Blog with Springboard

The Springboard blog highlights the experiences of Jewish teens and Jewish teen professionals participating in community programs across Chicagoland and beyond. Dive into blogs about different Jewish teen events, leadership programs, trip opportunities, and more! Join us in celebrating the unique perspectives and contributions of Jewish teens and professionals in the Jewish community. To post a blog, please email

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Springboard Blog

Adding Some Jewish Into Your Week: Shema Yisrael

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Here are some reflections on this week's Torah reading, Parshat Vayechi. 

This week's Torah portion features Jacob (now famous from the previous stories of wrestling with an angel and as the father of long-lost son Joseph) on his deathbed.  As was the tradition at the time, he blesses his twelve sons.  At first glance, this event may not seem that significant, the blessing they say is one we have heard many times before "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad," "Hear, Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one." 

What is noteworthy is that this is the first time that arguably the most famous sentence in all of Judaism is featured. Most people believe that the events that take place on Mount Sinai, after the exodus from Egypt, launch the birth of the Jewish people.  God passes down the Ten Commandments through Moses, and the Jewish people's covenant with God is born. Let me challenge that perspective. What if we think about Jacob's blessings and the first recitation of the Shema as the birth of the Jewish people instead? 

As part of Jacob's blessing to his sons he assigns the tribes to be different and to have unique roles in the community: leaders, priests, soldiers, judges, farmers, scholars, and so on.  Just as Jacob blessed his sons to be different, today there are many roles and ways that people practice Judaism.  We have many sects and movements that Jews subscribe to. Jews can be Reconstructionist, Humanist, Conservative, Reform, Orthodox, Messianic, and Karaite, just to name a few.  

There was one thing, however, that kept all of the brothers together: the Shema. Even after Jacob blessed them all to be different, they came together as one people in their recitation of the Shema on his death bed. In the same way, each different type of Judaism recites the Shema in some form that is meaningful for them and believes in the same higher power, whatever form that takes. We are all united in the words that form one of the central pillars of our faith, and in doing that, we are united as a people just like Jacob's sons. 

Adding Some Jewish Into Your Week: Joseph's Dreamcoat

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Looking for a new way to think about Judaism this week? Here are some reflections Parshat Vayigash to add a modern perspective to this week's Torah reading.

This week's parsha (Torah reading), Vayigash, finishes the story of Joseph that we started reading last week. If you're like me and don't have it in you to memorize every part of the Torah, here's a quick recap of what happened over the course of our last two parshiot

We started with Joseph receiving his "coat of many colors" from Jacob, and his subsequent capture and sale into slavery by his jealous brothers. After being sent to jail, Joseph is brought to Pharoah to interpret his two dreams, and makes his well-known prediction that there will be seven years of prosperity, followed by seven years of famine. Pharoah decides that Joseph should oversee the collection and distribution of food for all of Egypt. Fast forward a few years, and Joseph's brothers have come to ask for food because of the famine. Joseph (who is completely unrecognizable to his brothers) tests them by accusing them of being spies and thieves, and accuses Jacob's youngest son, Benjamin, of stealing a goblet. He demands that Benjamin stay as his slave, while the others can go free. Judah steps up to the plate, defends Benjamin, and heroically asks to be enslaved in his place. In this moment, the brothers "pass" Joseph's test and Joseph knows, through their actions, that the brothers are different people than the ones who abandoned him so many years before. 

Now, I imagine when you saw "Parshat Vayigash" and started reading this reflection, you may not have expected the plot of "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat." It is a well-known, well-loved story- I couldn't help singing "Close Every Door" the whole time I was writing this summary. That's the cool thing about the Torah and Jewish learning, you can find it everywhere, and often without realizing it or thinking too hard. Because of this famous retelling of the story of Joseph, we already have a connection to what's been happening in the last few Jewish weeks.  

 As Jewish educators and leaders, it's our job to find and create connections between the individuals we work with and classic Jewish thought and texts, but what if we don't know how? 

We can thank scholars, authors, screenwriters, tv and film producers for their help. Our tradition is so rich with interesting stories that versions have been used for all kids of commercial purposes including movies and TV shows. The Rugrats have adventures for both Hanukkah and Passover. Disney Channel has the movie "Full Court Miracle." There's a NBC show that features a modern retelling of King David's story called "Kings," and full Biblically inspired storylines on the CW's Supernatural. There are even movies like "Exodus: Gods and Kings" and "Noah" that incorporate biblical commentaries into their retelling of classic stories. 

When we come across stories in the Torah that are hard to connect with, we shouldn't just write them off or ignore them. We should look for modern versions or find a way to tell them ourselves. One reason Jewish life has thrived over the course of history is that there are so many ways to relate it to our lives. Let's challenge ourselves to look for them!  

How a Road Trip Changed My Life

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How a road trip changed my life

When I was in 9th grade, I went on a road trip that changed my life. I boarded a bus with a group of teens that I had never met before, and we traveled across the country. The purpose of this trip was to see things that we had never seen before, and to learn more about a variety of subjects through their respective hall of fames. On this trip I visited the Rock N Roll Hall of Fame in Cleveland, the Football Hall of Fame in Canton, and the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. Although I was a huge fan of football and baseball, I was not a huge fan of Rock music. To my surprise, looking back, my favorite and most memorable part of the trip was walking through and exploring the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Not only did I learn a ton, but through the interactive exhibits and music making work shop I gained a ton of new respect for a music genre that I was not all that interested in.  

Looking back that trip gave me many memories, new friends, and hundreds of pictures and also an appreciation for something new. It is something that I look back on very fondly, and that I want others to experience too. Because of this, I have decided to run a similar trip, with a couple of added twists, for teens around the Chicagoland area. Whether you have interest in each stop of the trip, or just one or two, you might find that by being around a great group of people, and traveling to some amazing and beautiful places can become a trip that you will cherish for many years to come! 

The main stops on the trip include:  

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame! 

Location: Cleveland, Ohio          

Size: 6 Floors and over 50 exhibits! 

Newest Inductees:  

ELO, Joan Baez, Journey, Nile Rodgers, Pearl Jam, YES, Tupac Shakur 

Some Highlights Include:  

Each floor takes on a different Era of music, from the Oldies and the British Invasion, to Classic Rock, to the Rise of Rap, and the Right Here Right Now (Modern Bands), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame has something for everything! Each exhibit has interactive aspects, video and visual aspects, and of course a ton of Musical aspects.  

The Baseball Hall of Fame! 

Location: Cooperstown, New York.    

Size: Three floors and nearly 20 exhibits  

Newest Inductees:  

Jeff Bagwell, Tim Raines, Ivan Rodriguez, John Schuerholz, and Bud Selig 

Some Highlights Include:  

Diamond Dreams (An exhibit dedicated to the Women of Baseball)  

Autumn Glory (A look at every world series in History, including an entire Cubs 2016 World Series display!)   

The Base Exhibit (An entirely interactive exhibit)   

The Hall of Fame (Complete with bronze plaques for each MLB Hall of Fame Player.)  

The Pro Football Hall of Fame! 

Location: Canton, Ohio            

Size: 82,300 Sq Feet, and Newly Renovated  

Newest Inductees:  

Morten AndersenTerrell DavisKenny EasleyJerry JonesJason TaylorLaDainian TomlinsonKurt Warner

Some Highlights Include:  

Interactive Area (Includes a Teletrivia game, Call-the-Play-Theater, an all-new Madden EA Sports video game display and other exhibits such as a display devoted to officiating.) 

Hall of Fame Gallery (which houses the bronze bust of each enshrine) 

Lamar Hunt Super Bowl Gallery (Recaps every Super Bowl played to date. home to the Super Bowl Theater, an incredible presentation of a NFL Films production.) 

Niagra Falls, Maid of the Mist!  

Location: Buffalo, New York 

Some Highlights Include:  

“Journey into the heart of one of North America’s most powerful waterfalls. Hear the thundering roar of 600,000 gallons of water falling right before your eyes. Feel the Mighty rush of the mist on your face aboard the Maid of the Mist.” 

Our Time is Now: My Journey with Jewish Civic Engagement

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Ariel Sheffey is currently a sophomore at Northwestern University, but in high school, she participated in a two-year fellowship program run by JUF’s Campus Affairs and Student Engagement Department. This year, that department has teamed up with Springboard to create a new program: Launchpad: Jewish Civic Engagement. We asked Ariel what it means to her to get involved in her community and how she lends her voice to issues she is passionate about. If, like Ariel, you want to make a difference in your community, sign up for Launchpad: Jewish Civic Engagement today! 


Civic engagement has long been part of my life. Throughout my experiences working in political offices, engaging with the Jewish community, and being an advocate on my college campus, I have learned not only the importance of community involvement, but also the extent to which young adults are truly able to make an impact. My first real experience with activism was through a high school internship with a political grassroots organization in my congressional district devoted to campaigning for candidates in local, state, and national levels of office. From planning and staffing events to writing press releases, managing social media accounts, and hearing from a multitude of esteemed speakers, I found myself fully immersed in the world of community organization.  

From this experience, my political activism grew. I interned in the legislative office of my state representative, fielding calls from constituents and learning about the relationships between elected officials and those they represent. I volunteered on a congressional campaign, getting a chance to see how campaigning works when all resources are devoted to one specific election. And I continued to work for the same organization where I began—this time, as the internship coordinator, an opportunity that allowed me to improve my leadership skills, become further integrated into the management team, and give back all that I had learned over the previous years to a new class of interns.  

However, I’ve found that activism is most meaningful to me when it draws from my Judaism. Tikkun Olam—repairing the world—and Klal Yisrael—uniting the Jewish people—are Jewish values that I have found to be especially formative in my civic engagement, and I have been lucky enough to benefit from opportunities that have allowed me to experience that intersection deeply. Through JUF’s Campus Affairs and Student Engagement Department, I spent two years as a part of a cohort that engaged in meaningful dialogue about activism, learned from professionals about the most effective advocacy and messaging strategies, and travelled to Israel and Washington, D.C. to meet with journalists, government officials, and more. And the one-on-one conversations that I had with such influential individuals demonstrated to me that the distance between teenagers and policy-makers is significantly smaller than it seems. We, as passionate community members who will ultimately shape our world’s future, can make an impact now, and the advocacy skills that I learned in high school have largely shaped my activism on my college campus.  

Ultimately, I’ve learned that civic engagement done right is a lifestyle, not an occasional hobby. In a world that is constantly changing, one must always be cognizant and reactant, lest the resultant policies threaten us, our communities, and our futures. Even in the microcosm that is my college campus, change is dictated by those whose voices are the loudest—something I have witnessed for both better and worse through student government resolutions, newspaper opinion editorials, rallies, and protests, many of which I personally have been a part of. As Jewish leaders, we need to make sure that we, too, are those voices, both now and throughout our lifetimes. 

-Ariel Sheffey

How Music Helped me Connect to My Judaism

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Last year, I traveled to a conference called Songleader Boot Camp (SLBC) in St. Louis, Missouri. At SLBC, I raised my voice in song along with hundreds of other Jews from places all over the world who, just like me, felt an indescribable connection to Judaism and the songs we have sung for centuries. For an amazing five days, we studied the art of song leading in Jewish communities and learned the tricks and tools to make us the best leaders we can be, both on the stage and in our everyday lives.

At SLBC, I was able to relate to Judaism like never before, and I easily connected to people that I just met, from all over the country as well as Israel. Although I was one of the only teenagers at SLBC last year, I was treated just like everyone else. It wasn’t just me either. Everyone, no matter who they were, no matter if they were expert songleaders or just beginners, was treated with the same level of כָּבוֹד, or respect, as everyone else. Participating in SLBC was truly an amazing experience and I feel so blessed to have shared it all with others who love music as much as I do.

SLBC School Break

This year, SLBC is taking the experience a step further by partnering with Springboard to create a Teen Track. This track is being created with young adults in mind, focusing on the skill development and community building that will be particularly meaningful to us. If this new track is anything like what I experienced last year, it is going to be amazing. I hope you will consider joining me there!

Wishing you a fantastic song-filled Sunday!

-Marc Luban, 10th grader

Adding some Jewish into your week: Making Hanukkah Modern

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Looking for a new way to think about Judaism this week? Here are some reflections on Hanukkah to add a modern perspective to the upcoming holiday this month.

When we think about Hanukkah, we often focus on the same major details of the story: Antiochus told the Jews that they could no longer observe their mitzvot or read from the Torah. Judah and the Maccabees rose up and fought against him. Upon winning the war, the Macabees restored the Temple and discovered that there was only enough oil to light the menorah, but a miracle occurred and the oil lasted for eight days. After years of repetitive Hanukkah discussions and programs, is there a way to make this year's Hanukkah experience feel fresh and different? I'm glad you asked! 

There are many unexplored questions in the version of the story above. What do you think the Maccabees' uprising looked like? In any conflict, difficult trade-offs must be made. Do you think that the Maccabees engaged in morally questionable activities in their fight to protect their religious freedom? How does the Maccabees' resistance compare to those who have engaged in different types of protests in world history? How does it compare to what's happening today? 

Whether you're a person engaging in your own struggle to find modern meaning in the Hanukkah story (see last week's blog post for more on the Jewish value of struggle), a teen or youth professional interested in creating a new Hannukkah program, this year, consider putting our heroes on trial.  

Taking the Maccabees to Court: The People vs. Maccabees 

  • Split into two sides: Prosecution and Defense.  

  • Have both sides consider leaders and movements throughout world history who protested those in power such as Ghandi, Rosa Parks, Malcolm X, Martin Luthor King, Malala Yousafzai, the HaganahLechi, and Etzel from the early days of Israel, and more. Consider the different forms of protest people engaged in and how that impacted their cause.  

  • Have both sides call witnesses from throughout history to defend or attack the actions of the Maccabees.  

  • After the trial have participants vote on whether the Maccabees were justified in their decision to fight the Greeks or if they should have engaged in a more peaceful resistance 

We hope you enjoy this modern-day approach to a holiday classic. For more information on this program, or for help with other program ideas, get in touch with Daniel Warshawsky  

Why I'm so Happy I went on a Springboard Program Last Spring Break

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Spring break for me usually consists of big trips and swimming pools, but freshman year (last year), I didn't have anything planned. My mom asked me how I felt about going on a Springboard school break trip. At first I thought it wasn't for me, but then I remembered hearing about the program during my summer at Camp Chi so I read about the activity options.  One of my favorite things to do is cook and bake. I love making cupcakes, cookies, and other creations. Cooking with new friends and having baking competitions sounded awesome- I signed up for BreakAway: Master Chef immediately.

Camp Chi Teens

Fast forward to March when I got off the bus at Camp Chi. We started by getting a tour of the Perlstein kitchen at Camp Chi and meeting some of the kitchen staff.  This was a great way to get another perspective of how a kitchen works. After the tour, our leader explained how we were going to be cooking many different things, but first we needed to learn the basics. We started out with carrots, onions, celery, and a chef's knife. By the end, we were chopping carrots into tiny pieces and dicing onions with no problem. Later on, we were grateful to have Chef Stephanie Goldfarb give us some tips on how to prepare food (and eat it too!). She owns a supper club in Chicago and explained how restaurants take a lot of work, patience, and creativity to run.


These lessons were helpful in the big activity we did on the last day. By that time, we had already made challah, knishes, perfected our hummus skills, and learned to roll and stuff a perfect sushi roll. But we were reminded that practice makes perfect, so much so that they make TV shows out if it! We did an activity based on the Food Network show, Chopped. We were split into teams and given some weird ingredients like root beer, turkey, an orange, and an onion. As a team, we had to create an appetizer and a main course, and as a group we made the dessert. I remember that my team worked so hard to make a sautéed tomato, (pareve) cheese and onion pizza and a seared turkey with orange root beer sauce. The hard work paid off, and we won the competition! My favorite part of the activity was making a cake and decorating it together as a group. We made some funny designs and ate a lot of frosting.

BreakAway Master Chef

My decision to participate in BreakAway: Master Chef was one I will never regret. Improving my cooking and baking skills was so great and getting to experience it with friends that I still keep in touch was icing on the cake. 

-Adina Grossman, 10th grade

Adding some Jewish into your week: Struggle as a Jewish Value

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Looking for a new way to think about Judaism this week? Here are some reflections on Parshat Vayishlach to add a modern perspective to this week's Torah reading.

This coming week, we get to one of the most talked about stories in the whole Torah: Jacob wrestles with an angel, and his name is changed to Israel. Ironically, this is one of the stories in the Torah that people most struggle. First of all, the so called "angel" is identified in the text as an "eesh" (translated: man).  So why do we call him an angel? Who sent him? And why do the two men immediately fight one another? If it is an angel, how is it possible that Jacob beats him?  

I don't have the answers to any of these questions, and neither do rabbis and scholars who have sought answers to these same questions for 2000 years.  This is part of the great Judaic tradition of struggling with our text, history, and traditions.  Interestingly, the name that Jacob receives, Israel, comes from a combination of the biblical Hebrew word for struggle, Yisra, and the word for God, el. After this name change, Jacob's children became known as B'nei Yisrael, the children of Israel, for the remainder of the Torah, literally making us "those who struggle with God."  

While today we are most commonly referred to as Jews, and the most common use of Yisrael is the name of the Jewish state, I believe that the name Yisrael still applies to us today as a people. As Jews, struggle is an inherently important part of our religion.  Many of our holidays introduce challenges: we fast on Yom Kippur, we eat matzah for eight days on Passover and we're told to live in wooden "booths" for a week on Sukkot. We've struggled as a nation, both in history and in the world today. But what does this idea of "struggling with God" mean now?  

In my Jewish upbringing, I was always told to question and struggle with everything -- with God, the Torah, the world, and our values. I believe this idea is the lesson we are supposed to learn from this week's Torah reading: that we are supposed to struggle with our beliefs. One of the reasons that rabbis have been asking these same questions and debating the same ideas for thousands of years is that they continue to be relevant. Like our ancestors, we must continue to challenge ourselves to think differently, to struggle, and to constantly be changing and growing with our own ideas and as a people.  

Making a Meaningful Impact

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On November 12th and 13th, Avi Pretekin, with the help of more than 30 volunteers and The Night Ministry, packaged and distributed 200 meals to Chicago families in need. This project came about as a result of his participation in the Diller Teen Fellows program and a desire to give back the community. Throughout the Diller program, Avi and his cohort have been developing leadership skills and increasing their understanding of what it means to make a difference in their community.

It is obvious how this project impacted the recipients of the meals- people who don’t always know where their next meal is coming from were given a meal, a card, and a friendly smile. Less obvious, but equally important, is the impact on the family and friends of Avi, the Diller Teen Fellows, and the families, including many young children, from the Skokie Valley Agudath Jacob congregation who showed up on a cold and rainy day to volunteer. As we made sandwiches, packed meals and wrote cards together, it was clear that this project was meaningful to everyone. Parents were having conversations with their children about the values of tzedakah, dignity, and empathy. The community bonded over a shared purpose. And everyone walked away feeling as though they made a difference in someone’s life.

“Working with The Night Ministry, and creating this project through Diller Teen Fellows was extremely gratifying,” Avi said. “As I watched the project come together, I felt like all the hard work to organize the project was worth it, and I could really see the impact in my community.”

This project is just one example of the great leadership and sense of obligation that is formed in Diller Teen Fellows. Diller Teen Fellows is a fellowship experience for 10th and 11th grade students who seek to develop leadership skills, explore their Jewish identities, travel to Israel, build lifelong friendships, and create amazing memories. To learn more about the program, visit our website.

Night Ministry

How Judaism has given me a Unique High School Experience

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Being a teen in Chicago is something I cherish heavily. Being a Jewish teen, however, has made my life very different than the lives of many other teens in Chicago. I am a 10th grader at Intrinsic High School, where I began in the middle school program in 7th grade. I have been with most of the same students for the past four years, and yet, some of them still are unaware of my Judaism. Being Jewish in a school predominately occupied by Hispanic Christians is an experience that consists of countless questions, misunderstandings, and accidental insults. While Intrinsic does have a significant number of Jewish members on the teaching staff, I remain one of, if not the only, Jewish student.  

This experience of spending so much time without Jewish peers has given me a unique outlook on what it means to be Jewish in the broader society. Previously, my experiences with Judaism were mostly within the Jewish community, whether it was at my synagogue or family members’ houses. Being in a situation where I am surrounded by those who do not have the same understanding of my culture has actually made me more interested and invested in Judaism. This past year specifically, I have been seeking out more Jewish experiences around the Chicagoland area. I have participated in more religious activities so that I have more to share with my peers at school. Since I am often the one answering questions about my Jewish religion and the culture, I want to make sure that I have interesting things to share with the people I am speaking with. 

Being part of a community that allows me to partake in experiences like writing this blog post are just snippets of the amazing thing that is being a Jewish teen in Chicago, an idea I hope I can impress upon everyone who reads this. 

-Adam Gadiel

Adam Gadiel

Adding some Jewish to your week

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Looking for some new ways to think about Judaism this week? Here are some reflections on Parshat Vayeitzei to add some modern perspective to our weekly Torah reading: 

What does it mean for a place to be holy? What is a "House of God," really? How can a person make a place holy? These are just some of the questions that I asked myself when reading through this week's Torah reading, Parshat Vayeitzei

In this week's reading, Jacob leaves his home in Be'er Sheva and sleeps in a clearing one night. This is when he has his famous dream of angels moving up and down a ladder, where God promises him that the land upon which he lies will be given to his descendants. While there are many commentators who work interpret the meaning of the ladder and the angels, the part that really interests me is what happens next. After Jacob wakes up, he turns the stone that he used as a pillow into a mizbeach, an altar to God, and pledges that this place will become a holy place. The "house of God," or "Beit-El." 

As I asked before, what does it mean for a place to be holy? Does it have to be a synagogue or a place where you dreamt of God? Or could it be something else entirely? 

For me, the places that are most holy are the places where I feel connected to my friends, family, and Jewish community. It could be a physical place, like a summer camp, or it could be a state of being, like how I felt at my youth group conventions. For me, holiness doesn’t necessarily come from God. It can if that is meaningful for you, but it can just as easily come from a feeling of peace, or connection. The lesson that we can take from this week's parsha is not only that it's up to us to make a place holy, but that any place can be holy, even a clearing in the woods. 

Why I Love Staffing Springboard School Break

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As a Springboard Teen Engagement Specialist I have the great fortune of being able to spend a lot of my time out of the office, participating in amazing programs taking place throughout the community. A highlight has been staffing Springboard School Break programs, where in the past two years I've participated in two different but equally incredible experiences.   

In the spring of 2016, I was part of Studio Chi, a film making program that was held at JCC Camp Chi. It was clear from the start that film making fosters community. The first day started the way many teen programs begin, with a team building activity. This group of iPhone using, Instagram posting teens was given a challenge: to develop a roll of film. The teens worked together, relied on each other's knowledge and experience, cheered each other on and ultimately reached the goal together. That was just in the first hour. Over the next four days they continued to work together as a group, creating new friendships and strengthening existing ones, and sitting around a bonfire while singing songs and eating s’mores. Plus, they learned new skills, got to use some serious (and expensive) film equipment and created an inspiring movie.  

Last March I traveled back to Camp Chi, this time headed to BreakAway, a multi-tracked spring break adventure, where I staffed their Tree House Construction program. Again, I immediately noticed that participants were not only learning how to create a building concept, but also a Jewish community. One of the most exciting parts of project was designing the walls. The participants determined the height of the walls, the locations where they’d cut out the windows, the paint colors and the design. Although they were never told to do so, many of the designs included Jewish symbols or Hebrew words. When I asked the teens what inspired these designs, they said it seemed obvious to them to have the structure reflect that it is a part of a Jewish community. To me, this group of teens who had only recently met, demonstrated that they were doing more than just building a tree house. They saw their Tree House as a part of something larger.  

On face value these programs had almost nothing in common. One week was spent mostly inside, while the other was outside; one focused on technology while the other focused on physical skills. While the programs were designed with different teens in mind, the common thread was that both groups spend their week creating something special, learning new skills and making new friends. This year I might be on a road trip, advocating for the causes that are important to me, developing new culinary skills, or participating in one of the other amazing Springboard School Break options. While I don’t know which program I’ll participate in, I do know that whatever I do, the teens participating will have a chance to have a unique interest-based experience while also forming a special community with other Jewish teens.  

-Brittany Abramowicz Cahan, Springboard Teen Engagement Specialist

This year, we're thankful for YOU.

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We at Springboard could not be more thankful to be a part of the Chicagoland Jewish community. From the vibrant and passionate teens that we spend our days with, to the incredible parents, professionals, clergy, and families that continuously work to make this community what it is- thank you.

We wish you and your family a Happy Thanksgiving!

Spotlight on Matt Rissien: Why I'm Thankful for Professional Development

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Matt of M2

Whether you’re a teen or someone working in informal Jewish education, imagine the difficulties that come with figuring out how to create the perfect teen program. Just when you think you have master the art of engaging teens, trends change and suddenly, they are interested in something new.  Add to that, the complexity of engaging teens in Jewish content and you have an even greater challenge.  I often find myself turning to fun catch-phrase titled programs and games to attract our participants, but I struggle with balancing strong Jewish content with our youth group's casual laid back atmosphere.  

This dynamic of understanding what teens are really looking for from our programming, and getting them to attend our programs is something that my colleagues and I in the youth field discuss often. I was fortunate to have gotten insight into this when I attended the M² workshop in October.  The workshop was focused on intrinsic motivation, or how to have our participants get the most for themselves from what we provide them.  

The activity that stood out most involved five different stations, with each station focused on a different sense, talent or thought process. After going to all five stations (one of which was the game Bop-It, a personal favorite of mine), we reflected on how everyone thinks differently and has different talents and interests. We talked about how to take this into account when thinking about the teens who will attend our programs and also had an opportunity to hear directly from teens about how they feel about the activities they are involved in. A key takeaway was the importance of creating diverse programming, using creativity and thinking outside the box, in order to motivate and meet the needs of our different participants.  

USY Board

The reason I love attending workshops is because as a full time Jewish professional, there are few opportunities to take time away from my desk just to be with other professionals. I learn more from five minutes chatting over bagels, than I ever do researching “teen trends” online. Through this workshop I was reminded that there is no end to learning the art of engagement, especially for those of us working with teens. It’s very reaffirming to me, however, to be able to look around a room at this workshop and know that there are others doing everything they can to engage our teens, youth and young families. Chicago is very fortunate to have such a strong group of Jewish professionals, and I was honored to have spent two days with many of them at this workshop. I am thankful for programs like Springboard and M² because they allow me to reignite my passion by spending time with professionals doing similar work while focusing on relevant topics.  

Matt Rissien is the Director of Youth Activities at Congregation Beth Shalom. For more information on upcoming Professional Development opportunities, click here.

Taking a Bite out of Jewish Life

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ncsy volunteer group

What happens when you take 45 Jewish teens from public schools across Chicagoland – many of whom don’t know each other – and fly them to the country’s largest Jewish community for five days of adventure, social action and Jewish inspiration?

A lot more good than we ever thought possible.

This President’s Day Weekend, Midwest NCSY ran Big Apple Adventure, a Springboard school break experience that combined sightseeing, volunteering and celebrating Shabbat in New York. Many of the activities were in keeping with the trip’s theme, “Be a Hero,” with the teens exploring Judaism’s take on heroism through education and hands-on experiences. 

Big Apple T-Shirts

Lizzie Doman, a freshman at Glenbrook North High School, said she decided to go on Big Apple Adventure because it sounded like fun and her friends were going.

Her favorite part? “It’s hard to pick because this trip was full of exciting things to do,” says Lizzie, who mentions visiting Times Square, eating “delicious New York pizza,” and packing clothes at Yad Leah for poor families in Israel, as trip highlights.

For Seth Flynn, a freshman at Oak Park and River Forest High School, Shabbat was one of the best parts of the trip, with an “amazing” prayer service, lots of good food, and a “beautiful” and “high energy” Havdalah. He said he also enjoyed Shabbat guest speaker Jamie Lassner, a volunteer EMT and first responder at 9/11.

“He was incredibly inspirational,” says Seth. “We then split into different small groups and got to talk about what it means to be a hero and how we can all be one.”

Sammy Schwartz, a sophomore at Niles North High School, said he too enjoyed Shabbat, adding that while it was different than how he typically spends Shabbat, it was “meaningful and memorable.”

Most of all, Sammy said, he appreciated the opportunity to make so many friends. 

“I came on the trip knowing no one, but I left with a multitude of new, close friends whom I’m still keeping in touch with,” he says. “And it showed me that Jewish people are always connected, regardless of their backgrounds or beliefs.”

Abby Sokol, a freshman from Stevenson High School, shared a similar sentiment about the sense of Jewish community that the teens created on Big Apple Adventure, whether while ice skating at Rockefeller Center, shopping for Shabbat on the streets of Brooklyn, or feeding the hungry at all-kosher soup kitchen.

“The most touching part of the trip was when we all got into a circle to reflect on the experience,” she says. “A few [of the teens] shared their experiences and how they were changed, which brought some  to tears because of all the meaning and sharing that was done in the safe space and tight community we had created over this trip.”

Lizzie Doman agrees.  More than Times Square and good pizza and even volunteering, Big Apple Adventure was, above all else, about being a part of the Jewish community.

“My Jewish ties have been strengthened without a doubt, and it was meaningful to revisit [Judaism] with a fresh set of eyes and new concepts,” she says. “I feel it really brought me closer to who I am as a person and the potential I hold.”

volunteers meeting


What I've Learned by Working with Youth: A Spotlight on Emanuel Congregation Director of Jewish Learning and Engagement, Tani Prell

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Tani Prell Photo

I grew up as an only child, never baby sat, and was very convinced that I would never, ever want to work with young people even if you paid me to do it. Well, never say never. After college I joined Teach for America in hopes of having an impact (even a small one) on educational inequality. I was placed in a high school and while it was the hardest thing that I have done in my adult life, my students were a gift.  Their endless energy, resilience and hope convinced me that young people will always be our best hope for creating positive change in our world. 

While I was teaching, I became a student myself. I had attended a Lutheran school from preschool through high school but I always had a deep love for Judaism. I loved Jewish values, history, and traditions and knew from a very young age that one day I wanted to become Jewish myself.  I started attending Jews by Choice classes at Anshe Emet and immersed myself in Jewish life. Every day that I got to teach and then go to services or classes, I felt that I was living my most complete life.  I thought that if I could combine my two passions of education and Judaism, then that would be a dream job if there ever was one. 

Dreams come true, and here I am today as Emanuel Congregation’s Director of Jewish Learning and Engagement. Emanuel’s dedication to social justice and diversity drew me to the community. At Emanuel I oversee the religious school, youth groups, and confirmation program.  From the youngest people to our high schoolers, they all bring so many ideas, joy and enthusiasm to the synagogue.  

Every time the kids are in the building they demonstrate what Jewish values can look like at every stage.  

Preschool through third grade perform g’milut chasadim,acts of loving kindness, as often as possible. They are happy and want those around them to be happy as well. Whether it’s stick figure drawings on cards to kids in the hospital or sharing their goldfish, they spread the love. 

Fourth Grade show kibud av v'em, honor for their parents, regularly. They always greet their parents with hugs, tell their parents about their days with excitement, reference them during class, and invite them to share in their religious school experiences. 

Middle Schoolers are constantly asking questions.  As young Jewish scholars they enjoy interpreting text, debating big Jewish question and are ready to respectfully stand up for what they believe in.  

High Schoolers at Emanuel have created a community centered on tikkun olam. They are ready to repair the world and are committed to social justice. Confirmation classes are focused on discussing topics of social change. The teens have a chance to bring these discussions into practice at L’Taken with the Religious Action Center in D.C. this March. 


While younger me would have fought you on this, adult me can confidently say that working with young people is awesome. The Jewish community is filled with emerging leaders who will undoubtedly make the world a better place. I feel blessed to be a part of their journey.  


How are YOU mobilizing for social change?

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There’s a great bit from the comedian John Mulaney where he talks about the joy of “doing nothing.” It's so easy not to do anything! How many of us have spent our days off of school or work parked in front of the TV or computer, binge-watching Netflix for hours? Or, instead of committing to plans, checking “maybe” on a Facebook event so it’s okay when you decide, at the last minute, not to go? 

We’ve been there. We get it. It feels great to do nothing sometimes, but eventually we feel that pull to get off the couch and do something.  

So let’s talk about the “do something” people. People who spend their time off helping others, learning, teaching, and getting stuff done.

These are the teens with whom we spend our summers. There’s Marc and Adam, who after volunteering for an entire day with the Green Star Movement building a mosaic mural to beautify Chicago, reached out about coming back the next weekend to keep working. There’s Abby, Maya, and Zach, who pushed us to stay out longer registering residents to vote so they could push their elected official to support police accountability. There’s Jacob, who has spent the past three summers volunteering, acting as a leader to his peers, and making sorting mushy potatoes fun so more teens get involved. There’s Sydney, who worked to bring our discussions on root causes of oppression to their synagogue youth group to get more Jewish teens talking about important issues.

The leaders of Mobilize Chicago have been creating inspiring experiences for "do something" Jewish teens to get involved and make concrete change in their communities. Here are what some of these teens have had to say about their experiences: 

"All of the programming helped me connect to my identity as someone who cares about social justice. They assisted me in building my identity as an organizer, activist, and advocate. They helped me learn about activities I can be a part of in my own community." 


"It felt fantastic to accept my privileges and recognize them so I could use them strategically to lift up others' voices above my own." 


"This experience guided me in mingling my passion for social justice and Jewish identity. My obligation as a Jew to heal the world around me had never been so clear as it was in the program." 


"I feel much closer to my Judaism at the end of this program than I thought I would. It gave me an understanding of the importance of Shabbat from a justice and personal perspective." 


"I would definitely recommend this program. I have learned so much, and it has deeply informed my perspectives and understanding of many issues." 


It can be easy to choose to do nothing, but it is invigorating and refreshing to stand up and take action. Teens like the ones we’ve described here start by just showing up to the first program and listening, by building community and asking questions. Everyone comes with different experiences and identities, but all feel a passion for trying new things, and a drive to make the world a better place.  

So give it a shot! Get up, take a chance, and Mobilize. 

What I Learned About Trying Something New

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Lilly Murphy photo

Hi! My name is Lillie Murphy and I am a Junior at Barrington High School. There are not many Jewish teens in Barrington. Because of this, I found that if I want to stay involved in my Jewish community I need to do as much as I can!  

I am currently president of my USY (United Synagogue Youth) chapter and am very involved in many amazing teen programs including Diller Cohort 5, JCC Seed613, Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago. One of my close friends is also the president of her temple's youth group chapter, but through a different organization called NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) which is a reform Jewish youth group. She told me that they were having a convention coming up and that I should sign up. I figured I had nothing to lose and so much to gain like making amazing friendships and have a really exciting new experience. Another reason why I loved the idea of participating in this convention was because it would be from a first-timer's view. Most of time, when I participate in USY conventions I participate in a leadership role. Recently I have been leading a lot of the programs, never getting the chance to just sit back and participate.  

I have an outgoing personality so I wasn't too nervous about participating in a brand-new experience. That being said, I have to admit it was a little scary because I had no idea what to expect. The moment I got out of my car in front of the buses a bunch of kids came over, including two of the regional board members, and welcomed me. They were so sweet! When we got to Wisconsin, I had already met so many people on the bus that I was not afraid at all. Although many people were there with friends they already knew, everyone was happy to include me and no one cared that I was from a different youth group.  

Not only were the people amazing, but the convention itself was eye opening. I found the two different youth group experiences to be both unique and the same. The biggest difference was around conservative services versus reform services at the two conventions. Surprisingly, the structure and most of the programs were very similar.  

In the end, I definitely recommend that every Jewish teen consider branching out and trying something new. It's a great way to get involved as much as possible- you may find something new to enjoy or be reminded of the things you appreciate about the community you are already a part of. Being involved in your Jewish community has given me and taught me so much. Throughout this time I have met SO many Jewish teens that I now consider my best friends, and learned more leadership skills than some people learn in a lifetime. From going to a Jewish summer camp to being in different Jewish youth groups or programs, I have found what I love most... my Jewish community. :)  

Judaism 101: Thanksgiving

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As Thanksgiving approaches, we wanted to share with all of you a short drash, or reflection, on thinking about Thanksgiving from a Jewish perspective by Daniel Warshawsky, one of Springboard's Teen Engagement Specialists:  

Thanksgiving is the American holiday where we take a step back and expression our appreciation for our loved ones, our community and our good fortune. We travel near and far, visit with friends and family, and eat our fill. We spend a full day telling people what they mean to us and often demonstrate our thanks by giving back to our own communities. But, did you know that Judaism has the idea of expressing thanks built into every day?    

Here are some times when, through prayer, we have an opportunity to say 'thanks' every day:  

  1. When we open our eyes in the morning, we say "Modeh Ani Lefanecha..." And recognize that we are blessed that our nefesh (soul) has been restored to us after a night of sleep. Even though waking up every morning can be frustrating and difficult, we still can be thankful for the ability to get out of bed every day.  

  1. After waking up, there are 10 blessings (called Birkot Hashachar or The Morning Blessings) when we give thanks for the ability to wake up, be clothed, fed and more.  

  1. In the Amidah we praise in the first section, thank in the second section, and ask in the third section of this prayer. The lesson here is the order in which we give thanks. First we appreciate and then we ask, not the other way around.  

  1. Before we eat we can say the Hamotzi and acknowledge that it isn't a given that we have the ability to put food on our plates.  

  1. After we eat one could say Birkat HaMazon to be grateful for the ability to eat and for being fed and sustained. During this time, we think about the people involved in getting our food to our plates and those who made it for us.  

After thinking through the daily practice Judaism has created for us to be thankful, I found myself wondering how I make Thanksgiving meaningful when there already is a set routine of thanking god throughout the day, everyday?  

I decided that Thanksgiving can function as a reset button for our thankfulness. Sometimes when you do something too frequently, it becomes rote and loses its meaning.  Taking a full day to focus on the many things we are thankful for and to participate in activities that express our gratitude can recharge our "thanking" batteries. This Thanksgiving let's turn our focus away from the many ways Jewish prayer allows us to routinely express our thanks and challenge ourselves to create new, personalized prayers of thanks that allow us to be truly present as we express our appreciation for all that we have.  


Meet the newest member of the BBYO GMR family: Brett Musick!

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Brett Musick recently became the newest member of the BBYO Great Midwest Region's amazing staff. To continue our series on highlighting new youth staff in the Chicago area, we asked him to tell us a little about who he is, where he's from, and why he's so excited to join the Great Midwest Region!

 BBYO Staff

I am so excited to have joined the BBYO Great Midwest Region as the new associate regional director. I just moved to Chicago from Cincinnati Ohio where I worked at the JCC as the youth and family program assistant. I attend the University of Cincinnati where I studied Judaic Studies and Organizational Leadership. Growing up in Cleveland, I was an active member of my Temple’s youth group and NFTY. During my time in Cincinnati I was a USY/Kadima Advisor and more recently a BBYO advisor.  These experiences led me to wanting to work with teens in a larger capacity. 

During my time as a BBYO advisor I learned more about how the organization operates and the leadership skills our teens gain from being a member. I am honored to play a role in the experiences teens have during high school and am looking forward to doing what I can to elevate these Jewish moments for our teens. 

My excitement for the year ahead continues to grow as I learn more about Jewish Chicago and BBYO. Throughout the year we have three regional conventions, leadership opportunities for all of our teens, International Convention in Orlando, an inter-regional basketball tournament, and so much more!



5 Amazing Activities Happening at Winter Breakaway

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Do you wish camp didn't have to end at the end of summer? With Winter Breakaway, teens can head up to Camp Chi and enjoy the excitement of camp during Winter Break! Whether it's your 10th summer at Camp Chi or you have never been before, all are welcome to join for a weekend of winter adventures. Check out these five amazing winter activities that will be taking place at Winter Breakaway, December 26th-29th. Grab your winter boots and hat, and sign up today with a friend! 

Winter Camp Three

1. Skiing! 

While at Winter Breakaway, all participants will have the (optional) opportunity to go skiing at the local ski slopes! This will include a lift ticket, rentals, and a ski lesson! These ski lessons will be for those who are not super confident skiers, as well as for those who have never skied before!  

2. Snow Tubing/Sledding! 

Grab sleds and tubes, and fly down some hills both in and out of camp! Who will be fastest this year? 

3. Broomball!  

Have you ever played ice hockey with brooms and a soccer ball? Hop on our frozen lake and join us in a big game of Broomball. This is always a camper favorite! 

4. Snowman/Igloo Building Competition! 

Are you an artist? Show off your creative skills in our series of Snowman/Igloo building team and individual competitions!  

5. So much more! 

On top of all of these amazing activities, campers will also have the choice to participate in activities such as homemade hot chocolate making over a fire, high ropes, zip line, arts and crafts, radio, video, gaga, and a variety of indoor and outdoor sports. 

Winter Camp Five

Greetings From OSRUI’s New Director – Solly Kane

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Whether it’s through the friendships, tefilah (prayer), or song-filled campfires, Jewish summer camp has a way of creating magical experiences and lasting relationships for almost everyone who signs up. Olin-Sang-Ruby-Union Institute, or OSRUI, is no exception. OSRUI, a Reform summer camp located in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin that functions as a second home to many Chicagoland Jewish teens, manages to create memorable experiences summer after summer. Heading into Summer 2018, though many parts of camp will stay the same, there will be one new, exciting part: a new Camp Director.

See what OSRUI’s Camp Director, Solly Kane, ( had to say about his new role with OSRUI , a place that he, as a camper, returned to year after year.

 Solly Kane Picture

Growing up as a camper and staff member at OSRUI, the best day of the year was when I’d pass through the gates on the first day of camp. I have vivid memories of reuniting with old friends and meeting new people who quickly felt like family. That day held all the powerful memories of previous summers and the excitement of the summer ahead. When I drove through those gates, I always knew I had come home.

Today, on my first day as director, I am deeply appreciative of the many people who built this community that so many call home. I am honored to follow Jerry Kaye, who has so thoughtfully guided OSRUI since 1970. I hope you will join us throughout the coming year as we honor Jerry and Paula and commemorate their 48 years of service to camp. In addition to Jerry, OSRUI is fortunate to have an exceptional professional staff team, many of whom have been a part of the community for years. I am looking forward to working with, and learning from, this incredible group.

I am excited to connect with today’s camp community, honor the traditions that have made OSRUI special, and work to lead camp forward into its 67th summer and beyond. OSRUI families are the heart of this community. I am excited to see familiar faces and meet many of you for the first time. I value open communication and transparency, and believe that by partnering with our community we will continue to move camp forward. I hope you will not hesitate to reach out to me with ideas or suggestions in the future, and I look forward to sharing my ideas with you.

In 2017, summer camp is more important than ever before. It offers a rare opportunity for young people to be present, unplug from technology, and explore who they are as people and as Jews. I am committed to maintaining an atmosphere where staff and campers are supported and challenged, and to ensuring our community is welcoming and inclusive. I am also committed to providing opportunities for camp and staff alumni to stay connected to camp throughout the year. There are many lessons to learn from camp at all ages and stages of life, and I look forward to creating experiences that bring OSRUI beyond the summer for the wider community.

To so many of us, OSRUI is not just a place, it is a feeling. As I arrived at the camp office this morning I knew I was not just showing up for work, I was coming home. Thank you for your support as we start to write the next chapter of OSRUI’s history together and continue to make camp a home for so many people.

The Trip of a Lifetime

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Now that the high holidays are almost over and the weather is starting to get colder, we are one step closer to planning summer 2018! Whether it’s camp, fun at home, or family vacations, there are so many options of fun things to do over the summer. This summer, try something new and sign up for Temple Jeremiah’s Teen Costa Rica Service Trip! The trip is for 8th-11th graders, and is open to non-Temple Jeremiah members as well. See what the Teen Trip Leader, Jordana, has to say about how excited she is to plan and participate in this crazy adventure to Costa Rica!

Summer Break Costa Rica

My name is Jordana Bornstein and I am a senior at Deerfield High School. My family has been member of Temple Jeremiah in Northfield for a long time, but it was only recently that I became more involved. This decision comes following my experiences with both the JUF’s Ta’am Yisrael trip, an 8th grade trip to Israel, and the Research Training Internship (RTI), a Jewish, feminist research internship for female-identifying people in the community. Both experiences had a profound effect on me, and have led to me to where I am today. 

One of the ways I am becoming more involved in Temple Jeremiah is by being the senior teen leader for this summer’s June 14-21 Teen Costa Rica service trip! I decided to do this because when I went on Ta’am in eighth grade, I realized how incredible it is when Jewish people unite as one and work together. I had a distinct realization of the importance of staying connected with my Jewish community. This mindset also led me to partake in RTI during my junior year of high school. The culmination of these experiences helped me to realize how I can be Jewish, and live as an engaged member of my Jewish community, in more ways than just by attending synagogue, religious school, or studying the history of Judaism. I am so excited to further this engagement in Costa Rica with 8th-11th graders, where together we will find more ways to be an active Jewish citizen in non-traditional ways.

Being Jewish is dynamic; there are plenty of ways to live as a Jew that are ever growing and changing. I realize now that Judaism can be part of all aspects of my life, and I can decide to what degree this is true. I can be engaged in Jewish studies academically, or enhance my spiritual and religious connection. But, I can also be Jewish by strengthening my understanding of other faiths, by studying political movements, or by engaging in art and literature. These are all ideas we are going to explore both before and in Costa Rica. As a community, we will come together to study Costa Rican culture, social justice, and other means of Jewish civic engagement. 

To me, the coolest and most unique part about this service trip is that we will be living in the community we are helping, and addressing their specific, urgent needs. The projects we complete will not just last a day, but they will last the entirety of the trip and we will be able to see our progress throughout the week. The same way that physically helping build a community center or harvesting crops will help the community, we will also be doing so by forging authentic relationships with the Costa Ricans living there. The chance to be fully engrossed in such an enriching and interesting culture and community is what I am most excited about.

By going on such a meaningful and fun trip, I will be simultaneously strengthening my relationship with Temple Jeremiah and the larger Chicago Jewish community. As someone who is getting ready to leave for college in a year, this is important to me. I want to remain intact with my Jewish heritage and community wherever I end up in the future. By strengthening these connections now, I am preparing myself for a future of Jewish learning and community. I hope that you consider attending this incredible trip with me!

For questions and information about the trip please contact Naomi Segal, Temple Jeremiah’s Youth and Family Engagement Director, at All 8th-11th graders, members of Temple Jeremiah or not, are eligible to participate. The deadline to apply is Friday, November 10th. Apply online at


If not us, who? If not now, when?

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JCUA teen summer program

This summer, around 20 teens participated in Or Tzedek, The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs’ teen summer program. Throughout the summer, teens learned about activism, advocacy, and community organizing through a Jewish framework, all while making new lifelong friends. Check out the blog below to see what the teens had to say about their memorable experiences in Or Tzedek. For teens that are interested in social justice, check out Or Tzedek & JUF TOV Teens Springboard School Break program, Mobilize Chicago (, as well as next summer’s Or Tzedek dates @

“If not us, who? If not now, when?” For the past 11 years, these words have brought together people of various faiths and ages to bear witness to the real experiences that happen outside of Chicago’s Deportation Center. Every Friday morning, people of diverse religions and denominations join together through the Broadview Vigil to pray for a change in our country’s immigration system. They pray for a justice system that brings peace and fairness to one of our society’s most vulnerable communities, the undocumented.


After the previous immersive day of learning about immigration reform and the experiences of America’s undocumented immigrants, it was empowering and surreal to see how others in this diverse community relate to the issue. The following day, at 7 a.m., we were greeted with open arms, smiles, and joy as we were given song sheets to participate in the service. We were instantly amazed by the inclusivity of the service, given that the songs were written in English, Spanish, Polish, Lithuanian, and Latin. Throughout the service various people led these prayers, making it feel like everyone’s voice should be heard.


One song that particularly spoke out to us was an adapted version of America, The Beautiful, by Miriam Therese Winter. Two specific lines that resonated with us were:

“America! America! God grant that we may be.

 A nation blessed, with none oppressed true land of liberty!

 How beautiful, two continents, and islands in the sea

 that dream of peace, nonviolence, all people living free.”

Singing these words in front of a building that so many are brought into to lose their liberty, freedom, and humanity was truly a surreal moment. Hearing all of our raspy, adolescent, and diverse voices come together as one was a one of a kind experience. It already felt emotional to discuss immigration in a workshop the day before, but it was a whole other experience for our groups of strangers to come together as one voice for this cause. In unison, we were able to express our vision of a just world.


The microphone was passed along to a young man named Francisco, who spoke of his experience being detained in that exact center. Luckily, he was released shortly before his wife gave birth to their first-born son. It was within this moment that we began to realize the effects immigration and deportations have on families. It was so powerful to see him come back to pray for others and thank this group for doing the same for him.


After singing and praying in English, Latin, and Spanish, we were able to offer a language that represents our faith: Hebrew.  We chose to share the words of Oseh Shalom in particular because of its message of spreading peace around the world. During our explanation of the prayer, we looked out and saw older folks look at us with such pride and genuine joy. Even though most of them had probably never heard a word of Hebrew before, we could see their enthusiastic attempts to join in with us.


These emotions were confirmed at the end of the vigil when a group of us had the opportunity to discuss this experience with one of the founders of the vigil. She expressed to us how important it is to see youth engaged in social justice work, and that youth truly are the future of social justice movements. She told us that some Fridays it might be really difficult to get out of bed early, but if they don’t come out and pray, who will? Even in the snow, the pouring rain, and other non-favorable weather conditions, people show up to pray. Another person told us that one snowy day, he expected only his family to arrive at the site, but was pleasantly surprised to see a large community huddled in the cold, praying as usual. There is never a Friday morning where these dedicated individuals don’t go out to pray for something that truly matters to them. Their dedication proved to us that if there is something you see wrong in the world, it is your duty to do something about it. “If not us, who? If not now, when?”

Max Coven Reflects on his Pio Summer

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This summer Tamara Stein, had the incredible opportunity to lead Beber Camp’s Pioneer Trip to Poland and Israel. Below, Max Coven reflects on his love for Beber Camp and what it meant to go to Israel with 35 of his Beber friends.  

The eight summers I've had at Beber Camp have been a spectacular way to spend my off time from school. Year after year, I keep coming back because of the community that is built every summer. There is not enough time in the world to spend with the people I care for most. Everyone meets you with open arms and always wants to know more about you. It is a great feeling to have, especially when everyone only wants to be your friend. My experience gets better and better each summer and I can't stop dreaming of what summer 2018 has to bring. 

Going to Israel strengthened my Jewish identity tremendously this summer. I mostly have to thank my Pioneer (or Pio, as we call it) leaders and my amazing tour guides in the land of Israel.  This new feeling began after a team building program where we had a profound discussion about whether Jewish identity was about religion or just our friendly community. For me, my identity was strengthened every moment that I became a deeper part of my Pio community and brought others along with me. After touring Israel for close to three weeks, I found something inside of me that I don't often show. Every time we had a moment of silence or time to pray I was able to share a new side of myself with my camp friends. 

All in all, both my Jewish identity and my bond with my camp have grown stronger and I can't wait to go back next summer!

Meet our Newest Teen Engagement Specialist: Daniel Warshawsky

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Daniel Warshawsky

The Springboard team is so excited to share that we have added a new member to our team! Daniel Warshawsky is our newest Teen Engagement Specialist and will be out and about in the community, along with Tamara and Brittany.  We interviewed Daniel to learn more about his personal Jewish journey, interests and what he loves about life in Chicago.

Why are you excited to be a Teen Engagement Specialist at Springboard?
I grew up in the Chicago Jewish community. I spent almost all of my weekends at USY and Kadima events , winter breaks at nine straight USY International Conventions, two summers at Beber Camp and 12 summers at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. I’m so excited to return to all of these programs, as well as to learn about and participate in so many new ones. There's nothing that I love more than getting to know people in a Jewish environment, and I want to bring that love of Jewish communal life to teens all over Chicago.
If you could travel anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
New Zealand. I love the wilderness and hiking, and I grew up watching my favorite movie characters walking through the mountains there. I've always wanted to take a hiking trip out there on my own and to walk and sleep under the stars for days at a time.

How many languages do you speak?
I’m fluent in both English and Hebrew. I spent a year after high school studying and volunteering in Israel, as well as serving in the Israeli Army after college. Learning Hebrew allowed me to connect to my Israeli friends and to Judaism on a much deeper level, so I’m really happy I spent so much time learning it as a kid. Other than that, I took Spanish for a few years in high school and I traveled to Prague, Germany and Poland on a high school summer trip with USY and picked up a few words here and there.
Can you share a favorite memory from your time as a teen in Chicago? 
Playing guitar and piano at the USY open mic nights every year. It was the first time I was able to perform music in front of other people that I felt comfortable with. Because of those nights, I'm able to stand up in front of bigger crowds today to lead singing and play music.
If you could have a superpower what would it be?
Talking to animals. I grew up with dogs and it would have been much easier to interact with them if I knew what they were thinking. It would also be really cool to see animals on hikes and know what they're thinking.
What is one thing you're passionate about that you've gotten to do within the context of "being Jewish"?
One of the things that I'm most passionate about is music. Through my time at camp and in Jewish youth groups, I've been able to play and learn so much more Jewish music than I ever would have thought even existed. I've also gotten to play popular American songs with my friends and campers in a Jewish setting. I've even been able to make "music friends" by playing music at Jewish events all over the country.

Reflections on Diller Israel Summer Seminar

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This summer, 16 teens traveled to Israel as part of the Diller program. (Check out their PICTURES!) One participant shared that “Israel Summer Seminar with Diller Teen Fellows taught me about Leadership, Israel, Tikkun Olam, Judaism, Peoplehood, and Pluralism. But mostly, it taught me about myself.” 5 participants reflect on their experiences below. 

Travel Days- Emma Canter

On the first night of our trip, my cohort listened to Bob Dylan’s “Forever Young.” Bob Dylan wrote, “May you always do for others, And let others do for you.” The first part of Dylan’s quote, “May you always do for others,” has always made sense to me. However, I spent the next three weeks learning the meaning of the second part, “let others do for you.”

The next morning, our first morning in Israel, I experienced the literal meaning of this message. Because of a small bout of dehydration, I had to “let others do” for me. On this day, we visited David Ben Gurion’s tomb at Sde Boker. As Ben Gurion took a pragmatic step to achieve his dreams, we took a literal first step together. In addition, on this first full day, through our slight fear of Ibexes in Mitzpe Ramon and an enlightening Acrobalance experience, my cohort as a whole learned to “lean” on each other.

The second day of our trip embodied Bob Dylan’s quote on many levels. We visited an IDF officer training base, which resonated strongly with the idea of “May you always do for others, And let others do for you.” After witnessing the life of an army officer in the ridiculous desert heat, we repelled down the Ramon Crater. The idea of relying on someone to not let me fall scared me, and still scares me, but I was supported, literally and metaphorically, by these 15 teenagers who somehow became my family.

Our travel days continued with a sunrise bus ride to Masada. We climbed Masada where the history, view, and all around atmosphere inspired me in ways that I cannot put into words. Ein Gedi, Masada’s geographical antithesis, was also incredible and I found myself astoundingly grateful for the opportunity to experience such diversity in life. We continued our journey to Jerusalem where I felt the streets of the Old City breathe life into my bones and hope into my Jewish heart. Being in the Old City felt like stepping into history, but history had Chasidic men on motorcycles. In Jerusalem, “May you always do for others, And let others do for you,” felt like a blessing.

On our final travel days with our local cohort we spent the morning at Machaneh Yehudah, the “shuk”, and I was very shook. With so much to take in, I was grateful for the familiarity of the people around, especially since I knew that later that day we would be surrounded by hundreds of international Diller Teen Fellows.

Although we were only four days into our three week journey, I could already feel myself growing to embrace the message of Bob Dylan’s quote.

International Shabbaton- Rachel Aranyi

I walked across the plush lawn: a hug from Johannesburg, a secret handshake from Montreal, a wave from Boston.

Disparate in culture, nationality and religious observance, we were anything but uniform. However, our Judaism, in whatever form it manifests itself, our experiences as Diller Teen Fellows, and our unwavering love for the State of Israel, unify and bond all 250 of us together.

After numerous games of Jewish geography, multiple conversations about pluralism, a couple pep rallies and losing countless games of soccer (or should I say "football") to some Argentinians and South Africans, I knew I could walk up to any Fellow and find a connection. I felt our peoplehood.

This is the power of the Diller Teen Fellows International Shabbaton.

I am inspired to learn more Jewish history, to understand the complexities and philosophies of the Jewish community. I feel emboldened by the fantastic work my peers are executing all over the globe to make a change in my town. I'm more passionate about advocating for our small, sandy Jewish homeland, Israel.

I've always been told that the Jewish people are a tribe, yet this amorphous concept is one that must be directly experienced. Until I encountered and grappled with the vast intellectual and spiritual diversity of those in the diaspora, I couldn't grasp that I am a legacy, a beneficiary and a representative of the rich tapestry of global Jewry. After International Shabbaton, I have a deeper understanding of my own Jewish identity.

Community Week- Ellie Rosenberg

Community Week (CW) is the week where Chicagoans stay with Israeli host families in our partnership region in Kiryat Gat, Lachish, and Shafir. (Together, Kiryat Gat, Shafir, Lachish, and Chicago make our amazing partnership- Kashlash!). Each day during CW has a specific theme that is planned by a joint Israeli/Chicago committee, but the experience is much more than just those seven days in Israel. We -the Chicagoans and Israelis- started planning CW almost as soon as we met this past March. When we began the process of deciding on the themes, meeting in committees, and planning activities, Community Week seemed a lifetime away. Moving through the planning, finalizing our activities and getting assigned to host families, brought the week closer and closer. Looking back on CW, there is no way that I could have known back in March how much it would impact me and how amazing it would truly be.

My first night at the moshav in Lachish, where I was staying with my host family, I immediately felt at home. I was lucky to have 2 Israeli fellows staying at the host home and each night we would talk and laugh together. These girls became my Israeli sisters in less than a week.

CW was a way to explore the region and get to know Israel through the Israeli Fellows’ eyes. The culture committee organized a potluck dinner, assigning each family a dish from a distinct culture living in Israel (Russian, Ethiopian, etc.). We had Moroccan stew and couscous, mini burritos, shakshuka, burekas, and chocolate chip cookies. This shared meal allowed us to learn about the diversity of cultures in Israel, and it was special because these were cultures and places that impact our Israelis’ families and Israel as a whole. Enjoying a casual dinner and conversation with our host community in the partnership region allowed me to appreciate the power of the partnership on a personal level.

Another way that we connected with our Israelis was during a hike planned by the Teva (Nature) committee.  Through this hike, we experienced a unique aspect of the region, and we were able to recognize the importance of nature in our Israelis’ everyday lives. As Kashlash, we were able to push ourselves and enjoy being together in the beautiful nature of Israel.

Shabbat was one of my favorite parts of CW. I had Shabbat dinner with my host family’s extended family at their grandfather’s house. In a way, the family reminded me of my own back home with their energy, delicious food, and kindness. But of course, the foods were different, the family was speaking in Hebrew, and I was in Israel! After dinner, a large group of fellows spent time together at a home in Kiryat Gat. Being together, without the distraction of phones or technology, allowed us all to appreciate each other and the amazing week that we had together.

Global Diller Teen Fellows Congress- Elliott Gold

A highlight of our Israel Summer Seminar is the Global Diller Teen Fellows Congress, a gathering of all Diller Teen Fellows from around the world. There were almost 700 Jewish teens from 32 communities worldwide discussing the core principles of the Diller program, including Leadership, Jewish Peoplehood, Israel, Tikkun Olam, and Pluralism. This was an overwhelming experience at first, but we were broken up into small groups of 20 teens from around the world and given the opportunity to connect in a deep and meaningful way. These sessions, and the chance to discuss hot topics facing the Jewish community with teens from such diverse backgrounds was one of the most impactful experiences of my time in Diller.

One conversation with teens from Israel, Canada, and Argentina stands out in particular. We began in an organized session discussing Israel, and continued our discussion for an hour into the break. It was so powerful to exchange and debate social and political ideas with Jewish teens from communities so different then my own. And in doing so, I not only learned about their opinions, but their day-to-day lives as well.  

Through these conversations I discovered what may be obvious to some, but what many of us so easily forget: We are all people. We are all Jewish people. We may live in communities spread out over 6 continents, but I discovered that I can still joke around and play games with them as if they have been friends for years. And more importantly, I was able to engage in meaningful conversations about important issues facing Israel and the Jewish people.

It wasn’t all serious dialogue at Congress, we also had the opportunity to socialize and mingle informally. In particular, the Closing Ceremony (and dance) stands out as a highlight. I've never danced like I did on that last night. I may not have had the chance to get to know every person at the conference, but during that dance party it did not matter. We were all out there together having fun and letting loose.

These 4 days were the most "Jewish" I've ever felt. Being surrounded by so many other Jewish teens, having difficult conversations about the world we live in, and dancing, gave me a sense of connection I’ve never felt before. Diller Teen Fellows has changed my life for so many reasons and the Congress had one of the greatest impacts on me. It gave me the opportunity to wrestle with new ideas, forced me to think outside the box, taught me how to work with people from all over the world, and introduced me to a new definition of the word "family".

Final Days- Max Marino

Spending our last few days in Israel with our Partnership2gether region of Kiryat Gat, Lachish, and Shafir proved to be one of the most meaningful parts of my Israel Summer Seminar. During that time, we celebrated Shabbat together at Kibbutz Gonen and explored the Jordan River and its tributaries by hiking and rafting (and swimming) and biking.

Sightseeing with Kashlash (Kiryat-Gat, Lachish, Shafir, and Chicago) was particularly meaningful because we were able to deepen our connections to each other and create a shared connection to the land of Israel. Rafting stands out as a highlight not only because, after 3 weeks in Israel, the fellows and staff were ready to let loose and have fun by splashing and dunking each other. But also because as we paddled down the river, we were also able to absorb a different side of our homeland. As we floated downstream, the river became less a natural waterpark, and more a part of the living Israel, as we observed families, groups of friends, and “regular” Israelis coming to the river for barbecues, to dance and hangout, and to enjoy the beauty (and cool water) of the river.

Shabbat and Havdalah was one of the most special experiences of my life. On Shabbat, there were two service options: an Orthodox minyan or a musical Shabbat experience. I chose the musical Shabbat and enjoyed sharing and learning prayers, songs, and beautiful music. We spent Shabbat thinking about how to take the lessons of the Israel Summer Seminar and the friendships we developed back home to Chicago. Just before Shabbat came to a close, we had one last session with our Israeli partnership. Together we reflected on our Diller experience, celebrated the friendships we made, and shared funny stories and meaningful memories from our 3 weeks in Israel, and our 7 months of working together as a partnership. And as the sun went down, we huddled together for the Havdalah service and sang songs to welcome a new week. It was an emotional evening, as we said goodbye to our Israeli brothers and sisters.  It was so difficult to say goodbye to our Israeli friends, not knowing when, or if, we might ever see them again. Yet we are so thankful for the experiences we shared and these relationships, and are proud to be a part of this global family.

The Diller Teen Fellows experience has increased the size of my world, both locally and globally. The experiences and friendships I have created with my local cohort have opened my eyes to the diversity in the Chicagoland Jewish community. And my experiences and friendships with our Israeli partnership have challenged my global perspective as well. From meeting our Israeli cohort during the Jewish Community Mifgash in March, 2017 to the Diller Teen Fellows International Shabbaton, to the Global Congress, my perspective has changed, challenged, and shaped. As we left Congress, our Israeli cohort, and Israel, I realized that although I was going home, I will always have a home with Diller Teen Fellows, KASHLASH Cohort 4, and Israel.

Stevenson Hebrew: The Underdog?

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By Abigail Lapins

I spent the summer of 2016 in a Hebrew immersion program called Chalutzim at OSRUI, the URJ’s Reform overnight camp in Oconomowoc, WI. The anticipation of my upcoming summer and intensive study of the Hebrew language fueled a passion I didn’t know I had -- leading me to register for Hebrew at Stevenson High School. Having spent the first 14 years of my life living in Southeastern Wisconsin, I never dreamed that studying Hebrew in high school would be an option! 

I’m proud that when I tell people I attend Stevenson High School they usually recognize it as one of the best public high schools in the nation. As students, we don’t think about Stevenson that way, we just think about it as the school we go to everyday. 

Stevenson is just one of many public high schools in the Chicago metropolitan area that offer students the opportunity to study the Hebrew language. As part of a new JUF focus on Hebrew programs, the Hebrew Enhancement Committee (made up of seven students schools that offer Hebrew), I -- representing Stevenson -- met with the full group and quickly learned that Stevenson has the smallest Hebrew program of all. I was shocked! Who would have thought that Stevenson could ever be considered an underdog in anything?  Before this meeting, I assumed all Hebrew programs were similar to Stevenson’s. However, I was mistaken, as a lot of Hebrew programs in the area are very successful and quite large.


Stevenson’s program offers four full years of Hebrew language study. As high school students, we think about what will look good on our college applications. I believe that speaking a unique language like Hebrew will definitely help us stand out from other prospective students. Our program also provides students with the opportunity to form lasting friendships while building a strong team committed to working together to achieve a common goal. We are our own little community within the “city” that is Stevenson. It is very easy for our teacher, Anna Gorbikoff, to get to know each of us individually and help us excel in her classes. I believe that our small class size provides a calmer, more interactive and effective learning environment. For example, earlier in the school year we spent an entire class period cooking authentic Israeli dishes, something that could not be accomplished with 25+ people in a classroom. 

One of the things that most people do not understand about Hebrew programs is that you do not need to be Jewish in order to learn the language. Yes, it is the language of the Jewish people, however, in class we learn not only about how to speak the language, but also about the Israel’s culture and its history. Hebrew is one of the official languages of Israel, which is why we take the time to learn about Israeli holidays and traditions. We also learn the history of the language, where it is spoken, and how to communicate with others who share the ability to speak it.

As my first year in the Hebrew program draws to a close, I am excited about the opportunities ahead and excited to see how the program will continue to grow and evolve. Being a part of the program has continued to fuel my passion for learning and speaking Hebrew. I look forward to sharing this experience with all students who join the program in the years ahead. 

More than an Internship: Reflecting on a Year of Growth, Challenges, and New Friendships

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Our first Springboard Social Media interns just wrapped up their first year on the job! Check out what they accomplished, what they learned, and where they’re headed next.

Social Media Interns

What were some of the most memorable experiences you had as a Springboard Social Media Intern?

“As a Social Media Intern, one thing we did was go to different community events, including 18 Under 18, or Israel Solidarity Day, and a USY chapter cooking event. We had assignments, such as taking pictures, making own Instagram posts, videos, and spreading the word about upcoming events in the community. We got to see different aspects of the Jewish community from behind-the-scenes and everything it takes to put on events.

-Emily Fridland, Incoming 10th grader, Glenbrook North High School

“I made Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter posts, wrote blog posts and interviewed the honorees of the first ever 18 Under 18 Event. I went to Israel Solidarity Day and got to ask people why they love Israel and then take pictures of them. I got to see all different types of answers of why teens love Israel.”

-Evie Katz-Palka, Incoming 10th grader, Buffalo Grove High School

What are some of the main skills or lessons you learned?

“Coming to the realization that posts that lack quality content won’t aid in impressing others. Working behind the scenes has allowed me to fully understand the complexity of how our message effects not simply our community, but the world around us. Further, the WHY is so very important, so by explaining the ‘why’ through our media, we show who we are rather than what we look like on the outside.”

-Maddie Brim, Incoming 11th grader, Stevenson High School

“A skill I had to learn was how to take criticism. Criticism isn’t always negative, but I realized that learning how to deal with it and to use it to better yourself as a person is a crucial skill. Submitting my posts and seeing that I needed to change my execution of a graphic or the format of an interview, helped me to to make my posts better and more informative.”

-Avery Hessel, Incoming 10th grader, Vernon Hills High School

“During our monthly meetings, we covered different professional development topics. One meeting we talked about quantity and quality when it comes to social media posts. We discussed the difference between making a post that gets a lot of “likes”, but doesn’t have any real impact, like causing people to show up to an event, vs. making a post that may not get many “likes”, but gets people to actually act on it, for example, signing up for a School Break program. My fellow interns and I decided that quality, and the impact of our posts, was as important, if not more, than quantity, and something we should be focusing on.”


“I learned how much time and work truly goes into making all these posts and social media type of stuff. I learned that you have to do your part in a group to make the whole group succeed otherwise everyone will fail. We learned also many different ways to edit our posts and how to create them as a whole.”



Share one highlight of your internship:

“Overall, my favorite part was meeting the other interns and being a part of a team. When one of us had a question or needed some insight, the others were there to help. At one point, we all worked together on a Chanukah post and it was so much fun getting to work all together.”


Community is vital to how we become who we are, so without working with this community I wouldn’t have been as involved as I am. I am so happy to be with the Chicagoland Jewish community! Whether it's meeting all the different types of people or being able to broadcast the innovative skills I’ve learned, I could never express my gratefulness for the place I found within the community.”


“Apart from being a madricha at the Chabad of Vernon Hills, this was my first real job. This was the best hands-on learning experience for me as a freshman. I was able to work on my professionalism, cooperation, time management, patience, and social media navigation.”


What’s next?

“As a result of me getting involved in this internship, I have applied to the Diller Teen Fellows program. Diller is a fellowship for high school students interested in exploring topics in leadership, Jewish identity, social justice, and Israel. Each of these topics are extremely important to me as a growing Jewish teen and activist. I was also introduced to Or Tzedek, which is a program that provides opportunities for teens from across the country to learn about and take action on current social justice campaigns, which I will be participating in this summer. I am also hoping to attend more events that I learned about, such as Israel Solidarity Day, Good Deeds Day, and CHUSY.”


This coming fall I am going to Israel to study for a few months and cannot wait. Because of this internship I know who I am and what my role in the Jewish community is.”



Final Thoughts?

“I’m so thankful for this feeling, and I want to thank the teen engagement community at JUF for giving me the opportunity to not only become better engaged with my community through social media platforms, but allowing me to grow to become the person I am today.”


“This has made me a more independent and hard worker. I have been able to work in all different styles from blogging to social media. I have learned so much and will be able to use these skills in the future. I would like to thank Springboard for giving me this amazing opportunity.”


Camp TOV: Learning Jewish values through doing

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Avi Shapira

Last August, with only a few weeks left of summer, I was fortunate to participate in JUF’s Camp TOV, specifically for teens. I learned about the program through friends who had participated in prior years. Traveling around the Chicago area with a group of Jewish teens (and with fun counselors!) while learning about and the wide variety of social service organizations our JUF/Federation supports seemed like a fun opportunity.

Since I was very little, Jewish values of repairing the world (tikun olam) and acting with kindness (gemilut chasadim) have been woven throughout my studies at Chicago Jewish Day School and at home with my family.

Camp TOV gave me an up-close, hands-on opportunity to put those values to work by volunteering at a variety of non-profit organizations. Together we were able to make a meaningful difference for those in need, and I was surprised to learn that these organizations are there to help anyone in need, not just people in the Jewish community.

I also enjoyed Camp TOV because it was a unique opportunity for me to meet new teens from across Chicago and the suburbs, who I wouldn't have otherwise had the opportunity to meet. Together with a new group of friends, we stickered bags at The ARK, sorted books at Bernie's Book Bank, visited with the elderly at CJE SeniorLife, and prepared food packages at Feed My Starving Children.

My favorite parts were learning about philanthropy and making phone calls for a fundraising phonathon as well as visiting the Pushing the Envelope Farm where we learned about caring for our environment through a Jewish lens.

Camp TOV gave me a taste for what lies ahead as I consider which JUF programs I want to be involved in next as a high school student!


Registration for JUF’s Camp TOV and JUF’s Mini Camp TOV is open to entering 7th-12th graders from metropolitan Chicago. For more information and to register, visit

Avi Shapira is an eighth grader at Chicago Jewish Day School and a participant in JUF’s Camp TOV program.

Meet Your 18 Under 18 Honorees: Spencer Schwartz, Ben Gerstein, Kelly Kogen, and Colman Adams!

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Springboard Social Media Intern, Maddie Brim, interviewed some of our 18 Under 18 Honorees to hear a little bit about why they were selected, what leadership means to them, and what advice they would give for those looking to get more involved in their communities.

Spencer Schwartz

Spencer Schwartz is a current senior at Niles North High School. She is the president of both her student government and Hebrew National Honor Society, and is a member of her school’s dance marathon executive board. She has been involved with the Diller Teen Fellows program for two years, serving as a junior counselor during her senior year to help participants through their own Diller experiences. As a StandWithUs high school intern, Spencer works to enhance Israel's image in the eyes of the world. She recognizes the importance of her Jewish identity and feels obligated to express that aspect of herself with her community.

She has worked as a leader in the Jewish community in order to inspire other leaders and community members. Spencer continues to empower those around her, including friends and classmates, by connecting with the broader world. Spencer uses Israel advocacy, the most prominent aspect of her Jewish involvement, to educate herself and teach others accurately about her Jewish homeland, which she calls her home. Spencer says, “When looking for new opportunities do not be intimidated, and recognize that there are so many aspects of the Jewish community to be involved in. The beautiful thing about the Jewish world is its multifaceted nature. Each person has a place, whether in advocacy, summer camp, prayer, etc., and each personality type is strengthened through the Jewish peoplehood. You become an integral part of a wonderful Jewish masterpiece.”

Ben Gerstein

Ben Gerstein continues to advocate for a better tomorrow for the Jewish community.  He is the founder of Deerfield High School’s pro-Israel club, a Write On for Israel fellow and a freelance Israel-related columnist for the Huffington Post, Jerusalem Post and Times of Israel. He manages his own political site,, which aims to introduce a new perspective on pro-Israel issues. Ben has even lobbied Senator Tammy Duckworth, encouraging her to speak at the Jewish National Fund's Yom Ha'aztmaut Celebration. He believes that supporting Israel is a pressing issue in today’s society, and he wants to help prepare and train high school students to be strong supporters of Israel in college. Ben’s passion allows him to succeed in getting his opinion heard. Ben suggests others search for a subject, issue or cause that speaks to them and capitalize on that desire, and he hopes to inspire his peers to create amazing change.

Kelly Kogan

Rather than give up after being diagnosed with Down Syndrome, Kelly Kogen uses her persistence to prove the world wrong about the ability of those with special needs. Kelly attends Glenbrook North High School, though her school work isn’t all that keeps her busy, as Kelly is also a cheerleader at school. Her favorite part of cheerleading is how fun the atmosphere is at the games. Kelly has also been involved in theater, as she absolutely loves being on stage. When it comes to her involvement in her Jewish community, JCC’s Apachi Day Camp was where Kelly first found her fit within the Jewish community. She is still an avid camp-attendee, but she is also now a helper at her synagogue’s Sunday school as well. Last summer, Kelly participated in the Staff in Training program at Camp Chi, a place very near and dear to Kelly. By being fully included in all of the camp activities, Kelly is able to do all of the things that her peers do at camp, which she really loves.  

When Kelly first started spending her summers as a camper, she also started taking Sunday school classes during the school year.  She was in a typical class with all of her friends at school, and when she got to eighth grade, she was able to have her Bat Mitzvah, right alongside her Jewish friends and classmates. Being able to do what all of her friends did and to be able to do it right alongside them was a life-changing experience for Kelly.  Kelly continues to be a leader because she loves helping other people, and giving them the same loving feelings she has gotten through her own inclusive communities. If any of her peers want to get involved in the Jewish community, Kelly strongly believes that they should go for it because it is such a truly a place where everyone belongs.  Everyone she has come into contact with has been so accepting and understanding of who she is as a person. If the whole world acted the same way as everyone Kelly has met at camp and within her community, Kelly believes the world would be a better place. 

Colman Adams

Not being afraid to be himself is one thing, Colman Adams, a senior at Lane Tech High School continues to promote as a leader in his community. In a room full of people, Colman describes himself as “the person making a fool of themselves” because he believes leaders can’t be afraid. Being self-confident, and able to speak his mind are some of the many leadership qualities Colman continues to uphold as an outstanding teen in the Chicago area. Of course, he knows that there are times when he has to be serious, and in that kind of situation he enjoys being a leader who truly listens to those around him.As a junior counselor for the Diller Teen Fellows program, and previously as a fellow of the program, Colman has learned how to mentor others and help them to further their own accomplishments. Colman also works as the current Vice President of Religion and Education for his chapter of USY, serves as the co-president of his school’s Jewish Student Connection club, participates in his school’s orchestra, managing the girls softball team, and sits as the sole student member on his school’s local student council, which is involved with making decisions on the school's budget and principal selection. Loving to make others laugh and helping other people have a good time is what Coleman truly loves about being a leader. Even if it’s 7 am in the morning and nobody wants to be awake, Colman is the person yelling his head off and being silly.

Colman’s advice to those looking to get more involved in the community would be to come to a variety of events or programs and then pick what is right for you.  When Colman’s parents dragged him to his first USY event, he begged them to pick him up early due, his old youth director, named Rabbi Russo, made a huge came up to Colman with a huge smile, made him feel welcomed, and made a difference in Colman’s experience from then on out with USY. After he then was introduced to the other teens at the event, Colman felt included. From that point on, Colman has continued to help others find their fit, especially when it comes to USY or to Diller.

Meet Your 18 Under 18 Honorees: Rachel Aranyi, Syd Bakal, Emma Milner-Gorvine, Kalman Strauss, and Lillie Murphy!

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Springboard Social Media Intern, Avery Hessel, interviewed some of our 18 Under 18 Honorees to hear a little bit about why they were selected, what leadership means to them, and what advice they would give for those looking to get more involved in their communities.

Rachel Aranyi

Rachel Aranyi
contributes to both her secular and her Jewish community. Rachel is a Chicago Diller Teen Fellow and a member of Congregation Beth Judea. She also participates with AIPAC and BBYO. Rachel is a legislative intern for State Representative Carol Sente and has been for over two years. She is the co-founder and president of the Stevenson High School Lean In Women's Leadership and Feminism Club. Her club fosters an inclusive environment through advertising campaigns and enlisting insightful speakers such as the Dean of Northwestern's Law school and Illinois's Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti. Rachel was selected for participation in Stevenson's Student Leadership Academy. Rachel is a member of Stevenson High School's Student Leadership Advisory Committee. She earned membership into the National Honor Society. She regularly volunteers in service activities such as being a class leader for Stevenson's annual Give-A-Thon, and raising money for physically challenged adults as a Project Dance group leader. Rachel is a three-sport varsity letter winner for field hockey, fencing and soccer. Rachel is the Women's Midwest Regional Epee Fencing Champion (2016, 2017) and the Illinois High School Epee Champion (2017). She is a 2017/2018 Captain of the Stevenson Fencing Team. She is a member of her school's Ethics Bowl Team which recently won regionals. 

Syd Bakal

Syd Bakal is a Junior at Barrington High School. They are currently the Social Vice President on their youth group board at Beth Tikvah Congregation. Syd is constantly looking for ways to exercise their passion for music, as well as equality. Syd co-led a song leading program at their temple, founded their school’s Gay Straight Alliance, participated in theater, and joined the youth committee for Illinois Safe Schools Alliance. One awesome thing that Syd is working on is organizing their school’s Speak Out program, a unique program where people of different backgrounds present speeches to create awareness and inclusivity. Syd sings, dances, and plays guitar and ukulele. When speaking about their connection to the Jewish community they have found as a teen, Syd says that going to their Temple is their lifeboat. “It’s my safe space in which I am bonding with other Jews," they say. They live in a community with few Jews and feels a special bond with other Jews in non-Jewish communities, as it makes all of their experiences more unique.

Syd describes themselves as very community-focused, having been a part of so many great communities from NFTY CAR to The Jewish Council on Urban Affair’s Or Tzedek program. Building a community is the most important part of being a leader to Syd. Syd feels that Jewish teens are sometimes afraid of a Judaism that won’t accept them for who they are. “Judaism is a religion that welcomes interpretation. We have been struggling and reinterpreting since the beginning. We are community bound by complexity and nuance. There is enough room for anyone and everyone who wants a place to think, pray, and find community."

Emma Milner-Gorvine

Emma Milner-Gorvine
is a passionate senior at Evanston Township High School. She is involved in cross-country, group promoting women in STEM, Student Ambassadors, and her school’s Gay Straight Alliance. Emma is also President of her youth group and a Madricha at her synagogue, Beth Emet the Free Synagogue. Lastly, Emma is very involved politically and involved in interning at a mayoral campaign, organizing phone banking at the Democratic Party office, and participating in a Rosh Chodesh Jewish Feminist group. She has felt connected to Judaism from a young age. She wants to give back what the community has given to her. To her, the Jewish community is a unique community with amazing friends and values.

Emma describes herself as very outgoing and spontaneous. “Sometimes I don’t plan until the day of,” she says. She is better at stepping forward, doing, and saying. She gets more anxious if a speech is planned rather than not. To anyone looking to get involved with Judaism, she says you should start at your local synagogue, youth group, Hebrew course, or look into Israeli culture. “Don’t be nervous to create something yourself,” she says.

Kalman Strauss

Kalman Strauss is a high school freshman in the city of Chicago. He plays violin and mandolin and sings at Shabbat services as part of Mishkan Chicago’s Davening Team, which he says, "tries to create a spiritual and meaningful atmosphere for people's prayer." At Mishkan, he has also performed Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur, composed music for services, and even recorded a CD. He loves being a part of Mishkan Chicago, a community which he says is "spiritual, musical, intellectual, thoughtful, and truly inclusive--basically a model of how I strive to be." In addition, Kalman studies Talmud with Svara, a "traditionally radical Yeshiva" based here in Chicago, which he says has been "nothing short of life changing." He is also a participant in Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation, a JUF program where teens learn about professional philanthropy and grant-making through a Jewish lens. In addition to his work with the Jewish community, Kalman has a passion for nature and for teaching others to appreciate and protect small natural wonders, such as moss and birds, and he volunteers extensively in this area. Kalman would describe himself as someone who tries to move and connect people, especially through music. He states, "Music is one of the most universal of all languages, so it is a great way to connect people to their feelings and to one another, whatever their backgrounds." To those looking to get more involved in the Jewish community, he would suggest casting a wide net. "The Jewish community and heritage is very diverse and rich," he says, "so don't get discouraged if you don't like one aspect. Just keep searching and experimenting." He says he has been especially inspired by several Jewish women in the community, noting his gratitude for Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann of Mishkan Chicago, Stephanie Goldfarb of JUF's Voices Program, and Rabbi Benay Lappe of Svara.

Lillie Murphy

Not only does Lillie Murphy have an outgoing and exciting personality on the outside, but she has the passion on the inside to match. Almost every opportunity in the Jewish community that Lillie has been presented with, she has said yes to. Whether it is going to Camp Chi, where she has now been going for six summers, or being involved with the JCC through their Chi Town Connection Board and Project Teen Seed 613 program, she loves getting to meet new people and jump right into the excitement. Lillie is also heavily involved with USY, where she sits on her chapter board as the Membership Kadima Vice President at West Suburban Temple Har Zion. Her role there ranges from working with the 6th-8th graders to planning the regional convention. It wasn’t until USY that Lillie truly felt connected to the Jewish community and found her own fit. After she met other Jews in Chicago and stared making friends and deep connections, she felt more connected to the community as a whole. She knew then that getting involved in even more activities and making more friends would make her feel even more at home. One thing Lillie really enjoys is helping others, which is why she joined the Gesher Committee in USY, a committee designed to help new members make connections and feel welcomed. This desire to help others is also why she signed up to be a Madricha at her synagogue, where she individually aids younger kids with their assignments and classroom responsibilities. As previously mentioned, her latest endeavor is the JCC’s Project Teen Seed 613, a program for high school girls to create a non-profit, learn about business and Judaism, and sharpen their entrepreneurial skills. 

Lillie feels that being a leader is important because “I am able to guide people who are uncomfortable, shy, or young to a place where they feel happy, included, and comfortable.” If she could give her peers advice, she would tell them to branch out and try extremely new things. When Lillie went to camp for the first time, she was terrified, but if she hadn’t have gone then she never would be where she is, in the community and in her life, today.

Meet Your 18 Under 18 Honorees: Daphne Budin, Michael Rubin, Abby Tzinberg, and Gabriella Cooperman!

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Springboard Social Media Intern, Evie Katz-Palka, interviewed some of our 18 Under 18 Honorees to hear a little bit about why they were selected, what leadership means to them, and what advice they would give for those looking to get more involved in their communities.

Daphne Budin

Daphne Budin is very honored and excited to be selected for 18 under 18. Daphne is a part of USY, BBYO, and goes to Camp Ramah Wisconsin, a Conservative Jewish camp in Northern Wisconsin. She attends Rochelle Zell Jewish High School. One admirable thing that she loves to do in her free time is volunteer at a home for the elderly, making arts and crafts and bringing light to the residents’ lives. Daphne thinks that having meaningful interactions with others, and helping the community she lives in, makes for a strong leader. Another way that Daphne feels someone can be a leader in their community is by leading by example, and that when you can give to your community, others will feed off of it and do the same. Daphne initially got involved in her Jewish community because she loved the feeling of meeting new people, and being with her Jewish friends has made her high school experience so much more enjoyable. “Being a part of the Jewish community is a good way to put yourself out there, makes you a better person as well as shows a different side of yourself and all the above makes you feel good!” Daphne said. Overall, Daphne is a great influence on the Jewish community and we are so excited to be honoring her at 18 Under 18. 

Michael Rubin

Michael Rubin first got involved in the Jewish community around 8th grade because he wanted to find his own unique Jewish identity. Since then, he became heavily involved in USY, specifically in CHUSY, the Chicagoland chapter, as well as a Madrich at his synagogue. His mom came from a Conservative Jewish family, while his dad came from a Reform Jewish family. Even though his parents had Jewish identities, Michael did not feel that his identity was as strong as it could be and that his Jewish identity wasn’t as big of a part of his life as it had potential for. This is why he decided to get involved in many different aspects of the Jewish community. He is now is a part of both the Reform and Conservative movements, taking a little after both of his parents. He sees himself as a leader who takes a stand when needed, he feels natural in the position and believes people look up to him. Michael's advice to someone in search of getting involved, coming from his own experience, is “find your own voice in Judaism, find your own place. Be powerful!” He is extremely honored to be one of the 18 Under 18 Honorees and feels greatly thankful for all that he has been able to accomplish and be a part of during the last four years of high school. Being a leader has made him a better person and Michael has really made an impact on the Jewish community, especially in USY which he has loved. 

Abby Tzinberg

Abby Tzinberg was so thrilled when she found out she was being picked, out of so many wonderful people, to be one of the 18 Under 18 Honorees! Abby does a number of activities both inside and outside of the Jewish community, and is thrilled to be recognized for all of her accomplishments. She is a Madricha at her Synagogue, a B’nai Mitzvah tutor for sixth graders, an assistant for children with special needs, an avid youth group participant in NFTY, an OSRUI camper, and a passionate participant in Or Tzedek, The Jewish Council on Urban Affair’s teen Social Justice program. Originally, Abby started getting involved in her youth group because her Cantor, as well as another friend, encouraged her to go to an event and just try it out. After her first event, she immediately knew that she loved it and was excited to get even more involved in her youth group, and the community overall. She kept going to more and more events, meeting new people and finding her voice. She feels that youth group has made herself a better person and shown her that she can be a strong and vibrant leader. Other things she does outside of the Jewish Community include participating in Speech Team and musicals.  Abby sees herself as a leader that is responsible and is able to lead others with compassion and respect. She believes that instead of patronizing those younger or less experienced, leading by example is the best way to be a leader and guide others. Abby is an extraordinary person and is a great leader in the community. 

Gabriella Cooperman

Meet Gabriella Cooperman, one of our stellar teens who manages to be involved in many different aspects of the Jewish community, all while maintaining poise and commitment to her obligations. She is a part of USY, Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation, the JUF Hebrew Engagement Committee, and Jewish Student Connection (JSC). One thing that makes Gabriella so unique is the fact that, at such a young age, she has already started not one, but two different charities! She got involved in USY because her friend said she should run for Freshman Representative on the board. So she started going to events and fell in love. Now she is on USY’s International Board. She joined JSC because her teacher said it would be extra credit but it turned out to be something she really loved doing. As for her charities, she saw a need and wanted to help. Gabriella sees herself as a good and strong leader. She thinks that there is a time to shine and a time to step back and let others shine. An example she gave was that she has been a part of the cast and crew in the theatre world, which taught her to know when to help to let others shine and when it's her turn. Gabriella's advice for any other teens thinking about getting more involved and finding their fit within the community is, “Never be afraid of that awkward conversation. The part of the conversation when you first introduce yourself is hard, but it is worth it.” Lastly, Gabriella likes to be a friendly face in her community and feel recognized as someone who is a leader and can help mentor others. When giving advice to her peers about whether or not to dive into different programs, youth groups, or opportunities, Gabriella says, “Take a step and see.” We are so excited Gabriella took that step, and can’t wait to honor her this Tuesday at 18 Under 18!

Meet Some of Your 18 Under 18 Honorees: Maddie Brim, Joey Greenebaum, Quincy Hirt, Chloe Wagner, and Rebecca Greenstein!

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Springboard Social Media Intern, Emily Fridland, interviewed some of our 18 Under 18 Honorees to hear a little bit about why they each were selected, what leadership means to them, and what advice they would give for those looking to get more involved in their communities. 

Maddie Brim

If you don’t already know Maddie Brim, she is definitely someone who you will want to get to know. She got involved in the Jewish community as a teen because she wanted to connect to her roots and traditions. Tradition is simply defined as the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation, yet it is so much more than that. Growing up, she was able to look up to her parents and older siblings as role models for every activity she participated in. Being connected to her roots, and specifically her immediate family, is crucial to her as she grows up and becomes more involved in society. As she continues her journey to become a better Jew by helping spread good in the world, she says, “I look up to my family, and think of the amazing things they have accomplished, which gives me the passion and dedication to keep on working towards tomorrow.”

Whether it is her involvement with USY, or as a frequent JSC member, Maddie values the variety of Jewish programming throughout the community. She attends Camp Chi each summer, and this year will be a member of the SIT (staff in training) class of 2017. In addition to her involvement in the Jewish community, she has played field hockey on the JV team at Adlai E. Stevenson High School for the past two years, and been a member of Stevenson’s student council. In Maddie’s philosophy, leadership is not about a title or a designation. It's about impact, influence and inspiration. As a leader, Maddie would describe herself as a mentor, despite her young age.  

Maddie wants all Jewish teens to find the connections and ties in the community that she has.  She says:

“Despite the numerous opportunities that exist for us, there are few teens that really take advantage of them. Simple things like learning to understand the Hebrew in song and prayer can help create strong connections, just as I and my peers experienced as students in the Hebrew School program. Also, participating in USY gives us time to experience prayer as a community, which gives a new meaning to the same old songs. Like the Rabbis, Cantors, and teachers, Jewish teen leaders must display the passion we should all have for Judaism as a whole, modeling ahavat yisrael, our love for the Jewish people, ahavat Hashem, love of God, as well as the teachings from our torah, the mitzvot and commandments. If you still feel disconnected from Judaism, there are so many “Jewish” programs that explore other aspects of life besides prayer. With this in mind, I believe that one must really go out of their comfort zone to find what they enjoy doing in the community.

Joey Greenebaum

One of our amazing honorees, Joey Greenebaum, is involved in all sorts of activities. Joey is currently a senior at Homewood Flossmoor High School living in the south suburbs of Chicago. He has been participating in BBYO since the eighth grade and is now the president of the Chicago region. He also plays lacrosse and is a member of his school’s choir. Ever since he was a child, he was involved in the Jewish community. He attended a Jewish camp for three years but did not quite feel the deep Jewish connection he was hoping for. He was looking to understand his identity as a Jewish teen in the world on a global scale. After joining BBYO he found a deeper Jewish identity and has been exploring it ever since.

Joey would describe himself as a very verbal leader. He likes to help other teens develop their leadership skills and by letting them “take the reins” sometimes. By being a mediator as well as leading by example, he believes everyone in his chapter and region can be involved and happy. Joey’s Jewish identity is not based on being “religious” but it is about embracing Jewish values like making a difference in the world. Some advice he would give to teens looking to get involved in the Jewish community would be to get out of your comfort zone. He says, “If you are not looking to be very religious then you do not need to worry because being involved does not mean you have to be. However, getting involved begins with being selfless and willing. You must want to help others and try new things.”

 Quincy Hirt

Quincy Hirt is the youngest of three siblings.. He is a senior at Whitney Young High School in the city, where he serves as the captain of the volleyball team, president of the Jewish Student Connection, senior class president, and in his spare time is involved in Spanish honor society. He is a four-year member of Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation, where he learned about philanthropy and grant-making.  Quincy started a nonprofit with a few friends. Their organization is called Chicago Youth Alliance for Climate Advocacy and helps spread awareness as well as taking action about climate change. He went to a Jewish day school before High School and has always been very involved in the Jewish community. He is a very positive person who likes to have fun and surround himself with like-minded people.

When Quincy graduated from Jewish day school he wanted to find a way to stay engaged in the community. He tried BBYO but ended up not continuing. He now participates in Jewish Student Connection at school, as well as Voices outside of school, because he really loves those connections to the Jewish community. He believes being Jewish is about living by the values the community has set and seeks out opportunities to work with teens and adults who share the same values.

Quincy describes himself as a very hands-on leader. He likes to lead but takes pride in knowing when to step back and let other try doing the task at hand. He always tries to act in the best interests of the group and to include everyone. He is charismatic and has a loud voice, which can help him take control of a room. He believes teens need to find their passion. He says, “There are so many different organizations you can join and many ways you can get involved. No matter what you want to do, get involved by using your passions from outside the Jewish community and bring them in. Get out there and try something; if you don’t like it, you can try so many other things. But definitely try!”

 Chloe Wagner

Chloe Wagner is a 16-year-old from Chicago and she is already an activist. She is the social action chair for the youth group at her congregation, Temple Shalom. She is the co-founder of Chicago Youth Take Action, and co- founder of Illinois Youth Chapter for Women’s March on Washington. At school she is the head of Students for Gender Equality and a member of The Queer-Straight Alliance Chloe is a participant in Research Training Internship, an exclusive, year-long program training female-identified Jewish teens in Participatory Action Research. When she is not involved in activist and social justice programs, Chloe is a figure skater.

From her involvement in so many activities, you might be surprised to know that Chloe moved to Chicago only a year and a half ago. She wanted to be involved in programs outside of school, so she turned to her Temple Youth Group and found it was a great place to be for social justice and Judaism. She is passionate about social justice and also loves working on teams or in groups. As a leader, she tries to gain perspective on everyone she is working with. Her advice for other teens is to “Just join…seek out your youth group because everyone is supportive and helpful and you will make friends and memories. It is so important to be involved as a teen!”

Rebecca Greenstein

Rebecca Greenstein is a senior at New Trier High School, and has had a wonderful time throughout the last few years getting involved in her community. On a more personal note, she has three siblings and is uniquely left handed. As far as being involved in her community, she currently works at her synagogue’s library, spends summers at Camp Ramah, and is immerses herself in CHUSY, her USY chapter. She currently holds the position of Religion and Education Vice President on the regional executive board of CHUSY, a very impressive position. As if that leadership role wasn't enough, she is also the co-president of Israel club at school, as well as the director of her school play. Rebecca enjoys traveling (especially to Israel), swimming, singing, dancing, and attending summer camp. Rebecca and her family has always been very involved in the Jewish Community, so she has grown up with seeing how important community was. Growing up at her synagogue, Rebecca saw her older cousins participating in their youth group, so she followed their lead and her involvement in the community developed from there on. As a leader, she would describe herself as a good listener, as well as someone who is compassionate, friendly, and kind. She holds a big leadership role in USY, and with this large role comes a large responsibility. She pushes people in her region to try new things and leave their comfort zone, but she also knows when to make them feel comfortable and be supportive. Lastly, through this position with USY, Rebecca has used learned that in order to be a strong leader, she has to always be kind and offer her help to others. She would tell her peers looking to get involved that they should find one friend they know who is involved in something, whether it is a youth group, a camp, or a program, and ask them about their experience because people are always happy to speak about their positive experiences and welcome in new individuals. 

Mazel Tov to the 18 Under 18 Honorees!

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18 Under 18 Group edited

Springboard, The Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) and JUF are proud to announce the inaugural cohort of 18 Under 18 winners (listed below). These 18 outstanding teens embody one or more characteristics selected by JTAC: works toward inclusion of Jewish teens of all abilities; prioritizes raising money for tzedakah/charity or volunteering; teach their peers and love Jewish learning; motivate others to be involved in Jewish life; or stand out as a Jewish leader or role model. After going through a rigorous nomination and application process, the winners were selected from among dozens of applicants by a committee of JTAC teens and Jewish professionals.

The 18 teens are active in many organizations, including youth movements, Jewish camps, Jewish engagement programs (Voices, Diller, Seed 613, Research Training Internship, Moving Traditions, JSC, JSU, Or Tzedek, Write On for Israel), congregational religious schools, sports teams, arts programs, student government, and more. They represent 14 high schools in the city and suburbs and 16 congregations, and range in age from 9th-12th grade.

Teens gathered at JUF on the evening of March 7, along with representatives from JTAC, to meet each other, participate in a leadership session led by Kayla Lesch, National President of Young Judaea, take headshots and learn about translating their skills onto resumes.

The 18 honorees will be celebrated at a special community-wide event on April 25 at 7:00 PM at the Starlight Theater in the Wilmette Community Center. The evening will feature a performance by the comedic troupe The Altarboys as well as a dessert reception to honor these incredible teens and their accomplishments.

Information about the 18 Under 18 Celebration will be available at Over the next six weeks this blog and the Springboard Chicago Facebook and Instagram pages will highlight each of the honorees. We hope you enjoy getting to know this group online and that you will join us in congratulating them in person on April 25th.

Congratulations to Colman Adams, Rachel Aranyi, Syd Bakal, Maddie Brim, Daphne Budin, Gabriella Cooperman, Ben Gerstein, Joey Greenebaum, Rebecca Greenstein, Quincy Hirt, Kelly Kogen, Emma Milner -Gorvine, Lillie Murphy, Michael Rubin, Spencer Schwartz, Kalman Strauss, Abby Tzinberg, and Chloe Wagner!

Registration for Camp TOV Now Open

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Registration for this summer’s Mini Camp TOV and Camp TOV programs are now open and available here

Mini Camp TOV 2017

Camp TOV is Teens@JUF's day camp “on wheels” where teens use their time and energy to volunteer in a fun, engaging and hands-on way. Campers learn about a variety of issues facing our society with an emphasis on Jewish values and the importance of gemilut chassidim -- acts of loving kindness and tikkun olam -- repairing the world. Each day brings a new hands-on volunteering project for them to participate in with campers earning about 25 volunteer hours in just one week! Program dates are below and additional information for both programs can be found on the TOV Teens webpage.

  • Mini Camp TOV is on Wednesday, June 14th and Thursday, June 15th.
  • Camp TOV session 1 is Monday, July 31st  through Friday, August 4th.
  • Camp TOV session 2 is Monday, August 14th through Friday, August 18th.  

Below, Hallie Shapiro Devir, Associate Vice-President of Community Outreach and Engagement, shares her experience with Camp TOV. 

As a parent, one of the best things you can see is your child doing good and enjoying it. Raising kids who are excited about making the world a better place is all the more important to me as a Jewish Communal Professional whose work is engaging teens in the Jewish community. So it was especially exciting to me to hear a conversation between my oldest and middle children the other day. Eli, a 9th grader in a Chicago Public School, had spent the morning of his “teacher furlough day” volunteering with TOV Teens, and was telling his brother, Noah, a 6th grader, about the experience. He paused and said, “I saw the Camp TOV flyers in mom’s office after we came back downtown. Guess what? You’ll be old enough to go this year!”

Eli is a several-year veteran of Camp TOV and Mini Camp TOV. Although he started because I signed him up, he now asks every year if he’s doing Camp TOV again or if only Mini Camp will fit into his summer schedule. He’s a menschy kid in general who likes volunteering, but what he likes about Camp TOV is getting to work on many different projects while meeting other teens. He enjoys being a part of something bigger, whether its being a piece of an assembly line that labels 1000 bags for The ARK’s High Holiday Food Drive, repackaging two tons of corn at the Northern Illinois Food Bank for distribution to a dozen food pantries, collecting 60 bags of trash off a Chicago beach, or painting an entire fence at a shelter for battered women. He also relishes knocking out a big chunk of his annual required service hours in a few short days. But most important to me is that the experience is one he wants to share, even with his siblings, because at the end of every day, he feels good—about himself, about the power of teens to make a difference, about the possibility of the world being better because of something he did. This summer, I’m excited to hear about my two sons having fun while doing good. I hope your kids will join them!

Springboard Staff Spotlights

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We are so excited about this year’s one-of-a-kind school break programs. Today we are highlighting some of the incredible staff working behind the scenes to make this year’s program a success. Read the staff spotlight’s below and sign up for your own school break adventure today! 

Program: SciLab

Staff Spotlight: Albert Marks

Albert Marks

As the Senior Assistant Director of OSRUI, the reform Jewish summer camp in Oconomwoc, WI, Albert works year round supporting OSRUI. He is responsible for social media, contracts, staff hiring, camper and staff recruitment, and alumni development as well as overseeing the running of the summer camp and over 1000 people on a daily basis.  Growing up, Albert always wanted to work at a place where he could have a significant impact on the lives of others. Being able to be a role model to reform Jewish teens while simultaneously being surrounded with amazing people makes OSRUI the perfect place for Albert. 

Spending time with staff and campers is his favorite part of working at OSRUI, and he can’t wait to hang out with you this Spring Break! Too often in school, we are taught to learn the simplest of objectives, but never explore them, and often those of us who are passionate and curious stand on the sidelines. At SciLab, being an interested and curious scientist is the perfect starting point. You have the chance to use camp to explore sciences such as biology and astronomy, while still getting to do fun camp activities like night hikes and sports. Sign up today, hands on, out of this world activities are waiting for you at SciLab!

Program: Chicago Teens for Change

Staff Spotlight: Orit Sacker

Orit Sacker

Orit was born in Israel, but is in Chicago on Shlichut, through the Jewish Agency for Israel. She is an architect by profession, but has been involved in Young Judaea for many years. She loves the impact that Young Judea has on all who are involved and she is excited to see the impact Chicago Teens for Change is able to create on this committed group of teenagers - both those who are running the peer-led program and those who are participating.

Chicago Teens for Change is designed to leave a lasting impression and have a meaningful impact on those who are looking to spend their spring break giving back to the community, making new friends and connecting with different aspects of the community they live in. Participants will have the opportunity to do lots of social action combined with a healthy dose of fun! In addition to spending time volunteering in different locations, participants will also enjoy group building and leadership development activities. All of this will take place at a summer camp - the location already oozes with fun. Chicago Teens for Change is going to be amazing!   

Program: Breakaway Programs (Tree House Building, Ta’am Ivrit, Studio Chi, Cooking Workshop, and Wilderness Survival)

Staff Spotlight: Kyle Kolling

Kyle Kolling

Kyle Kolling is one of the amazing leaders that will be running the Camp Chi Breakaway Programs. Kyle is so excited to be a part of Springboard School Breaks this year. He works at Camp Chi as a Program Coordinator and Teen Camp Director. He loves theater, soccer, and baseball. However, his favorite thing is going to Camp Chi for Summer Break.

When Kyle first heard the idea of being at camp over spring break last year he was very intrigued. He assisted with the 2016 StudioChi pilot and from that point on knew he wanted to always be a part of Springboard programs. He even took some film classes at the University of Liverpool that he thought might come in handy. This year he thought they should expand the programs at Camp Chi. “The BreakAway programs are five different unique programs, each led by professionals in their field. Knowing how much everyone learned and had a blast last year, I cannot wait to see how incredible of an experience these five programs turn out to be. From StudioChi, Wilderness Survival, Tree House Building, Cooking Workshop, and Ta’am Ivrit, each of these five programs will be a blast!” says Kyle.

Program: Farm to Table: Chef’s Immersion

Staff Spotlight: Trisha Margulies

Trisha Margulies

Farm to Table: Chef’s Immersion is an awesome program that will take place at Pushing the Envelope Farm. Trisha and her husband, Rabbi Fred, started Pushing the Envelope Farm 8 years ago because of how much they believed in Jewish Environmental Education. Trisha has lived all around the country and eventually settled back in Chicago to open this farm up. Trisha loves make an impact on other people. She says, “I think it's always exciting to work young people because they ‘push the envelope.’ Young people want to be challenged and I think they want to change peoples’ lives.” 

As somebody who very much cares about our environment and Judaism, she was able to create Farm to Table: Chef’s Immersion, a program that does both. Participants will learn about cooking and have a true farm to table experience. The participants will be making enough food to eat, as well as give back to those in need. There are so many different types of food in different cultures that people often don't know about it, and on this program, participants will get to taste some of those new foods and create some of their own new memories.

Program: School of Rock

Staff Spotlight: Russell Wiener

Russell Wiener

Russell Wiener, is a musician, producer, and engineer in Los Angeles, California. He also is one of the staff members for School of Rock, taking place at Beber Camp. He has been involved in music at camp for 15 years, ever since the Executive Director, Stefan Teodosic, asked Russell if he would put together a music program.

At School of Rock teens will be able to play, collaborate, learn songs, play together, write music, perform, find a new passion, and make friends. No skill level or instruments are required! According to Russell, he got involved in School of Rock because, “It gives me a chance to build on the music programs we have!” He is excited to watch the program grow and create meaningful experiences for Jewish teens in the area. 

Program: Big Apple Adventure

Staff Spotlight: Levi Zeffren

Levi Zeffren

Levi Zeffren is the City Director of Chicagoland NCSY. NCSY has spent months putting together an incredible experience full of fun and adventure. They could not be more excited to meet everyone signed up and spend 5 days together in NY!

Support Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation this Sunday (February 5)

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 by Quincy Hirt, a senior at Whitney M. Young

Voices Craft Fair

My experience as a part of the Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation through the Chicago Federation has been amazing one.  Voices is a teen philanthropy foundation, and was started by the Jewish Federation of Chicago in 2005. Each year, a group of around 20 Jewish high school students are selected to participate in the VOICES 101 program. The group learns the ins and outs of professional philanthropy and grant making and gets to allocate at least $25,000 to affect real change in areas they care most about both locally and in Israel.

Participants like me who are interested in staying involved after the initial one-year 101 program can join the VOICES alumni program. The alumni board has a similar format but relies on the teens to do their own fundraising to support the causes they are passionate about. As part of the Alumni Foundation we all contribute financially, fundraise, and commit time and energy to research, writing of RFPS and selection of grants.  Last year, our alumni group was able to raise over $40,000, leveraging a matching gift, which we allocated to 6 organizations in areas such as basic needs, aid to Israel, and medical research. This year our goal is to once again raise and award $40,000 in grants to benefit Jewish charities in both Chicago and Israel.   

On Sunday, February 5th, Voices will be hosting a Crafts Fair from 8:30-12:30 at Anshe Emet. The crafts fair will feature 18 crafters selling their wares including handmade jewelry and clothes, photography, candles, children’s books and toys, natural skincare products and more as well as activities for kids. There is a $5 suggested admission fee which will be donated to Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation.

Recent research has concluded that hands on philanthropy is what matters to our generation. We want to be directly engaged. We want to see the impact of our dollars. We don’t want to just write a check.  Our philanthropy will not be the same as that of our grandparents or our parents. Knowing this, it is incumbent upon all of us…Jewish communal professionals, lay leaders, and teen leaders, to create, market, and lead programs that reflect this desire. Voices engages and empowers teens. We hope you will join us on Sunday! 

Or Tzedek is for You: Reflections on Or Tzedek 2016

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By Abby Tzinberg 

Or Tzedek 2017

Or Tzedek: Jewish Teen Institute for Social Justice is a unique, Chicago-based program that provides opportunities for teens from across the country to learn about and take action on current social justice campaigns. Or Tzedek gives teens a Jewish framework to explore their social justice identities and gives them the tools and inspiration to build a better world.

As someone who has had her fair share of experiences with programs targeted at Jewish teens I can confidently say that Or Tzedek was one of the most meaningful experiences that I’ve ever had--Jewish or not. Or Tzedek is unique in that it combines politics, identity, activism, independence, community organizing, urban exploration, group living and Judaism all in one. It is open to all Jewish denominations and attracts a wide variety of Jewish experiences. This gives an added layer of sophistication and wisdom to all program activities and conversations.

The itinerary for Or Tzedek caters to all interests - whether your thing is direct service or community organizing, Or Tzedek has it all. This past summer we did a ton: registering people to vote, handing out lunches to those in need, tours through the city, workshops on identity and privilege, picnicking in Millennium Park.

Another really fantastic thing about Or Tzedek is the Kehillah, or community. You really get a chance to get to know everyone, and the program is designed to build one community, not split off into small groups. Even if you don’t know anyone going in everyone is extremely welcoming. If I had to choose one thing that I took away from Or Tzedek it would be the people.

The staff are some of the loveliest people you will ever meet. They have so much love, empathy, grit and integrity, and it shows. The group of teens that Or Tzedek attracts cannot be replicated anywhere else. Every single person has a shared goal: to be kind, smart and respectful. I challenge you to find a group of people anywhere else that can provide the same support and kindness that the people in Or Tzedek have.

So to anyone considering signing up for Or Tzedek: Do it. Whether you’re a seasoned social justice warrior or just getting started Or Tzedek is for you. No matter how prevalent your Jewish identity is in your life, Or Tzedek is for you. If you’re looking for an awesome group of people Or Tzedek is for you. If you love the city and urban living Or Tzedek is for you. If you just want something productive to do with your summer Or Tzedek is for you.

Curious if Or Tzedek is right for your summer 2017? Check out the website to learn more and book your spot today! 

Moving Beyond Square One with M²: The Institute for Experiential Jewish Education

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Beyond Square One

This year Springboard partnered with M²: The Institute for Experiential Jewish Education to create a Chicago based intensive and immersive professional development program that promotes and develops local experiential Jewish educators. The Chicago cohort consists of three seminars that blend intensive theory with immediate practical application. Tamara Stein, Springboard Teen Engagement Specialist, reflects on the first two workshops.

About 5 months ago I found myself with a title that I had never held before: Jewish educator. As a Teen Engagement Specialist I would be serving in a formal Jewish youth educator role for the first time, after spending my whole life looking up people who played that role for me. I was passionate about teaching Jewish values, and providing memorable and worthwhile experiences, and was eager to gain new tools to support my transition into this role.  

M2 has given me the vocabulary, the methodology, and the confidence to be a more articulate and knowledgeable Jewish educator. I have learned how to infuse Jewish content in a way that is enjoyable and truly valued by the groups that I work with. I have learned that when planning programs, whether it be a Shabbat experience or a Tikkun Olam project, we must be intentional about our typology of activities in order to motivate participants to join in. I have also learned that Jewish values are the starting point by which we as experiential Jewish educators should teach, not something to meander back to at the very end of a program.  By naming, and then exploring, the challenges that Jewish educators face in their everyday work, and then offering resources and solutions, M2 has opened my eyes to how stimulating education can be if you are able to infuse experiences with intention, Machshava, and action, Ma’aseh.

On a personal note, M2 has enabled me to learn alongside, and befriend, 12 intelligent, like-minded, passionate, Jewish educators. Through my participation I have developed a collaborative network of youth professionals from different organizations with whom I can call on to troubleshoot problems, discuss new ideas and work together with on community events. 

Jewish youth professionals, educators, volunteers and layleaders are encouraged to check out the Professionals tab to learn more about upcoming opportunities for professional development, and networking through Springboard.  


18 Under 18: A Celebration of Jewish Teens

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by Brittany Abramowicz

Eighteen under 18

The best part of my job working as a Teen Engagement Specialist with Springboard is getting to visit different area youth groups and programs and meeting amazing teens. Most weekends, I attend activities organized by teen leaders who are dedicated to Jewish community, helping those in need, and making Jewish involvement accessible to everyone. This is why it gives me so much joy to be working on 18 Under 18: A Celebration of Jewish Teens. This distinction recognizes teens from different corners of the Chicago-area with diverse Jewish backgrounds, practices, and interests. I look forward to the program on April 25th when we will come together as a community to celebrate 18 special teens and inspire one another. 

The nomination process began last month. As this is a brand new program, I really had no idea what to expect. Teachers have been nominating their students, teens have been nominating friends and organizational leaders, youth directors have been nominating program participants, and many other people have submitted the names of teens they believe are deserving of this honor.  I have been struck by how impressive the applications that we have received are.  While these teens are all very different there are some important commonalities: they all have a strong sense of self, they understand and utilize their strengths and look at their weaknesses as opportunities, they don’t settle and they rally their peers and adults to work with them and see different perspectives.  We are truly lucky to have all of the nominees in our community.

Nominations are being accepted through Friday, January 27th. At that point, JTAC (Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago), an advisory board made up of representatives from many area youth groups, will review and select the 18 honorees. 18 teens will be honored at the first ever 18 Under 18 community-wide celebration event on April 25. Check back here to learn about the incredible teens once they are selected and for more information on attending what we believe will be an amazing event.

If you’d like to nominate a teen, you can find the forms and more information on the JTAC page

Making an Impact

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Making an Impact

This post was written by Danielle Wolff, Diller Teen Fellow Cohort 3

Over the course of our Diller Teen Fellows experience, we were challenged to become leaders and make a difference in our community. This culminated with an Impact Project about an issue we were passionate about.  My team of Elly Qunell, Hannah Silver, Arie Sztainberg, and Ben Zavell, came together over the passion to help individuals.

It was difficult to come up with a project that was realistic and would make a difference. In the midst of frustration, one of us thought about The ARK. The ARK provides free social and medical services to help distressed members of our Chicagoland Jewish family return to self-reliance. All of us had volunteered with The ARK before, so we knew the great impact that they have on their clients. We reached out to the staff and they told us we could partner with them on their upcoming Hanukkah party. Additionally, we decided to collect blankets to donate to their clients.

After months of preparations the day of the Hanukkah party finally arrived. It was inspirational to see people with huge smiles on their faces, even though they might be having a difficult time in their lives. We quickly realized that the only thing the clients really wanted was someone to listen to them. They told us stories, complained about the weather, and talked about how they were feeling. We were honored to be a part of the celebration, and are grateful to the clients for including us and being so welcoming.

As we were cleaning up, Diane, the Assistant Volunteer Director, told us that she was able to give out some of the blankets to specific guests that she knew were in great need. One man in particular told us that his son has only sheets to sleep on. He didn’t have a blanket, or a comforter, just sheets. He was able to get a blanket at the Hanukkah party because of our project, and it was so rewarding knowing that we made impact on at least one person that day.

The whole experience of creating an impact project as part of the Diller Teen Fellows of Chicago will be a memorable one for me. Not only did we collect over 50 blankets, feed over 200 people and help clear tables, but our actions impacted someone else's life. They might not remember the impact years from now, but I sure will.

Diller Teen Fellows is a 15 month international leadership fellowship focusing on Jewish Identity, Israel and Tikkun Olam. The program is open to 10th and 11th graders, and is funded by the Helen Diller Family Foundation, a supporting foundation of the Jewish Community Federation and Endowment of San Francisco; The Crown Family; The Swartzberg/Zoller Family Foundation; and the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.