday we are featuring three Write On for Israel Fellows. The Write On for Israel program is inherently one that helps our community and it all begins with education. Israel education and advocacy are pillars of the Jewish community here in Chicago and beyond. Education is the first step toward advocacy and action, and it’s action that truly repairs the world. If you would like to learn more about the Write On for Israel program please contact Zach Sandler at ZacharySandler@juf.org or click here.


To read about Avi Shapira's Blog Post Titled "Counting Down the Days Until I Travel to Israel with my Write on Peers" Click here

To read Naomi Scholder's Blog Post Titled "You Get Out What You Put In" Click here

To read Isaac Shiner's Blog Post Titled "I wanted to Take my Love for Israel to the Next Level" Click here

three WOFI students

I Wanted to Take My Love for Israel to the Next Level By Isaac Shiner

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Isaac Shiner

Write On Fellow

Ida Crown Jewish Academy

Isaac Shiner

My name is Isaac Shiner and I’m a Junior at Ida Crown Jewish Academy. My extracurricular activities include participation in my school’s Israel Advocacy club. I’m also a member of Bnei Akiva, a Jewish youth program that is centered around a love and connection for the State of Israel. Through Bnei Akiva, I spent summer 2019 in Israel on their Mach Hach BaAretz program. That trip reinforced my lifelong love of Israel. It also reinforced that I wanted to take my love for Israel to the next level by complementing it with the knowledge and skills to be able to advocate for Israel. This is why I joined JUF’s Write On for Israel. 

Several months in, below are a few things that I’ve gained so far as a Write On for Israel Fellow: 

  1. Personal connections. WOFI has given me the opportunity to meet a diverse group of Jews from the Chicagoland area, who I now call my friends. While we may come from different backgrounds, our Cohort is unified, at its core, by our shared love for Israel.
  1. Connection to Israel. In 1948, the Jewish people had virtually all odds stacked against them. Yet, David Ben Gurion, as well as Israel’s other founders, seized the opportunity created by Britain's departure to establish the Jewish State. The WOFI curriculum has helped me to understand what a miracle and privilege it is that the State of Israel exists. 
  1. Israel’s achievements. While the Jewish nation has called Israel home for millennia, Modern Zionism is relatively new and the Modern State of Israel is even newer. This context makes Israel’s achievements, breathtaking in their own right, even more impressive. The WOFI curriculum reflects this by delving into Israel’s biblical history, the different waves of Zionism of the 19th and 20th centuries and the many technologies that originated in Israel. In learning about Israel’s technological achievements, I took a quiz to test how much I already knew about the subject, which also expanded my knowledge. For example, I learned that Israel invented the flash drive and Waze. Israel has also won the Eurovision song contest four times. Since the coronavirus pandemic began, our learning has not stopped. We’re using an online learning site to continue learning and sharing new developments going on in Israel.  
  1. Advocacy. In order to defend Israel effectively, it’s important to know what Israel is up against. During Cohort meetings, we read articles about groups with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel agendas. The WOFI curriculum teaches the background to the issue at hand. We use that background to formulate responses to those anti-Semitic and anti-Israel agendas so that we can defend Israel at college and beyond. We also learn public speaking skills and persuasive writing skills, which we apply regularly as part of WOFI by preparing speeches or articles that discuss topics in the Israel advocacy space. 

You Get Out What You Put In By Naomi Scholder

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Noami Scholder

Write On Fellow

Rochelle Zell Jewish High School

Naomi Scholder

Hi! My name is Naomi Scholder, I’m from Northbrook, IL and I am currently a junior at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School. At school, I play volleyball and soccer, am a part of our school’s newspaper, and am involved with our school's chapter of STAND (a student-led movement to end mass atrocities). Over the summer, I attend Beber Camp, a Jewish overnight camp in Wisconsin, and have been going there for the past seven years. I’m super into music and my favorite genre is indie.

I attended a Jewish day school and currently attend a Jewish high school, so I always believed that I had a pretty good understanding of Israel’s history. However, within forty-five minutes of our first Write On seminar, I became aware that the information I had been taught about Israel was lacking. Write On for Israel does not shy away from the ‘ugly’ parts of Israel but, rather, wants us to look at the history of the state holistically and understand Israeli and Palestinian perspectives. 

Though there is some work that has to be done outside of seminars, the assignments have only helped enrich my understanding of the complexities within Israel. The objective of many assignments is to look beyond your personal beliefs and find articles, social media posts, etcetera that expose you to different facets of Israel.

  The program has also helped me create bonds with people that I otherwise would have never met. Fellows in my cohort come from all around the Chicagoland area, all denominations of Judaism, and with different passions and interests -- but we are all united by the common bond of wanting to advocate for Israel. Overall, being a Write On fellow has helped me look beyond the scope of my own perspective and truly understand Israel’s complex identity. You truly get out what you put in.

Counting down the days until I travel to Israel with my Write On peers By Avi Shapira

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Avi Shapira

Write On Fellow

Evanston Township High School

Avi Shapira photo

I am a junior at Evanston Township High School. My love for all things relating to Israel (including politics, Hebrew, music, food and the IDF) was fostered throughout my years as a student at Chicago Jewish Day School as well as many special summers at Camp Ramah. In addition to my studies, I am passionate about sports. I’m a member of  the ETHS soccer team and ultimate frisbee team as well as a manager of the Varsity boys basketball team. Additionally, I am an active participant in the ETHS Israeli club, which provides educational activities related to Israeli cuisine, politics, Hebrew, music, dancing and holiday celebrations. 


JUF’s Write On for Israel (WOFI) program has helped me hone valuable life skills in leadership, communication and perseverance. My WOFI journey began last September at the orientation event at the JUF building in downtown Chicago where I first met my insightful WOFI cohort as well as the impressive mentors who are guiding us through this program. We listened to Carl Schrag, the program director and an excellent public speaker, as he outlined what the program would look like for us this year. He told us that WOFI will challenge us to wrestle with complex issues facing Israel and push us to write about complicated topics we’ve never explored before. He promised that Write On will be a rewarding experience that will ignite our desire to learn more about Israel in order to become effective Israel advocates in the future. 

Write On has more than delivered on that promise. During each monthly seminar, we are presented with multiple opportunities to read, write and discuss Israeli current events, politics and history through different activities such as mock game shows or creative presentations. These exercises have helped me hone my leadership and communication skills. Collaborative group work is an essential life skill and the only way to improve is to engage in group work and discussions, which we do consistently in Write On. 

The program presents a wide variety of perspectives on Israel, and engaging with these perspectives has taught me how to form my own opinions on these complex issues. The WOFI program has also provided me a unique opportunity to form friendships with a diverse group of Jewish teens from across Chicago and the suburbs, who I wouldn't have had the opportunity to meet. Although my Write On experience has looked different than originally planned given the unprecedented circumstances surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, I am counting down the days until I get to travel to Israel with my Write On peers, bringing all of our learning full circle. I hope future Write On participants will have the opportunity to explore the ideas, values and lessons that I have discovered through this valuable program.