Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

Ayze Amerikai: איזה אמריקאי

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You may recall that I recently returned to Chicago after three years in Israel.  During my time away, Hebrew became an important facet of my life. From not knowing how to order off a menu to being able to navigate Israeli bureaucracy with ease, learning Hebrew has been an evolving process. Never would I have imagined myself being able to become fluent in a language that I was not surrounded by most of my life.  

The title of this blog post, pronounced “Ayzeh Amerikai”, is a phrase I heard all too often throughout my army service. The direct translation of this term is, “What an American”. Whether in reaction to what I would say or what I would do, the response would always be the same: “what an American!”  

While I was in Israel, I developed two identities. To my Israeli friends, I couldn’t be more American, and to my American friends and family, I couldn’t be more Israeli. My Israeli friends thought I spoke Hebrew with a strong American accent, and my American friends and family say I now speak English with an “Israeli style”. Being “The American” or “The Israeli” were two roles that I learned to embrace. 


Every memory I have associated with my time in Israel in one way or another relates to Hebrew: engaging in conversation with a local in Hebrew, wrongly translating something by mistake (which happened often), or simply listening to people speak. The Hebrew language was an integral part of my time in Israel. Although my Israeli friends would often joke about my Hebrew, I gained proficiency, and in some ways, became more fluent in Hebrew than I am in English. For example, because of my military service, I can tell you all about the parts of a gun in Hebrew, but I have no idea what they are in English! 

To some, Hebrew is meaningful because it is the language of our people’s most sacred texts. It is a language over 3,000 years old. But to me, Hebrew has nothing to do with religion or my Bar Mitzvah. It is my connection to Israel, and to one of the greatest accomplishments I have taken away from my service in the IDF and process of making Aliyah. Everything I learned in the Army and from life in Israel was in Hebrew, and that makes it even more meaningful.  Since moving back to Chicago, I have made it a point to find ways to keep Hebrew a relevant and important part of my life. It is Hebrew phrases that pushed me forward and that motivated me to be better. I am channeling that motivation as I adjust to my new life in Chicago. It may sound strange, but coming home has made me even more aware of “The Israeli” who speaks English with an “Israeli style”. 

Family IDF

The work I am doing with Springboard and Hebrew in the High is personal. It’s another tool that allows me to share my passion for Hebrew and the way it became an important part of my life.   

Stay tuned for more examples of how I’m using my Hebrew to support Springboard and the Hebrew in the High program.  

Why We Are Excited for NFTYpalooza!

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Kickoff is one of the most important events in NFTY Chicago. It’s our starting point, our foundation, and, of course, it is so much fun! This year we are taking Kickoff to the next level and are bringing in live musicians, great food, and inflatable games (human Hungry Hungry Hippos and a jousting arena!). This change inspired us, so we renamed the event NFTYpalooza! As we look forward to this amazing event, some NFTYites would like to share what NFTY means to them and why they are so excited for NFTYpalooza:

“As an upcoming senior, I've attended many NFTY events and made so many amazing memories. It’s hard to choose just one reason why I love this community so much. As a freshman, I thought that NFTY wasn’t going to be the place for me, but as soon as I went to my first Kickoff, I realized how much I would love it. We spent the day in themed groups (our group was Skittles and we each got to be a color) and walked around the city doing a scavenger hunt while giving out bags of toiletries to those in need. That day, I began to love everything NFTY stood for. I look forward to Kickoff every year to remind me just how special the upcoming year with NFTY Chicago will be.”

-        Megan Berger, Senior at James B. Conant High School

Kick Off 1

“One of the top answers for why teens love NFTY Chicago is because they get to see their camp friends during the rest of the year. This idea enthuses me, but I never went to OSRUI (one of the camps that feeds into NFTY Chicago), yet, I still love NFTY! My devotion to this movement doesn’t stem from meeting familiar faces, but the possibility to meet new ones. At my first Temple Youth Group (TYG) event, I knew no one. I made one friend and that was enough to keep me coming back. As I met more people at events, my passion for NFTY grew stronger. Eventually I decided I wanted to be a leader in NFTY. I want to give back to NFTY because it a place that truly accepts me and allows others to be their best selves. By being a leader, I can only express my love for NFTY more. I'm excited for NFTYpalooza because it will allow me to start another year in this amazing, welcoming community.”

-        Quentin Kagan, Junior at Buffalo Grove High School 

Kick Off 2

“My first NFTY event was Kickoff in 2017. It was my last day of summer and I wanted to go to an event where I could see all my camp friends for one last time before school started. But after Kickoff, I became hooked and went to every NFTY event. Through NFTY, I was able to see my old friends, rekindle some friendships along the way, and make so many amazing new friends. It feels so great to be a member of such an accepting and loving Jewish community. And the best part about NFTY is that it's really fun! There has never been an event where I didn't smile, laugh, and have a good time.” 

-        Ellory Pennor, Junior Lane Tech High School  

Kick Off 3

“In 2014, NFTY Chicago decided to let 8th graders come to Kickoff. They would spend half of the day learning about NFTY on their own, then join the high schoolers for a Big Fun trip to Richardson’s Farm. It was different, for sure, but it was exciting and new, so I loved it! That was my first NFTY event. Now it’s 2018, and we’re getting ready to start another year in NFTY. Once again, while planning for Kickoff we are opening our doors to middle schoolers (this time 6th-8th). From my first Kickoff to now my last, NFTY has been filled with new experiences. I’m excited for NFTYpalooza not only for myself, but for all the middle schoolers who will get to experience that same excitement that I did when I was in their shoes. NFTYpalooza will be an event to remember!”

-        Rachel Schless, Senior at Buffalo Grove High School

NFTY means a lot of different things to different people, but everyone can agree on this: our movement is one of the most amazing kehilot (communities) you could ever come across. We can't wait to see everyone at NFTYpalooza! Register here.

Connecting With My Jewish Roots

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Throughout the past year, the Diller Teen Fellows program has worked to teach its fellows the importance of leadership, Jewish identity, love for Israel, Tikkun Olam, pluralism, and Jewish peoplehood. As a fellow this past year, I’ve learned what each of these core values truly are and formed a strong personal connection to each as I strive to take on a leadership role in the Jewish world. This summer I continued that journey as I connected with these values on a new, deeper level during Diller’s Israel Summer Seminar. For three weeks, I not only got to see much of Israel’s beauty, but for the first time, hear from the diverse faces of Israel.   

Cohort 5 Tel Aviv

Before this experience, I had been a tourist in Israel numerous times, but when Diller and JUF gave me the opportunity to live with a host family for a week in Chicago’s partnership region of Kiryat Gat, Lachish, and Shafir, I began to feel at home in Israel. Although I experienced many intriguing cultural differences, I was surprised, and comforted, to find similarities in our families’ Jewish practices and traditions that brought me incredibly close to my hosts. Throughout that week, I was given an opportunity that no other tourist receives-- to live an authentic Israeli life and feel as though I could call Israel my home. 

Cohort 5 Kids

Following the home-stay, Diller provided the fellows with a life changing experience that is unique to this program-- the chance to connect with Jewish teens from around the globe at the Diller Teen Fellows Global Congress. I was able to explore my Jewish identity with teens from 32 communities around the world and heard the perspectives of hundreds of teens from different backgrounds regarding politics, Judaism, family, and numerous other topics. After learning about Jewish pluralism over the past year, I was given the opportunity to experience and be a part of a pluralistic community this summer, as I befriended Jews from parts of the world I’ve never seen. To me, the most powerful aspect of this encounter was the ability to engage in lively discussions, debates, and disagreements with peers from around the world, and in turn, gain perspective, broaden by view on the world, and strengthen my Jewish identity. 

Cohort 5

Without the Diller Teen Fellows Israel Summer Seminar, I wouldn’t have formed such a close and personal connection to Israel and other Jews across the world. Just as importantly, I wouldn’t have built a strong, meaningful Jewish identity. I’m incredibly grateful for the unique opportunity that Diller Teen Fellows and JUF gave me to connect with my Jewish roots and continue to make an impact on my Jewish community-- both in Chicago, and around the world. 


-Orly Lewittes, Diller Cohort 5