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

Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

Adam Blue is the Midwest High School Coordinator for StandWithUs (SWU), an international Israel education organization.

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Adam Lawerence

During the month of January, we are highlighting new youth professionals that are new in their roles. Meet Adam, the Midwest high school coordinator for StandWithUS. 

Adam grew up in the north Chicago suburbs, and graduated from Indiana University with his B.A. in History and Jewish Studies. He is excited to share his passion for Israel with students and the community in his region. 

 His love of Israel started at home, but developed through involvement in USY, at Camp Ramah, and during the Nativ College Leadership Program - Gap Year in Israel, where he volunteered outside Haifa.  Motivated by his experiences, Adam returned to college and instantly got involved with Indiana's pro-Israel community.

 As the President of Hillel at Indiana University, a legislative intern with the Indianapolis Jewish Community Relations Council, a youth advisor in Chicago, or as an Assistant Director of BBYO Passport, Adam has repeatedly exhibited his personal commitment to experiential education, community engagement, and teen leadership development over the past decade. 

 Through StandWithUs, Adam is educating and empowering students to enhance their personal connections to Israel and speak out against antisemitism and extremism.  More than ever, we need our students to ask more questions, engage in complicated discussions, and commit themselves to fact-based education.

 One such opportunity is to join StandWithUs’ Teen Leadership Council (TLC) for students 9th-12th grades. In key cities around the Midwest, SWU is setting up TLC’s to provide students the opportunity to further their Israel knowledge, plan innovative programming with their peers, and ensure that their community is connected to Israel. 

 The four-month long program includes: mentorship in leadership skills and community building, access to StandWithUs speakers and materials, and connection to teens in the region with similar goals and aspirations.

 Whether students are seeking their first leadership position, or are already involved, TLC is a professional leadership experience that will surely enhance their Israel programming capabilities.  In addition, TLC prepares them for the challenges they may face at university and in their community regarding Israel.

Program Requirements:

-Attend a total of four mandatory monthly meetings (January - April) with Adam and the other TLC members (via Google Hangout)

-Attend bi-monthly one-on-one meetings with Adam to receive individual professional mentorship (via Google Hangout or in person)

-Collaborate with other members of the TLC to plan and execute a region-wide teen event focused on Israel education

-Plan a minimum of one Israel event in their community

-Stay in regular contact with the TLC and with Adam 

 Are you a high school student or know a student who is interested in working with StandWithUs and educating about Israel? Reach out to Adam today via . 

 Applications for the spring session of the Teen Leadership Council are currently open, and nominations for the StandWithUs High School Internship  will open on Monday, January 14, 2019. 


One Year Mark

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This past Shabbat marked one year since I completed and was released from my service as an infantry soldier in the Nahal Brigade of the Israel Defense Forces. One year since I turned in my gun, my gear, my uniform, my boots and left everything I had known for the last two years. The transition was marked as I put on a pair of jeans, a normal t-shirt and athletic shoes, clothes I could wear seemingly for the rest of my life.  

No more were the days of going to sleep at 4 pm to wake up at 10 pm and train throughout the night to avoid the dangerous Israeli heat. No more marching kilometer after kilometer, with shooting pains through parts of my body I never knew existed. No more having my biggest worry be, “will the person switching me off of guard duty g-d forbid be late?” Also missing was the sense of camaraderie and purpose that came from being an infantry fighter in the Israel Defense Forces.  

While finishing the army is cause for celebration, it is also a very scary time. For many lone soldiers, including myself, our ultimate life goal was to serve in the Israel Defense Forces. I didn’t have any plans for what would happen after the army. I completed the army, my ultimate life goal, and still had a whole life in front of me. The question of “what’s next” made me anxious and stressed. I avoided thinking about it for as long as possible and I was successful up until the very day I was released. I truly had no idea what the answer to that question was. Yes, the army was the place I where truly turned from a boy to a man, and it wasn’t easy, but after enough time, it became comfortable. I knew my place, I knew my purpose, and I knew my people. When I was released from the army, and cut my army ID in half, all of that disappeared. 


In the last year I have accomplished many things. I traveled through Eastern Europe and India for the first time, I made the decision to leave Israel and build a life in Chicago, I started working full-time for Springboard Chicago, and was accepted to my top choice Masters degree program for the coming year. These milestones have allowed me to take time and reflect on just how different my life is now compared to a year ago. My bus rides to the army base have been replaced by Metra commutes. My smelly, crowded army bunk is now my comfortable room at home.  Army dining has turned into eating whatever I want, whenever I want. I used to go weeks without an electronic device and now I check screens regularly.  Workouts used to be long runs through the desert and now I visit an air-conditioned health club. To many, these are improvements, but for many soldiers, it is a difficult adjustment.  

I take great pride in continuing to serve Israel through the Israel Defense Force Reserves (Miliuim). When I decided to build a life in Chicago, it was important to me to still fulfill my duty as an Israeli citizen, and to continue with the army reserves so that I am ready to do whatever it takes to defend the Jewish homeland. My work through Springboard helps me to continue my goal of serving the Jewish people in any capacity. I look forward to my second year of freedom and my role helping more Jewish teens to find their connection to Judaism. I'm excited to continue sharing my Jewish Journey and hearing about the journeys of others in our community.  

Chicago's Very Own Rock Stars

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Two of Chicago’s own local teen musicians, Yael Bettenhausen, 17, a student at Niles North and Marc Luban, 17, a student at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School, are two of the National Top 12 finalists in Jewish Rock Radio’s Jewish Star North America Talent Search. This is Jewish Rock Radio’s first nationwide competition, designed to identify emerging talent in the Jewish community. Marc and Yael were among dozens of applicants from across North America who submitted videos reflecting their musical talent and passion for impacting the Jewish world.

When asked about the impact of being a Jewish song leader in their communities, the two shared:

Yael Bettenhausen on Guitar

“Being a Jewish song leader is about connecting with other people through the power of harmony and song. When you hear others signing your song and having a good time with your music, Jewish or not, that’s the moment when you know you’ve truly connected and impacted someone else and to me, that is the most meaningful part of about being a Jewish Song leader.” – Yael


“Each carefully crafted masterpiece of Jewish music carries not only the meaning its creator intended, but also brings with it the enormous power of our timeless traditions and teachings, which makes it possible for each and every individual to feel the voice of every song in their soul. Jewish music has impacted my life because it brought me closer to my community and to communities outside of mine and showed me new and incredible ways to connect to my religion and identity in this ever-changing modern age.”- Marc


Right now is your opportunity to help these amazing Jewish Rock Stars move into the final six! From now until Monday, December 17, you can vote here.

6 grand prize winners will be awarded a private mentorship from an internationally recognized Jewish celebrity recording artist, a professional recording studio session, exposure throughout all of North America and a full scholarship to attend the 2019 Song Leader Bootcamp (SLBC) National Conference.

Think you’ve got what it takes to be the next Jewish Rock Star? Join Song Leader Boot Camp from Sunday, February 17, 2019- Tuesday, February 19, 2019 in St. Louis! Teens who participate in the Springboard school break track will receive significant tuition subsidies. Learn more @ Springboard SLBC.

Hebrew in the High Spotlight: Community!

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Now more than ever it is important to be a leader in the Jewish community. Luckily, there are so many avenues for teens to hone in on their leadership skills. Through Hebrew in the High, teens are able to take ownership of their school Hebrew language programs and broadcast this amazing opportunity to the greater community. Look first hand at what these amazing teens have to say about their experience!

Four Teens

“Choosing to take Hebrew has impacted my high school experience immensely and has helped my become more involved in my school and outside community. Looking back, I cannot imagine how different my high school experience would be, had I not chosen to take Hebrew.”

-Mia Strubel Iram; Niles North High School

“Hebrew is a class that I always look forward to attending because of the connection I have with my classmates. The Hebrew language has brought a sense of community to my classroom that lacks in other classes.”

-Ambassador; Glenbrook North High School

Not only is Hebrew an amazing and fascinating language, but the class is engaging, fun and tight knit. There is something very special about having a class with the same people every year...Hebrew is a constant that acts as a safe space to resort to no matter what. After being in a class with the same people for four years you will make friends that you never thought you would. In Hebrew we are all so close because we chose to take this class and have it in common with each other every year.

-Stephanie Kallish, Highland Park High School

“Hebrew, specifically at my high school, is a community that I wouldn’t necessarily get in a different language. In a big public school, it is nice to have a place where I can go to find that Jewish community.”

-Gillian Rosenberg; Evanston Township High School

“Usually by the end of 7th period everyday, I’m tired, I’m dragging my feet, I’m watching the clock. But that stops when I walk through the door of my 8th period Hebrew class. As soon as I walk in, I see my friends. Friends I’ve been with in Hebrew class since freshman year. Friends I’ve gotten to know really well and look forward to seeing everyday. I can say with absolute certainty that many of the people in my Hebrew class will remain close friends after high school and beyond. Because when you sign up to take Hebrew, you aren’t just signing up for a language, you’re signing up for a community.”

-Sarah Bloom; Evanston Township High School

“So if it wasn’t to learn the language itself, then why did I sign up for Hebrew when I had plenty of other language options available? I chose it because of the community I’d be a part of.”

-Adi Zetouni; Deerfield High School

Hebrew in the High

For more information on Hebrew in the High, please contact Sam Grobart at

Meet Eric: Teen Engagement Specialist

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Eric Golberg Pic

Hey! My name is Eric and I am one of Springboard’s Teen Engagement Specialists. I spent my high school years at Stevenson and was President of my USY chapter when we won chapter of the year (Humble Brag). I am a big sports fan and watch any game on TV, especially the World Champion Boston Red Sox. I also enjoy traveling, working out, and eating as much as I can while binge watching the office on Netflix.  

I went to the University of Hartford where I studied Integrated Elementary and Special Education. I recently returned to the Chicagoland area after spending seven years in Hartford, Connecticut. While there, I taught third grade and worked with students in the special education department. Additionally, I taught cooking (let me know if you need a recipe!) and helped develop new, exciting classes for Jewish teens at the JT Connect (Jewish Teen Learning Connections). 

I’ve traveled all around the world as a staff member with BBYO Passport visiting Costa Rica, Italy, Slovenia and Israel.  

What are your interests? Let’s get coffee (preferably Dunkin’... It’s a New England thing) and talk about the great programs in the Chicagoland area that you can be a part of!  

Eric’s Top Three Facts: 

  1. I’ve lived in 8 states (Guess which ones!) 

  1. My favorite animal is a sloth 

  1. I recently adopted a four-year-old German Shepard named Lyla

Hebrew in the High Spotlight: Israel!

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Through Hebrew in the High, teens are able to take ownership of their school Hebrew language programs and broadcast this amazing opportunity to the greater community. In our second spotlight, check out how these teens' connection to Israel has been impacted by their Hebrew programs!

three ambassadors

“I can definitely see Hebrew benefitting my future because I plan to visit Israel many times later in my life. Additionally, knowing conversational Hebrew will allow me to communicate easily with the people around me.”

-Caroline Cotler, GBN

“After traveling to Israel in eighth grade with Ta’am Yisrael I realized how modern and fast paced of a country Israel truly is. This made me forge an even deeper connection with the Hebrew language. It is not only the language of the Torah but it is vibrant, modern and cool!”

-Stephanie Kallish, HPHS

“Being able to speak to Israelis because of my knowledge of Hebrew has been the true best part. I stayed with an Israeli family for a week going into junior year and because I knew Hebrew, I was able to deepen my connection with the host family.”

-Elie Rosenberg; ETHS

“Hopefully, through Hebrew in the High, more people can foster the same love I have for Israel and the same desire to spread it with others.”

-Noam Zetouni; DHS

“I have grown to appreciate it and love it. My reasons for continuing it every year have grown. To me, Hebrew is so much more than just a language. It is a connection to my religion and to my other home, Israel. When I hear someone speaking Hebrew in a public environment, I find myself feeling a connection towards them even if I don’t know them.”

-Gillian Rosenberg; ETHS

Hebrew in the High

Stay tuned to hear more from these amazing teen ambassadors. For more information on Hebrew in the High, please contact Sam Grobart at

Meet Adina Teen Engagement Coordinator

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Adina Blog Post

Hebrew in the High Spotlight: Leadership!

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The polls are closed and the votes are in! This doesn’t mean it is time to stop advocating for things you are passionate about. Check out our new blog series highlighting the amazing Hebrew in the High ambassadors.

Hebrew in the High ambassadors

“During my Junior year, I was elected Head of Recruitment for D219’s Hebrew Honor Society. Driven by my passion for Hebrew, I, alongside my fellow HHS members were able to recruit over 20 students. Now, D219 has TWO Hebrew 1 courses in addition to the standard 4-5 courses.”

-Sammy Schwartz; Niles North High School

“Achievement and Hebrew go hand in hand. I don’t know one person who doesn’t take Hebrew for honors credit...when you sign up for Hebrew, you aren’t just signing up for a language, you’re signing up for achievement.”

-Sarah Bloom; Evanston Township High School

“Right off the bat I devoted my extra time to help promote the Hebrew program, and worked closely with our amazing teacher Anna Gorbikoff, to make sure our status as a program was known in our community.”

-Abby Lapins; Stevenson High School

“I took the role as President of the Hebrew Honors Society where I helped recruit more students into our program. Further, I joined the board of Israel Club where our fun events attract dozens of students each month.”

-Noam Zetouni; Deerfield High School

Through Hebrew in the High, teens can take ownership of their school Hebrew language programs and broadcast this amazing opportunity to the greater community. In this highlight, see how the ambassadors Hebrew programs have provided them with valuable leadership opportunity!

Hebrew in the High

Stay tuned throughout the week to hear more from these amazing teen ambassadors. For more information on Hebrew in the High, please contact Sam Grobart at

Emily Fridland- Study Abroad Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI)

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From September to November 2017, I studied abroad in Israel on AMHSI (Alexander Muss High School in Israel). This was one of, if not, the greatest experience of my entire life. I had become more mature and independent. I learned how to manage my time without my parents telling me what to do. I feel prepared for college and my future. My favorite memory of AMHSI was our last day. We sat in a circle in the middle of Jerusalem’s old city and shared our favorite memories. We all at one point or another started to cry from either laughter or sadness. This moment showed me how much we learned and what we were going to take away from this trip.  

Emily Fridman-study Abroad

Before I left, I was a student at Glenbrook North High School. When I came back, I realized how much I loved having small classes, with a small Jewish community surrounding me at all times. When I came home and realized this, I decided I wanted to go check out Rochelle Zell Jewish High School. The second I walked through Rochelle Zell’s halls and I felt as though I was back in Israel at my school. I knew this school was the perfect fit for me and I had never realized it before. This is one of the ways that AMHSI changed my entire life for the better.  

If you would like to learn about this program, please join an informational meeting October 10 at 7 pm in Northbrook. Attendees will meet the head of the school from Hod Hasharon and hear about Emily’s life changing experience. Reach out to Emily for more information and the session’s location.  

AMHSI is a pluralistic, college-prep, international study abroad program for high school students where the land of Israel is a living classroom.  

Emily Fridland is a Junior at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School and participated in AMHSI last year. 

Meet Hanna: Teen Engagement Specialist

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hanna-skylineHi! My name is Hanna and I am one of Springboard’s Teen Engagement Specialists. I grew up in Mequon, Wisconsin and went to Butler University in Indianapolis (Go Dawgs!). I moved to Chicago two years ago and currently live in Old Town. I love to travel (ask me about Seville, Spain), try new restaurants, take advantage of Chicago summers, and watch Butler and Marquette basketball games. You can find me around town catching a movie at ArcLight, working out at Studio Three, or planning my next trip!

Prior to Springboard, I worked in the Young Leadership Division of JUF helping young adults find their place in the Jewish community. In that role, I planned programs and events and helped fundraise for the JUF Annual Campaign.

hh-israel-2I’ve been to Israel three times, each was a completely unique experience: Once in high school for my brother’s Bar Mitzvah, once on Birthright (yay Shorashim), and once staffing Ta’am Yisrael (Border < 3>

I would love to connect with you! I want to hear about your interests and see if any of the amazing programs in our community are a good fit for you. Also, if there are any cool, new social media trends and apps or “hip” lingo 😉, please keep me in the loop! Let me know if you want to grab coffee. Ice cream works too, obviously 😊


Quick game- Two truths and a lie:

  • I hate sushi
  • I love unicorns
  • I have a dog named leo

Reach out to guess the answer and win a prize!

Ayze Amerikai: איזה אמריקאי

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

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

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


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

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

Family IDF

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

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

Why We Are Excited for NFTYpalooza!

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

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

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

Kick Off 1

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

-        Quentin Kagan, Junior at Buffalo Grove High School 

Kick Off 2

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

-        Ellory Pennor, Junior Lane Tech High School  

Kick Off 3

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

-        Rachel Schless, Senior at Buffalo Grove High School

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

Connecting With My Jewish Roots

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

Cohort 5 Tel Aviv

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

Cohort 5 Kids

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

Cohort 5

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


-Orly Lewittes, Diller Cohort 5

5 Lessons I Learned as a Teen Engagement Specialist

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Over the past two years, I’ve had the pleasure of working as a Teen Engagement Specialist at Springboard. I came to work every day and connected teens to empowering and interesting experiences, staffed interactive programs all around the world, and brainstormed with some of the brightest, most passionate youth professionals and experiential educators. As a teen, Jewish youth programming was what inspired me to learn about social justice and connected me with some of my closest friends. Most importantly, Jewish youth programming provided me with the leadership skills and confidence to be the strong, passionate, Jewish woman that I am today. I have loved spending the last two years giving back to a community that has given me so much, and I will never forget how lucky I am to have worked with this community of incredible teens, parents, and professionals.  Since it’s been a busy two years of learning and growing, I thought I would leave you all with 5 lessons that I’ve learned through my time working as a Springboard Teen Engagement Specialist. 

Springboard Team

Tamara and Friends

  1. Communities are stronger when they work together. 

Whether it has been collaborating with other youth professionals at professional development seminars or seeing organizations team up to create School Break programs, I have witnessed how our Jewish teen community is stronger when we come together. Every individual youth group, summer camp, teen program, and travel experience is impactful, but individuals become even stronger when working as a collective. 

  1. Teens are the most powerful force for change. 

I've always known that teens have the drive and passion to improve the world but seeing it up close has been absolutely incredible. Within the last two years, I’ve seen teens in this community lead rallies, speak one-on-one with political leaders, create social media awareness campaigns, and stand up for the values that they so strongly believe. Seeing these teens speak truth to power and channel their Jewish values to create a more just world has inspired me, and others in the community, to do the same.  

  1. Being a “professional Jew” is a lot harder than it looks. 

I think a common misconception people have is that being a Jewish youth professional is all about spending time at summer camp, dressing up in silly costumes at programs, and eating lots of good food at Shabbatons. And, while they’re not wrong, I’ve come to learn that there is so much hard work and heart that is poured into this work to make it what it is. The colleagues I’ve gotten to work with amaze me with their commitment to professional and leadership development. The amount I’ve learned from my Springboard colleagues, and others, has made me a better communicator, leader, and facilitator.  

  1. Leadership comes in all shapes and sizes. 

There is a certain “type” we usually think of when we think of leaders: loud, extroverted, and totally confident. Working with teens, youth professionals, and parents across the community, each with different personalities, interests, and approaches, has taught me that there are limitless ways to be a leader. The Jewish teen community is an incredible place for teens to gain a sense of identity— whether it be as a recognized leader in their youth group or an active participant—and each is equally as empowering and valued. Every person I’ve worked with has different leadership skills and qualities that are unique to them, and I’ve loved watching those skills and qualities develop and grow.  

  1. A little creativity goes a long way. 

Working for a brand-new initiative and helping to build it from the ground up has gotten me to think more creatively than ever before. When it came to developing 18 Under 18: A Celebration of Jewish Teens (where over 300 people gathered together at the Chicago Botanic Gardens), my team collaborated to turn fresh, creative, and imaginative ideas from a dream into a reality. The time spent thinking of creative ways to engage Jewish teens and innovative programs was always so exciting, and I like to think that the chances that I took that were a little “out there” paid off in the end. 

I know these 5 lessons will guide me to success on my next path. Thank you to all the teens, parents, youth professionals, coworkers, and passionate members of the Chicagoland Jewish community who have made this journey what it has been!  

Tamara Portrait

-Tamara Stein, Springboard Teen Engagement Specialist 

Meet Marc: CHUSY's New Regional Teen Engagement Director

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To this very day, I remember looking up to all of the USYers, dreaming of one day being like them. At the time, I was a young child, traveling with my parents to attend Camp CHUSY at Ramah in Wisconsin, where my father served as the camp doctor.  In the years since, the dream of making a difference in the world as a USYer never waned. I experienced the joy firsthand as a dedicated USY member in high school, and now everything has come full circle as I take on the role of Regional Teen Engagement Director for the CHUSY region. It feels so good to be back, this time running the region I love so much. 


Let me share a little about myself. I graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in business education. I also have a degree in Elementary Education from Northeastern Illinois University.  I am 35 years old and have been a member of Congregation Beth Judea in Long Grove, IL for over 25 years. I spent the past 11 years working with BJUSY, the local USY chapter at Beth Judea and perhaps the biggest honor in this role was having my teens honored this past year as USY’s International Chapter of the Year.  I also spent the past five years as a teacher in public elementary and middle schools, teaching everything from 3rd to 8th grade.  This year, I am excited to be switching professional paths, and making my USY involvement a full time job as the new Regional Teen Engagement Director for Chicagoland (CHUSY) and Central (CRUSY) regions in USY.  

In my new role, I will be overseeing programming for 6th-12th graders across eight states, while managing all USY and Kadima events for USCJ (United Synagogue for Conservative Judaism).   I am excited for all that is to come with CHUSY Region USY this coming year. If you have not been to a USY program before, now is the time! USY is not just a youth group, it is a family. This year we will be exploring new ideas, implementing exciting initiatives and creating unique programs.  I am proud to announce our first new program: a kick-off event on September 16th, where we are renting out Second City for an exclusive CHUSY only show! We hope you will all be there for this exciting program!  

For any questions about CHUSY Region, USY, or youth programming in general, please feel free to reach out to me at To learn more about CHUSY region, please visit our website at  



Marc Sender 

Regional Teen Engagement Director 


Introducing...Summer JTAC!

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There is no better time to meet new people and try something new than during summertime. Last week, Springboard embraced the spirit of summer by meeting with teens from all over the Chicagoland area for the first gathering of the Summer Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (Summer JTAC). Summer JTAC is a board made up of teens from different Jewish backgrounds and Chicago area regions. Over the summer, this group will come together to create opportunities for Jewish teens staying in the Chicagoland area to connect and get to know each other.  

JTAC Participants

After the first meeting, we asked Summer JTAC members why they are excited to serve on this board. This is what they had to say:  


"Because I can help create events and projects for Jewish teens to enjoy and learn at the same time." –Emily Fridland, rising Junior Rochelle Zell Jewish High School 

 “To continue to participate in Jewish events when there is typically a lull in organized activities. I also am ecstatic to be able to develop more leadership skills throughout this board that could potentially help me in the future as a leader in my community. ” – Abby Lapins, rising Senior Stevenson High School  

JTAC Group

"I will get to meet new people, plan fun events, and gain new leadership skills.” –  Jenna Chiet, rising Junior Niles North High School  

The Summer JTAC Board is planning two great events for rising 9th -12th graders this July. They hope to see Chicago area teens who are local this summer. So, if you’re attending summer school, working, or looking for fun ways to connect with the Jewish community (or know someone who is), join us at one of these upcoming events! 

Beach Bash  

Wednesday, July 18 

Northwestern Lakefill  

6:00 PM 

Register here 

Lake Forest Days  

Tuesday, July 31 

Meet at Market Square 

6:30 PM  

Register here  

Temple Jeremiah’s Teen Service Trip to Costa Rica

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Temple Jeremiah’s Teen Service Trip to Costa Rica  

By Naomi Segal, Youth and Family Engagement Director at Temple Jeremiah  

Last week, I traveled with ten incredible teenagers from Temple Jeremiah, a Reform Jewish congregation in Northfield, Illinois, to Costa Rica for a weeklong service trip. Our trip was centered around Jewish values, including tzedek (Hebrew for justice) and kehillah (Hebrew for community).  

Costa Rica 1

For one week, our group lived in Pozo Azul, a small community populated by around 100 families. Although we were only in Pozo Azul for one week, we were able to develop impactful relationships with the local families due to the small size of the community and their warm hospitality and appreciation. Our primary service projects included re-paving sidewalks, building speed bumps on the main road, and painting the exterior walls and gate to the Pozo Azul cemetery. While these projects were exhausting at times—especially when we had to mix the cement—the experience left us feeling empowered, and it served as a great opportunity for us to become part of the Pozo Azul community and strengthen our Jewish identities.  

Costa Rica 2

We also did a variety of cultural activities ranging from visiting a local cattle farm, watching the Costa Rica vs. Serbia World Cup game, making empanadas, hiking to a hot spring, teaching at the elementary school, playing fútbol with local kids, swimming in the Pacific Ocean, and dancing at our bienvenida (welcome party). A highlight for many on the trip was our day excursion to Monteverde, also known as the Cloud Forest. Monteverde is one of the most biodiverse places in the world. We hiked through the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve and ziplined on the longest zipline in Latin America. It was great to see so many of the teens (and myself) face their fears when we took a leap of faith on the bungee jump at the end. The cultural experiences were unique immersion opportunities to celebrate a different culture, step outside our comfort zones, and create a lifelong appreciation for the Pozo Azul community.  

Costa Rica 3

As the Youth and Family Engagement Director at Temple Jeremiah, I spent over a year planning this trip. Seeing how well our group bonded with each other and the Pozo Azul community made the entire planning experience worth it. I loved overhearing the teens singing the “Sh’ma” before lights out or singing “Shabbat Shalom” together while exploring the town of Pozo Azul.  

Costa Rica Group

Here are a few snippets from some of the teens’ reflections on the trip:  

“Working together and becoming so close with a group of nine other Jewish teens I barely knew reinvigorated my sense of Jewish community. It reminded me how important Jewish communities are and to continue seeking them in my future. Even though all of us are Jews in very different ways, in Pozo Azul, we were connected by this shared trait which made our Jewish identity grow even stronger.”  - Jordana Bornstein, recent graduate of Deerfield High School and incoming freshman at New York University 

“I learned a lot about the power of community during my trip. The people in Pozo Azul all take care of each other and treat each other like family. They welcomed twelve strangers into their homes like it was no big deal. Locals would wave at us on the streets or have a conversation with us at a hot spring. Such small acts of kindness like this made us all feel so welcome and comfortable in Costa Rica.” - Sloane Shabelman, incoming freshman at Glenbrook South High School 

“One of my favorite things to do is talk to people, and I just loved to learn about everybody and what makes them who they are. Not only did I enjoy doing this with the group, but I also enjoyed doing this with Don Luis and Nydia (our host family for the week).” -  Julia Belian, incoming senior at New Trier High School 

Costa Rica 4

You can read more about this incredible trip on their blog online  here!  

Apply to be a Hebrew in the High Ambassador Today!

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I have met some of you at the Chicagoland Jewish Festival, others at Mini Camp TOV, and some of you’ve I’ve only interacted with through this blog. I hope to meet more of you in person soon!  Today, I wanted to share how I became such a strong advocate for learning Hebrew.   

The Hebrew language has played an important role throughout my life. From an early age I was surrounded by Hebrew, but honestly, it wasn't until I got to high school that it gained meaning. While taking Hebrew at Deerfield High School I got my first window into Hebrew as a modern language, spoken by real people, in a way that I could relate to. I went on to take Hebrew in college and became fluent while serving in the Israel Defense Forces. My passion for Hebrew truly started during my Hebrew program at Deerfield High School.   

Today my positive feelings towards high school Hebrew come full circle, as I now get to support teens who are taking Hebrew in their public high schools professionally. I would like to invite any teen who is a current public high schooler taking Hebrew to become an Ambassador for Hebrew in the High. Hebrew in the High will allow students to take more ownership over their experience in Hebrew and to increase the level of meaning that they get out of their classes by helping to grow their awesome programs. 

Ambassadors will attend monthly meetings. They will develop critical leadership and public speaking skills by presenting their stories to various audiences throughout the community. Additionally, Ambassadors will host Hebrew-themed events throughout the year. This new and exciting initiative kicks off at beginning of the upcoming school year, so make sure to reach out to me if you are interested!  

TLDR  (Too Long Didn’t Read) 

Who: Are you a current public high school student taking Hebrew? 

What: Become a Hebrew in the High Ambassador  

Where: Monthly meetings at a location near you 

Why: Gain valuable leadership skills, connect with other Hebrew students, eat awesome food, and earn money for the work you do! 

If you or someone you know is interested in becoming a leader for their Hebrew program, please contact Sam Grobart at 312-357-4982 or at

A Thank You Letter to All the Teens I Never Got to Meet

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I have a kind of weird riddle: You may have never heard of me, but I have heard of you. Your parents probably call me more than they call your teachers. I know what you did last summer and have ideas about how you may want to spend your school break. I know your name, but I don’t know your face. Who am I? 

The answer to the riddle is that I am Amanda and for the past two years I have been the Teen Engagement Coordinator for Springboard. I work behind the scenes at Springboard supporting the team’s strategy and execution.  I make sure that we have food and swag wherever we go, that programs are filled and run smoothly, and most recently I purchased a balloon wall. In short, I have an amazing and ever-changing job! While I don’t always get to meet the teens we work with, I still feel like I have gotten to know you. I helped your parents sign you up for your first Springboard School Break, I saw you honored and in attendance at 18 under 18, and I heard the Teen Engagement Specialists share their excitement as you explored new Jewish experiences and deepen your connection within the Chicagoland Jewish community. Sometimes I even got to run the Springboard Instagram account and that’s probably where I got to know you best.   

Sadly for me, this summer I will be leaving the Springboard team to move to Boston. Before I go, I wanted to take over the Springboard blog for the first and last time to say a THANK YOU to our Springboard Teens! 


Thank you for getting to know Springboard and for joining us on some awesome school break experiences. In the last three years we have sent 238 Chicagoland teens all over the country to enjoy fun and meaningful, Jewish experiences led by incredible community partners. 

Thank you for letting me learn from you. I learned more about finstagram, flash-tats, pop sock-its, Polaroids, snapchat streaks, bottle flipping, and live streams than I ever imagined. But more importantly, I learned that teens today are the most inspiring leaders we have. I don’t get the chance to interact with you very often, but when I do, I’m impressed by your passion, energy and commitment to the things that you believe in.   

When I was a teenager we were called the “Leaders of Tomorrow.” Through you, I have come to understand why everyone says you can, and should be, the leaders of today. So even though I have never met most of you, thank you for letting me support you on your journey to becoming the amazing young adults I know you will be.  

To all of our non-teen readers: If you are passionate about teen programming and engagement, please consider applying to be Springboard’s next Teen Engagement Coordinator. Through my work behind-the-scenes, I grew as a Jewish professional and developed critical skills necessary for advancing my goal of helping more teens find connection within the Jewish community.  I have learned so much that I cannot fit into this blog and I am happy to share it with you. Feel free to contact me and I can talk to you for a really long time about how much I love my job and my co-workers.  

Team Springboard

Let me say one last thank you to our Springboard community. I will miss you! 

Oh, the Places You'll Go!

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This past week, 40 teens traveled around the Chicagoland area with Mini Camp TOV to volunteer, make new friends, and learn about what it means to give back to their community. Mini Camp TOV is a two-day program that takes Jewish teens to participate in a variety of hands-on volunteering projects. From combating hunger and homelessness to brightening a sick child's day, Mini Camp TOV is a unique opportunity to make a difference. 


Mini Camp TOV participants knew they would be hopping around to different volunteer projects, but they had no idea what was in store for them! Since the Springboard Team was lucky enough to staff part of this program, we asked some of the teens about their favorite activities! 

"I liked going to The Ark because it was interesting to see what kind of people come there and why they come there. I also enjoyed Feed My Starving Children because we got to work as a group together to help kids who don't have food." -Dylan 

"We liked Feed my Starving Children because it was collaborative. We were having fun and working at the same time. Time flew by!" -Emily and Jami 

"The Ronald McDonald House was fun because we got to take care of helping to dispose of mattresses, but then also got to spend some time roaming around and checking out the place!" -Nathan 

"Feed my Starving Children was my favorite place because I like how we were able to work as hard as possible, and then in the end see how many people we were able to help." -Avery 

For the week-long version of this program, check out Camp TOV later this summer! Email for more information. 

Meet Sam: Springboard’s Newest Teen Engagement Specialist

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Samuel Grobart

Tell us a little about yourself. 

I grew up in Deerfield, IL, and went to Deerfield High School. I have a bachelor’s degree in History from Elon University. Following college, I decided to make Aliyah to Israel through Garin Tzabar and served for two years in the Israel Defense Forces. Additionally, I love everything sports, and I’m a passionate Chicago sports fan, especially when it comes to cheering for the Bulls who will one day rise to dominance once again!  

Why are you excited to be a Teen Engagement Specialist at Springboard? 

Growing up in the Chicago Jewish community, I experienced just how impactful Jewish programs can be. I was highly involved with BBYO in high school, and this let me explore and grow as a leader, both in and outside of the Jewish community.  My goal as a Teen Engagement Specialist is to help more teens to get involved in the plethora of Jewish organizations and activities that are available for teens throughout the Chicagoland area. My excitement for this role stems from a genuine passion for Jewish teen programming, experiencing it myself growing up and knowing how it can greatly impact others. 

What are some things you enjoy doing in your free time?

First and foremost, I am a huge sports fan. I love everything sports and competition related. I am a die-hard Chicago sports fan. Additionally, after my experience in the Israeli army, I love to work out and participate in outdoor activities. Chicago is such a great place to be, especially in the summer, so I try and be outdoors as much as possible. Finally, being away for so long has made me appreciate family time that much more, so I love spending time at home.  

What is your favorite type of food or cuisine? 

Another thing anyone who meets me will quickly find out is that I’m a “foodie”. Both Israel and America are amazing places for food enthusiasts. Probably my favorite cuisine would be Israeli/Mediterranean. Authentic Israeli shawarma (sorry Naf Naf and Roti), is my kryptonite. There were many times when I was in the army that I found myself eating a shawarma on my way from or to base, at all hours of the day and night.  

What do you hope to gain by being a Teen Engagement Specialist? 

As cliché as it sounds, I hope to make a positive difference in the lives of teens throughout the area. I believe in the saying “You are a product of the experiences you’ve gone through". I understand the pressures of growing up in the Chicagoland area and for me, many of the experiences that shaped me were in Jewish programming. It is my goal to leverage my experiences to support high schoolers across the Chicagoland region.  

What is the farthest place you have traveled and what was your experience like? 

After I finished the army, I followed in the steps of many Israeli’s and went on a month-long trip! I traveled throughout Eastern Europe and India for several weeks. By far, India was the most different place I have been to. Whether it was the sites of over-crowded Mumbai or the flavors and tastes of food I never even knew existed, it was such an awesome experience from start to finish.  

What is your favorite memory as a Jewish teen in Chicago? 

Serving on the BBYO Greater Midwest Region Regional Board as the Outreach VP was an amazing opportunity for me. As the Outreach VP, it was my responsibility to grow and expand BBYO’s footprint in previously untapped areas. That included my physically driving out to the Southern and Western Chicago suburbs and to engage and attract Jewish teens from those areas. Seeing my successes was such a gratifying feeling, knowing that the work I did encouraged more teens to become involved not only with BBYO, but with Jewish programming in general! 

If not now, when?: My Interfaith Civil Rights Journey

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“If not now, when?” My Interfaith Civil Rights Journey 

“If not us, then who? If not now, then when?” John E. Lewis, a former freedom rider. Walking into the museum part of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, I had to do a double take. My mind immediately jumped to the quotation from pirkei avot. Rabbi Hillel says:  

“אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי. וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי. וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי" 

“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I? And if not now, when?”  

everyone on the bus

The parallels portrayed in these quotations are one of many I encountered on my trip this spring break. I was a participant on the Springboard School Break Trip: Let’s Get Together, a civil rights and ally building trip. The trip brought together Jewish and African American teens to learn about each other's histories, traveling by bus from Chicago to Memphis, Little Rock, St. Louis, and Springfield.  

The quotation from the freedom rider, which is part of black history, and the quotation from Rabbi Hillel, part of Jewish history, both convey the message that we need to speak up and fight. Us — personally, and now. Throughout the trip, it was amazing for me to see how the thoughts of our histories are very similar. These quotes encouraged us to advocate for others and for ourselves. The theme of vocalization continued to appear throughout the trip.  

In St. Louis we went to see The Color Purple, which follows the life of a black woman named Celie in rural Georgia. The musical shows her growth from being raped, abused and belittled, to gaining confidence in herself and learning how to “wear the pants,” one of the musical numbers. The play began with the actors walking out in complete silence. Throughout the show there were many silences. Every scene change, awkward moment, intense moment, sad moment, or amazing moment was exaggerated by the silence. During all of Celie's struggle no one spoke out for her, no one helped her. She was silent and stuck. The silence of the play made me physically see the importance of speaking up for each other and ourselves. “אִם אֵין אֲנִי לִי, מִי לִי” We as individuals need to speak up when we see injustices in our own lives. 

But sometimes standing up for ourselves isn’t enough. On the bus we watched the movie Marshall, which shows the case of Connecticut v. Joseph Spell. Joseph Spell was a black man accused of rape and attempted murder in conservative Connecticut. Samuel Friedman was hired by the NAACP to defend him, with the help of Thurgood Marshall. The movie showcased an early example of a Jew aiding a black person and it served as an example for trip participants. Though Marshall was not forced to remain silent, as the movie claims, there is truth in Friedman using his voice to defend the accused African American. “וּכְשֶׁאֲנִי לְעַצְמִי, מָה אֲנִי” We need to stand up for others when their voices are not loud enough.  

"וְאִם לֹא עַכְשָׁיו, אֵימָתָי" “If not now, then when?” In Springfield we had an activity in the capitol building where we used our voices to suggest change. We broke up into groups, working to propose a bill. The leader of my group, Stephanie, asked us what issues we saw in Chicago. One boy, Josh, brought up the problems regarding funding for public schools. I mentioned gun violence in neighborhoods. Another girl, Mpatanishi, pointed out the problem with hate symbols. Her comment gave us the chance to share how hurtful the sight of a swastika is and how it still makes appearances, such as when the Loop synagogue was vandalized, and a rock was thrown through the window. The discussion progressed to cover hateful words about LGBTQ+ people, black or other minorities. This activity brought us closer together because it gave us insight into what each of us cared about and allowed us to share our personal experiences. It also gave us a chance to brainstorm together ways we could address these problems by collaborating and working together.  

Most of the trip was about “getting together”. My favorite moment of the trip was sitting in the room of one of my new friends on our last night because we wanted to savor every minute together. At first it was just a few girls, then others joined us, and the number kept growing. Someone turned on music and everyone started dancing and laughing with each other. One girl started singing a song and everyone else made up verses. We shared food and chatted about life. Our race or religion didn’t matter. It was just a bunch of girls hanging out together. It felt natural for us to just be friends.  

Visiting Memphis

At the first post trip meeting-- or reunion-- we all agreed that the next time there is a march we will show up together to support each other. On the trip we became a family, we recognize the need to be there for each other. If there is another Black Lives Matter march, or something in a black community, I want to be there to support my friends. If something happens at my synagogue, like what happened at the loop synagogue, I know I can count on the friends I made on the trip to be there for me. I want to use my voice to fight for them. I want them to know my history and about anti-Semitism. I want my friendship to go beyond the four days of the trip and for us to really be for each other. “If not us, then who?” We need to use our voices for each other. Not just me but US. It’s a communal effort that we need to take responsibility for. 

-Ariana Handelman, Let's Get Together 2018 Participant

Meet Your Honorees: Adina Arnet, Celia Giles, and Samuel Schwartz

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Meet Adina Arnet 

Adina Arnet

Hi! My name is Adina Arnet and I am a senior at Ida Crown Jewish Academy. I am passionate being involved in my school and community. My participation in various activities and organizations is my way of giving back to the community that has given me so much. Being involved is an integral part of my identity and has shaped who I am today. From President of Yachad to StandWithUs intern to school clubs - I give it my all! Through all my pursuits, I have learned how to be the best leader I can be. I see myself as someone who is constantly engrossed in meetings and events, an avid learner, and enthusiastic friend. I cannot put words to my appreciation for my encouraging parents, advisors, directors, and everyone else who has helped me get to where I am today. I could not have accomplished this much without you.  

Dream Job? Social media marketing  

How do you give back?  I give back by taking what I learned and using it to make an impact. I am constantly sharing what I gained with others so one day, they too can inspire future leaders. 

Who is a leader that inspires you? Randy Pausch (author of The Last Lecture) 

Meet Celia Giles 

Celia Giles

Hi! I'm a Sophomore at Glenbrook North High School. I currently serve on Regional General Board for CHUSY. I am an active member of Congregation Beth Shalom, serving on a board that allocates money to charities called Acharia and the Vice President of my chapter for USY. For the past 8 summers, I've attended Camp Chi, a Jewish overnight camp run by the JCC. At school, I'm in a show choir and an avid member of theatre. I am beyond grateful to be granted this outstanding award! I'd like to thank my parents for helping me enrich my Jewish experience and value my Jewish identity. It's an amazing honor to be a part of this group of high achieving teenagers. I know this award will and has already motivated me to be even more involved with Jewish education and make a difference in our Jewish community. 

Dream Job? Marine Biologist 

How do you give back?  I volunteer with kids at an agency called Study Buddies and tutor them in all subjects at school. Whenever possible, I volunteer with Holocaust survivors at Holocaust Community Services. Also, every Sunday, I'm a teacher's assistant at my synagogue, Congregation Beth Shalom and help out with 5th graders.  

Who is a leader that inspires you? My Grandfather, Conrad Giles who is currently serving as President at World ORT 

Meet Samuel Schwartz 

Sam Schwartz

I’m Samuel Allen Schwartz, Sammy for short, and an extremely thankful to be honored as an 18 under 18. I attended Solomon Schechter Day School from kindergarten until 8th grade graduation. Now, I attend Niles North High School and am on track to graduate following the spring semester of 2019. I enjoy having conversations, learning from others, and staying active. I’m able to impact my community through my involvement as Hebrew Honor Society president, founder of Middle School Israeli club, founder of mental health education club (renamed Erika’s Lighthouse following our partnership), Executive board member of D219 dance marathon, tutoring club, AJC LFT fellow, and numerous other organizations. This summer I will be volunteering at an Israeli orphanage and can’t wait to begin fostering new friendships. Special thanks to my parents who have given me everything I need and more, my sister for blazing my path to success, and my brothers for pushing me to be better each and every day. 

Dream Job? General Manager of the Chicago Bears 

How do you give back? Volunteer weekly at Soup at Six, tutoring club (tutoring elementary students), Moat Chitim, destigmatizing Mental Health issues, executive of district Dance Marathon, Kol Hanaerim mentor, and being nice to those around me. :) 

Who is a leader that inspires you?  Haiym Solomon 

Meet Your Honorees: Carly Colen, Sawyer Goldsmith, and Danielle Wolff

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Meet Carly Colen

Carly Colen Picture

Carly Colen is a junior at Buffalo Grove High School. In the Jewish community she is involved with Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation, Jewish Teen Funders Network Youth Ambassador Council, and Beber Camp. Carly is passionate about making a difference and hopes to pursue political science. She would like to thank Stephanie Goldfarb for teaching her about Jewish philanthropy and being a great mentor, Tamara Stein for her encouragement, and her family for being so supportive in all of her endeavors. Carly would like to encourage others to go out and engage in Tikkun Olam. She would also like to wish all the other 18 Under 18 nominees a big Mazel Tov. 

Who is a leader that inspires you?  President Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand 

How do you give back? Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation and by encouraging my peers. 

Being Jewish is... being part of a community. 


Meet Sawyer Goldsmith 

Sawyer Goldsmith

Hi! My name is Sawyer. If you happen to find me, and I’m not doing work for USY or school, I will most likely be working on some other project either for Keshet, or another organization I am passionate about. I love advocating for human rights, creating art, and playing music. But I’m also fascinated by all things Jewish. I have a strong passion for Judaism, and for me that passion is constantly changing, as is my view of the world. As the world changes, so do we, and we must adapt. I'd like to thank everyone who has supported me throughout my life. Each and every one of you has made an impact on me, and has made me into the person I am today. Todah Rabah! 

Who is a leader that inspires you? Abraham Joshua Heschel 

How do you give back? I strive to make sure that everyone feels comfortable in the spaces that they are in.  

Being Jewish is...  striving to make a change in the world. 


Meet Danielle Wolff 

Danielle Wolff

I go to Vernon Hills High School. At my synagogue, Congregation Or Shalom, I’m a Hebrew tutor, President of the youth group, and a part of the post confirmation class. I have been involved with NFTY-CAR, the Chicago Diller Teen Fellowship, and URJ OSRUI.  
I would like to thank my Or Shalom family. I couldn't be where I am today without you. I thank you for your support, faith, and the energy that you have given to me. The clergy, my friends, Jew Crew, and all the students that I have been blessed to have worked with have truly sparked my passion for Judaism. I would especially like to thank Marcia Cohen for being my mentor and supporting me through my Jewish journey.  
My biggest thank you goes to my biggest cheerleaders: my parents. Mom and dad, I love you a lot and thank you for supporting me through it all. 

Who is a leader that inspires you? My mom  

How do you give back? I give back by encouraging young Jewish people to get involved in their communities and by teaching young people about Judaism and helping them form their own Jewish identities.  

Being Jewish is... being able to be a part of a worldwide community.

Meet Your Honorees: Jordana Bornstein, Zev Blumenthal, and Abbey Finn

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Meet Jordana Bornstein 

Jordana Bornstein

My name is Jordana Bornstein and I am a senior at Deerfield High School and will be attending the Gallatin School of Individualized Study at New York University in the fall. I am honored to have been selected for this award and would like to express gratitude to my parents for supporting me and Naomi Segal for nominating me. In high school, my proudest accomplishments have been my work as a Research Training Intern, interning with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and helping to create Deerfield High School’s Genocide Commemoration Day. I am unsure of what I want to do in the future, but I am passionate about literature, politics, art, and history and I hope to discover and engage in all of these fields and more in the years to come. I am also a member of Temple Jeremiah, and in recent years have become more involved in both my synagogue and Judaism in general. I hope to continue this path of self-discovery in college and beyond. 

Dream Job? Author 

Something most people don’t know about me is... I have a really good sense of direction/navigation 

Who is a leader that inspires you? My mom! Lizzy Garlovsky  

Meet Zev Blumenthal 

Zev Blumenthal

My name is Zev Blumenthal and I am currently a senior at Niles North High School. My involvement in the Jewish community began freshman year when I started attending local NCSY events. Attending these events and regional conventions allows me to strengthen my connection to Judaism. I want others to experience the inspiring transformation I have been so fortunate to have at NCSY. I give back to my community in many capacities, most recently as the chapter president of NCSY as well as the Midwest regional VP of education. Outside of NCSY, I am involved in my school's robotics team, video broadcasting, and photography. I love, hiking, technology, and spending time with family and friends. I would like to show gratitude to those who have helped guide and nurture me: my supportive parents, friends, advisors, and directors. If it weren’t for you I would not have achieved what I have. 

Dream Job? My dream job would be as a CEO of a technology company. As a CEO though I would still want to be involved hands on with my company. 

Something most people don’t know about me is... I am a computer geek but rarely do I ever play video games. 

Who is a leader that inspires you? There isn't a single leader that inspires me. I find inspiration from the leaders that surround me every day and those that have personally touched me or those I know. 

Meet Abbey Finn 

Abbey Finn

Abbey Finn is a sophomore at Buffalo Grove high school, where she participates in theatre, serves as vice president of her choir, is a student council representative, and is the president of Jewish Student Connection. Outside of school, she is heavily involved in the Jewish community. She is an active member of USY, serving on CHUSY region’s general board, and Beth Judea USY’s executive board. She is also a participant in Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation, where she found her passion for philanthropy and helping fund nonprofits. This year marks her 7th summer at JCC Camp Chi. Abbey also serves on the multi-generational board for the Children of Abraham Coalition- which is an interfaith group working to foster relationships across religions. Abbey would like to thank her mom and dad, family, friends, and youth advisors for helping mold her into the Jewish teen she is today. 

Dream Job? Something involving political leadership at a nonprofit 

Something most people don’t know about me is... I have a very type-A personality, and I've been that way since birth when I was born on my due date! 

Who is a leader that inspires you? Barack Obama 

Meet Your Honorees: AJ Katzenstein, Mindy Kramer, and Isaac Freedman

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Meet AJ Katzenstein

AJ Katzenstein

I am a Senior at Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire, Illinois. I love sports and I love to have fun. I am fortunate enough to be serving as the Great Midwest Region's (Illinois) current Regional President for my Jewish youth group, BBYO. I am passionate about every individual finding their passion and their purpose, as well as empowering those around you to make a difference to their communities and to those around them. I live by my three L's: Learn, Laugh, and Love. I'd like to thank JCC Camp Chi and BBYO for all that they have given me throughout the years. I give special thanks to Doug Winkelstein, Bridget Rundquist, Brett Musick, and Joelle Kelenson for working hard and being incredible. I'd also like to thank my grandparents, my parents, Michael and Michelle, and my brother Grant for always believing in me and supporting me. 

Something most people don’t know about me is... that my favorite thing in the world to do is to learn something new. 

Being Jewish is... amazing and a lot more fun than many others believe it to be. 

How do you give back? I give back in any way that I can, sometimes through donations and other times through time. Giving people your time is something that I believe is extremely important.  

Meet Mindy Kramer 

Minday Kramer

My name is Mindy Kramer. I am 16 and a Sophomore at Grayslake North High School. At school, I am a three-season athlete in which I compete in tennis, basketball, and track. Also, I am a proud member of Beth Hillel Temple in Kenosha, Wisconsin, where I teach on Sundays, and am involved in my temple’s youth group. This year, I will be volunteering at Camp CAR which takes place at OSRUI, which is where I’ve been a camper for the past 6 summers. In my free time, I enjoy spending time with my family and friends, playing with my dog, Zeus, and being active outdoors. I would like to use this opportunity to thank my family for all the encouragement they have given me throughout my life. I would not be the leader I am today without them. 

Something most people don’t know about me is... that I love to watch Jeopardy in my free time.  

Being Jewish is... an important aspect of my life because it has helped me learn about myself and create bonds that will last forever.  

How do you give back? I give back by putting my time towards organizations that have helped me in the past, and by donating money to causes that I care about.  

Meet Isaac Freedman 

Isaac Freedman

In the fall, I will be attending Northwestern University in the pre-med track. Thank you to my father, Dr. Lee Freedman, for teaching me to song lead and inspiring both the Jewish and school work I do. At NSCI, I serve as the youth group president and teach K-6 music and 5/6th Hebrew. I would not be the person I am today without the constant love, encouragement, and support from my mother. Thank you for being there for me and picking me up when I am down. I strive to be like my sisters, Sadie and Tilly. Thank you to my greatest teacher, mentor, and friend, Cantor David Goldstein. Thank you to Rabbis Wendi Geffen, Lisa Greene, and Ryan Daniels. Also, thanks to Neil Rigler and Alan Goodis, for enabling the work that I do, being role models, and always lending an ear. 

Something most people don’t know about me is... I know everything there is to know about the Sears (Willis) Tower: There are about 120,000 light fixtures and 80 miles of elevator cable- the fastest elevator moves at 1,600 ft/min etc. I promise I didn't just google that :) 

Being Jewish is... the foundation of my personality and an opportunity to learn, grow, sing, laugh, and pray in a loving community. 

How do you give back? I began volunteering at my temple in elementary school. In addition to organizing and participating in social action projects through the youth group, I give back to the Jewish community through my music. I offer a spiritual and inclusive environment through music and prayer.  

The Importance of Mentorship

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When I reflect on the things that I have been able to achieve so far, I recognize that my family set high expectations for me because they knew what I could accomplish. However, I could not have done it alone; I have benefited from the influence of lots of mentors. Whether it was my older sister who I looked up to as a young USY teen or my boss teaching me the ins & outs of advertising as a Springboard Social Media Intern, I would be nowhere without the guidance and leadership of people in the Jewish community, which has been my home for the past 17 years.  

The best mentors are fun to work with, they give their energy and come to work with enthusiasm, excitement, and eagerness to move projects forward. It can be hard to admit that we can’t do something by ourselves, but the best mentors have been those that I can go to if problems arise- and they usually do. Mentors can help turn problems into growth opportunity.  I personally, am not always the best at going to others for advice, but at times, the mentors, advisors, and staff members in my life have reached out when they noticed that I needed help, and their support has shaped into the person that I am today.  

The mentor-mentee relationship is more than just a simple tango between a more senior person and a junior one. We often think about makes the ideal mentor, but it is equally valuable to think about what makes someone a good mentee. This isn't just a student-teacher type of relationship, in a positive relationship, both a mentor and mentee can learn from each other. I have so much to learn from the staff of my programs. Through trusted connections between my mentors and I, I have learned what it means to not only be a mentor, but also a Dugma (דוגמא: Hebrew for leader or example).  

-Maddie Brim, 2017 18 Under 18 Honoree 

Maddie Brim Photos

 Do you have a trusted mentor or youth professional that deserves recognition? If you're interested in thanking and celebrating your favorite Jewish Youth Professional for all their hard work and passion, nominate them here for the LEAD (Leader, Educator, Advisor, Dugma) Award. 

Meet Your Honorees: Adina Drapkin, Max Marino, and Sarah Gruettner

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Meet Adina Drapkin 

Adina Drapkin

Adina has the opportunity to be involved with inclusive, interactive, and inspiring programs within the Orthodox Jewish community. She's involved with Yachad, which provides integrated programming for Jewish young adults with special needs. She's been greatly involved in creating GO b'Yachad, the first all-girls division of Yachad. She's on the high school board for GNOL (Girls' Night Out Learning), a program run by the YU Torah Mitzion Kollel of Chicago which provides monthly Torah-based learning programs for high school girls. Additionally, she's involved in GNOL Jr., where senior and junior high school girls teach Torah to 7th and 8th graders. Along with this, she's on the NCSY 4G high school board. 4G is an all-girls NCSY program that provides inspirational programming for Orthodox Jewish teens in an informal setting. Adina thanks the YU Torah Mitzion Kollel for nominating her, and her school, friends, and family for helping and supporting her in everything she does. 

Dream Job?  I would love to be a nurse so I can meet all different types of people, while also helping and healing them. 

Being Jewish is... what makes me who I am. Judaism gives me my values and sets my priorities. These values then guide me as I embark on projects and involve myself and others in organizations throughout the Jewish community. 

Who is a leader that inspires you? Tzippy Suss is a close friend of mine and leader that inspires me. She is a goal-oriented person who follows through on whatever she plans to do. She has the great ability to include others, which I have tried to learn from her. When I was in 9th and 10th grade, she organized two girls' Yachad Shabbatonim. That is what gave me the idea to start a whole new chapter of Yachad for girls only, "GO b'Yachad".  

Meet Max Marino 

Max Marino

Hello! My name is Max Marino and I am currently a junior at Highland Park High School. I love sports, my Super Bowl winning Eagles, and politics. I am a Diller Teen Fellow Alumni, a current Write On For Israel fellow, and a current member of the Voices Alumni Philanthropic Board. I would like to thank a few people for helping me become the man that I am today. I would like to thank my family for molding me to become the person I am today. I would also like to thank Stephanie Goldfarb and Sam Rodin for being great role models and people that I can look up to through my high school career.  

Dream Job? US Senator 

Being Jewish is... a proud part of my identity 

Who is a leader that inspires you?  Barack Obama 

Meet Sarah Gruettner 

Sarah Gruettner

My name is Sarah Gruettner and I'm from Palatine. I attend Fremd High School and my family has belonged to Beth Tikvah Congregation my whole life. I have played soccer for the past twelve years. What initiated my Jewish identity was attending OSRUI. I was a camper there for six summers, and this summer I look forward to being an Avodahnik! My connection also blossomed through my temple’s youth group, in which I have been an active member and leader. I credit NFTY with opening my eyes to social action. I would love to thank my parents for their continuous support, and for the long drives to all of my activities. I’d also like to thank Stacey Lysianov, Brad Egel and Helen Kornick for being the best temple youth advisors, and for helping me find my passion with Judaism. 

Dream Job? My dream job would be working for a Jewish federation like The RAC (Religious Action Center), the URJ (Union for Reform Judaism), or the JUF (Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago). 

Being Jewish is... everything to me. I have grown so much as a leader and as a person because of the incredible experiences I have had because of my Jewish identity. In addition, Judaism provides me with an amazing community that I cherish every day. I live in a very non-Jewish area, and I've always considered my religious school friends and my friends from URJ OSRUI some of my closest friends. 

Who is a leader that inspires you? One leader who inspires me is Stephanie Goldfarb from the JUF. She has been my leader this year for an internship I’m in called RTI (Research Training Internship). 

Meet Your Honorees: Jake Adler, Ellie Rosenberg, and Tziona Chernoff

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Meet Jake Adler!

Jake Adler

Howdy folks. My name is Jake Adler, and I’m from the small, middle-of-nowhere town of Oswego, Illinois. I am currently a junior at Oswego East High School (a school notorious for literally nothing) where I spend my time involved with the school’s band programs, leading a few small clubs and societies, and doing typical student things- like studying, doing homework, and procrastinating on the two previously listed activities. I spend the bulk of my free time thinking about my next summer OSRUI or maybe thinking about my next event with NFTY or BBYO. Aside from that, you can likely find me working at Schmaltz Deli (the best deli in the Chicagoland area), making a bangin' quesadilla with my handy-dandy toaster oven, or trying to figure out how the new Snapchat update works. I hope to catch you all at the event in April! 

Dream Job: My dream job would be anything in the world of environmental science. Nothing gets me more passionate than being submerged in the natural world and examining the natural beauties of the system that we live within. 

Something most people don’t know about me is... that I definitely prefer soy butter over peanut butter even though I'm not allergic whatsoever.  

Who is a leader that inspires you? I’m personally inspired by one of BBYO’s previous leaders, Joey Greenebaum. Not only did Joey revolutionize the way the South Suburbs functioned as a center for Jewish life, but also he saw hope in the Western Suburbs as we were developing into one of our own. He inspired so many people to be leaders and persist within their communities, and he’s one of the reasons I found my passion within Judaism. 

Meet Ellie Rosenberg!

Ellie Rosenberg

Hello, my name is Ellie Rosenberg. I'm a junior at Evanston Township High School and I spend my summers at the URJ camp OSRUI in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin. I grew up going to Chicago Jewish Day School. This past year, I was a fellow in Diller Teen Fellows and I'm currently part of a weekly Jewish teen learning group. I'm very involved with my school's Israeli club and its Hebrew program, I run cross-country, and I'm part of my school's Speech and Debate team in Extemporaneous Speaking. I also enjoy cooking with my sisters, walking my dog, and going to the beach! I'm thrilled to be an 18 Under 18 Honoree and I would like to thank my wonderful family, caring friends, and the many inspiring leaders in my life from camp, CJDS, Diller, and the Evanston community. 

Dream Job? Environmental Engineer or Behavioral Economist 

Something most people don’t know about me is... one of my goals is to run a marathon in each state and Israel! 

Who is a leader that inspires you? Ruth Bader Ginsburg 

Meet Tziona Chernoff!

Tziona Chernoff

I currently attend Ida Crown Jewish Academy as a Senior. I went to Hillel Torah North Surburban Day School for my Elementary education. I will be going to Israel for a gap year next year, spending my year at Ein Hanatziv. I will then go to NYU for Special Education and Early Childhood Development. I have been volenteering in La Ribida Hostpital for the last year, where on Sunday Mornings I go from room to room spending my time with the patients. I am on the regional board of Young Judaea Midwest as Bogrim Programmer (head of educational programming for 8 through 12 graders).In Young Judaea I have learned a new appreciation for pluralism, and the ability to have to have open conversations with people from all different backgrounds. I was also the head of my high school yearbook. This has taught me a great deal of patient and ability to work with others. I would like to thank my family for there unending support, thank you so much for all you do for me. 

Dream Job? A dream job of mine is training teachers in third world countries how to teach in Special Needs Classrooms.

Something most people don’t know about me is... I have memorized most of Wicked and Hamilton.

Who is a leader that inspires you? Golda Meir 

How a 5 day Trip to NYC Helped my Son Discover his Jewish Identity

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I cannot say enough wonderful things about the  Springboard School Break trip that my son, Jared, attended over President’s Day weekend.  In fact, I have been so vocal about the trip that someone asked me to write about it. 

Let’s back up a bit.  My son Jared is 15 and a freshman in high school. He was s somewhat engaged at Hebrew school through his bar-mitzvah and celebrated holidays with the family, but he never had a real interest in Judaism.  I am a B’nai mitzvah tutor and fairly engaged with multiple congregations, I’ve been to Israel, my daughter is a b’nai mitzvah tutor at our temple, she got confirmed and went on Ta’am Yisrael. Jared did not want to go on Ta’am, or to Jewish overnight camp or join BBYO.  He has been very engaged with Keshet—doing Buddy Baseball, Buddy Bowling and Special Olympics since the year before his mitzvah, but he was resistant to doing anything else. I didn’t want to push it and after a while I stopped telling him about various things that different organizations were offering.   

Springboard NYC

Until, that is, someone told me about a VERY reasonably priced trip through Springboard to NYC over President’s Day weekend.  When I asked Jared about it, he thought on it for a few days and then decided that it sounded like fun. I had only recently heard of Springboard from colleagues that I met while preparing to chaperone Ta’am Yisrael. The Springboard staff was so excited, and I knew that it was going to be a good trip for Jared.  But, I had no idea just HOW good. 

I dropped Jared off at the airport and said a quick goodbye.  He brought his phone on the trip, but I only received few texts while he was gone saying he was having a great time.  NCSY, the organization that ran this Springboard program, kept us updated on Facebook Live so I saw glimpses of the group in New York and everyone seemed to be having a great time. They did a ton of things while they were there, but the highlights he talked about when he got home included going on the Staten Island Ferry; speaking to a NYC police officer about 9/11, spending Shabbat in a NYC hotel, ice skating at Rockefeller plaza and doing tzedakah by sending clothes to Israel. 

Since his return home, he has asked about going on future Springboard trips and joined our local BBYO chapter.  I could not be more thrilled to see him getting involved in the Jewish community. Thank you, Springboard! 

-Mara Heichman, mother of Jared Heichman (Big Apple Adventure 2018 Participant) 

What I Learned from my StandWithUs Internship

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My name is David Levin and I am currently a StandWithUs High School Intern. I live in Highland Park, IL and am a junior at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School.  

The  StandWithUs internship begins in the late summer with a week­long conference in Los Angeles. At the conference the interns are taught various facets of the Israeli/­Palestinian conflict, as well as communication skills to effectively promote Israel. A highlight for me, was meeting high school interns from around the U.S. and Canada. It was really cool and inspiring to meet other kids from around the country who are just as passionate about Israel as I am. I became great friends with many of the other interns and interact with them on a daily basis.  

Stand With Us

The next time all of the interns are together is at the winter conference which is also held in Los Angeles. However, this conference is not only for high school interns, it is for anybody involved with StandWithUs, including college students, philanthropists, professionals, lay leaders and staff. Here, I had the opportunity to interact with world class speakers and experts on Israeli affairs and to see first­hand the extent of StandWithUs’s reach. I also learned what StandWithUs can do to help students both in high school and on college campuses.  

David Levin

Aside from the conference, components of the internship include participating in monthly video­chats to further learn about Israel and to organize StandWithUs events. The internship gave more knowledge about Israel, and new insight into the Israeli­/Palestinian conflict.  It was also a great opportunity to learn new skills organization and professionalism. Through the internship I learned how to coordinate events, manage logistical details, and communicate with individuals in a professional matter.  Most importantly, while I gained a lot of valuable skills, I was also able to have fun and make memories that will last a lifetime.  

Adding Some Jewish To Your Week: Do You Have to Apologize if You Accidentally Make a Mistake?

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If you do something wrong, you're supposed to say you're sorry. But what happens if you accidentally do something wrong- do you still need to apologize? In this week’s Torah Reading, Parshat Vayikra, we hear a lot about the laws of sacrifices, specifically how and what to give in order to atone for different sins. But behind this seemingly outdated concept are some pretty compelling moral principles. Check out what international religious leader, philosopher, award-winning author Rabbi Jonathan Sacks has to say about why our actions are just as important as our words.

Purim 2018: V'nahafoch Hu!

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Purim is a holiday that is all about switching roles. On Purim, we say "Venahafoch Hu!" (He was switched). In the traditional Purim story, the Jewish people were switched from being victims and defenders. Haman (boo!) was switched from being the king's most trusted advisor to an enemy of the kingdom. Esther and Mordechai were switched from being lowly citizens, to the queen and the king's highest advisor! Thanks to the bravery of Queen Esther and the intelligence of Mordechai, the Jewish people were able to switch from being a people facing destruction at the hands of wicked Haman (boo!) to a people with the power to consider how they should respond to those who wish to do them harm.  On Purim, we celebrate by dressing up in costume in order to switch into a new identity for the day and we are encouraged to switch from regulating our "vices," to eating and drinking to excess.  

Today we celebrate Purim.  What can you do to honor the heroes of our Purim story? Will you switch your dress or daily routine? Stand up and speak out for what you believe in? Try to make social change like Esther and Mordechai? Take some time today to reflect on our Purim story and its heroes, and how we can emulate their behavior to "Venahafoch hu" today! 

Adding Some Jewish into Your Week: Havdalah

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I just returned from a week in Israel staffing Ta'am Yisrael, the Community Foundation for Jewish Education (CFJE)'s trip to Israel for 8th graders.  I had an amazing time exploring Israel with 180 Jewish teens from around the Chicago area. Now all the participants are back in school and the staff are back at work and I've been thinking a lot about how we separate different experiences. How does one return from a week long, intense, immersive, potentially life changing Jewish experience, and jump back into a normal routine? 

My thoughts wandered to the Jewish tradition of Havdalah (the ceremony for ending shabbat) that our group participated in on Saturday night in Israel. Each week, at the end of Shabbat, we thank God and say blessing over wine, spices, and the flame of the havdalah candle. Each of these has significance in the separation between Shabbat and the rest of the week. 

One havdalah custom is to dip your fingers into the wine after the ceremony is over and to put some behind your ears and in your pockets. This symbolic action was created to encourage people smell the sweetness of the wine and carry its sweetness in their pockets all week. By carrying the sweetness of Shabbat with us at all times and it sustains us until the next week.  

Before leaving Israel, my group created our own sort of Havdalah.  We took a moment to recognize and reflect on the differences that would separate our time in Israel from our normal lives at home. We spoke about the experiences we had together, the affect it had on our lives, and on how to bring those experiences home with us.  

Havdalah, like many Jewish customs, was created for a specific purpose but the themes can be used to enhance all our experiences, even those outside of Shabbat. By taking the time to differentiate between different experiences and to reflect on the movement from one experience to another, we can really process what we've learned and achieved, and give each new experience infinitely more meaning in our lives.  

Adding Some Jewish into Your Week: Traveling Judaism

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Looking for some new thoughts on this week’s Torah reading? In this series, Daniel unpacks some of the questions that we can ask about the stories in the Torah. Below are his reflections on Parshat Terumah: 

This week’s parsha contains two of my favorite Jewish themes. In this parsha, God asks the Israelites to contribute their gold, silver, copper, and other high value items in order to build the Mishkan, the traveling tabernacle. Then, God gives Moses specific instructions and specifications on how to build the Mishkan so that it can be dismantled, transported, and reassembled as the Israelites journey through the desert towards the land of Israel. 

The first important theme in this parsha can be found in its name: Terumah. In Hebrew, the word terumah means contribution. This is an extremely simple, yet fundamental, part of Jewish life: the idea that in order for our community to flourish, each person must contribute. We even have a ceremony that celebrates the commencement of each Jewish teen's ability to begin to contribute to the community: a bar/bat mitzvah. This can be found throughout Jewish life – from the need for ten people to form a minyan (quorum) in order to pray, to our prayer structure where each blessing must have someone to say amen in response. Each person brings their own background, their own personal prayers, and their own voice to the table, and the community cannot thrive without each individual contribution to the greater whole. 

The second theme that resonates for me is Judaism’s portability. Moses and the Israelites are commanded to build the mishkan so that it can transported from place to place as easily as possible. I believe that Judaism is constructed in a way that allows us to bring it with us to any place that we travel. We can bring with us the values we receive from the Torah, as well as the stories and traditions that we learn from our community.  

These two ideas allow each Jewish person to evolve and grow, while still being able to immerse themselves in Jewish life. No matter where a person is on their Jewish journey, their changing ideas and understanding of Judaism does not affect their ability to contribute to the community. Both contribution and portability allow flexibility for each person to live a fulfilling Jewish life, wherever they are in the world. Just as we can pack up the mishkan and bring it where ever our journey takes us, we can take all elements of our Jewish life with us wherever we go, and use them to inform our lives. As we go into Shabbat this week, let’s all take time to reflect on what we try to bring to our own Jewish communities, and how we bring Judaism with us throughout our lives. 

Presenting the 2018 18 Under 18 Honorees

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Springboard is excited to present this year's 18 Under 18 Honorees! We were so impressed with the quality and quantity of the nominees. We are thankful to the community members and teens who took part in the nomination and review process. Springboard was created to help more teens find their fit in the Jewish community. We are fortunate to have such passionate teens and professionals working together to create a stronger Chicagoland Jewish community. Join us at 18 Under 18: A Celebration of Jewish Teens on April 16, 2018 to celebrate our 18 Honorees,dedicated youth professionals,  as well as the rest of the outstanding teens in our community.

18 under 18 2018

Jordana Bornstein, Deerfield High School 

Sarah Gruettner, William Fremd High School 

Celia Giles, Glenbrook North High School 

Max Marino, Highland Park High School 

Samuel Schwartz, Niles North High School 

Abbey Finn, Buffalo Grove High School 

Adina Arnet, Ida Crown Jewish Academy 

Tziona Chernoff, Ida Crown Jewish Academy  

Ellie Rosenberg, Evanston Township High School 

Danielle Wolff, Vernon Hills High School 

Jake Adler, Oswego East High School 

Zev Blumenthal, Niles North High School 

Mindy Kramer, Grayslake North 

Adina Drapkin, Hanna Sacks Bais Yaakov 

Isaac Freedman, Highland Park High School 

AJ Katzenstein, Adlai E. Stevenson High School 

Sawyer Goldsmith, Rochelle Zell Jewish High School 

Carly Colen, Buffalo Grove High School  

How a Little Bit of Outdoors Can do a Lot of Good

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In our daily lives, many of us don't have enough to enjoy outdoor adventures. We rarely have a chance to breath the fresh air, put away our cell phones, and take a break from the screens (televisions, computers, etc.) we sit in front of all day.

Camp Chi 1

We need to stop looking at cool pictures of nature and actually go outside and explore. There is a reason that movies and TV shows about going out into the wild are so captivating. It’s because when we are surrounded by nature and away from technology, we can truly be free. Through outdoor adventures you can learn about yourself and the world around you like you never have before and have new experiences that you will remember for the rest of your life.

Breakaway Wilderness Adventure

This Spring Break, on March 26-30, Camp Chi and Springboard are hosting Breakaway: Wilderness Adventure. This program will teach a variety of important life and survival skills and will help you discover how crafty and savvy you can be! You will learn the basics, such as navigating, team building, and safety skills, but will also learn all about fire building (without a lighter), cooking over a fire, shelter building, trail blazing, and more! Not only this, but campers will also get to explore the trees while zip lining, taking on the challenges of the ropes course, and conquering the Aerial Adventure Course! This program will be an experience unlike any other, and we hope to see you there.

Camp Chi 2

If you spend your spring break indoors, you may miss out on amazing opportunities and valuable skill building. This March, break out with BreakAway: Wilderness Adventure!

Breakaway Wilderness Adventure 2

Meet Jessie: JCC Chicago's Newest Team Member

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Hi! I’m JCC Chicago’s newest hire, Jessie Morris. I couldn’t be more excited about joining the team of awesome teen engagement professionals here in Chicago! My role is working primarily with Jewish Student Connection (JSC), an afterschool club in 15 different schools across the Chicagoland area, where teens can meet up to explore Jewish values and build a community together. JSC Clubs are great place to meet people outside of your usual social circle and make new friends you might not have had a chance to meet otherwise. 


A little about me: I’m from Nebraska (Go Huskers!), I studied Political Science at Bradley University, and moved up to Chicago after graduation. I compete in the Chicago Triathlon every year, play competitive bocce ball, and love Thai food. I also love spending time with my family, especially my two-year-old nephew.  

I am so thrilled to have the opportunity work with teens across the Chicagoland area. I was very active in BBYO in high school and had some really awesome advisors. They were people I looked up to and encouraged me to try new experiences and break out of my shell.  Now, through JSC I get to be the one encouraging teens to try something new. 

So, itf you are interested in JSC, have any ideas for cool teen programs, or just want to talk about the latest episode of Riverdale, please don’t hesitate to reach out!  

-Jessie Morris

How Taking a Risk at Camp Changed My Life

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Music has been a significant part of my life since I was ten years old. If I had not made the choice eight years ago to be courageous and sing in front of an audience, my personality would not be what it is today. 

Molly Handleman

The first time I sang in front of anyone, it was on a stage in front of three hundred people. I was only ten years old, participating in my first overnight camp experience and trying to figure out what I desired to do for the rest of my life. I decided to take a risk by signing up for the camp talent show to experiment with my possible singing abilities. Once I got up on stage and started to sing in front of my entire camp, filled with people I had just met two weeks ago, I instantly fell in love with singing.  

When I was nine years old, I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder. I became insecure, fearful, and unable to live in the moment. I used singing and songwriting as a coping strategy.  Every time I felt anxious, I would pick up a pencil and start writing down my thoughts and they would eventually turn into a song. I would also constantly sing and listen to my music so that the daunting thoughts of anxiety would drift from my mind. 

Music gives me a purpose. Today, even though I struggle with my anxiety, I am so much better than I have ever been because music saved me from the horrifying anxiety attacks, loss of hope, and fear that I would never get better.  I dream of a career where I can sing professionally and am working hard toward that dream. 

I am so honored to be performing at 18 Under 18 this April. I have sung in front of over 1,000 people and have experience performing at all different kinds of events, but I have never sung in front of a crowd of my peers. I am eager to be a part of a celebration of teens in Chicago and to perform for a crowd filled with people in my generation. 

-Molly Handleman, Junior 

Adding Some Jewish Into Your Week: Learning from the Other

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By: Daniel Warshawsky

Looking for some new thoughts on this week’s Torah reading? In this series, Daniel unpacks some of the questions that we can ask about the stories in the Torah. Below are his reflections on Parshat Yitro:

Who do we learn our greatest lessons from? What do we do when something becomes too big a burden to bear alone? These are the two big questions that came to mind as I read through Parshat Yitro. Now, you're probably asking yourself what these two questions and answers have to do with each other, if anything at all. In this week's Torah reading we learn some our most important lessons from people who are different from us, and when something becomes too difficult for us to bear alone, we should rely on those around us. It happens that, in this parsha, Moses learn this important lesson from Yitro, a man who comes from outside the Israelite camp.

Yitro is a Midianite, and father of Moses' wife, Tzipporah. After hearing about God's great miracles, Yitro leaves Midian and comes to the Israelite camp, and brings with him Moses' wife and two sons. After arriving at the camp, he sees how Moses has attempted to lead the people completely alone, and advises him to create a group of judges to help him govern and administrate the people.

From this short excerpt from our story, we learn the two important ideas of asking for help and accepting insight from people who are outside our situation. Yitro is not an Israelite. He has no prior relationship with the Israelites as a people, yet he gives Moses advice that completely changes the makeup of this new nation of people. From this we are taught that we have so much to learn from people who are different than us, and that it often takes an outsider to point us in the right direction.

Equally as important as who taught Moses the lesson, is the lesson itself, that we cannot do everything alone. Up until Yitro's entrance to the Israelite camp, Moses had been leading the people completely by himself. Sure, his brother Aaron helped him a bit, but he was making all of the major decisions on his own. Yitro could see the toll this was taking on Moses and taught him an incredibly important lesson – that he needed to learn to rely on the people around him.

These are two lessons that we should take to heart. No burden should be carried alone, and people who are the most different from us can teach us the most important lessons. We have the benefit of living in a diverse country where we can be surrounded by people who are different from us. Let's make sure to heed the lessons from Parshat Yitro, and find ways to share our burdens and benefit from the wisdom of others.

Adding Some Jewish into Your Week: What Happened to All of the Miracles?

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Looking for some new thoughts on this week’s Torah reading? In this series, Daniel unpacks some of the questions that we can ask about the stories in the Torah. Below are some reflections on Parshat Beshalach: 

Usually, before I write these weekly posts, I read through the upcoming parsha to get some inspiration. Normally, I am left with a number of questions and have many ideas of what I could talk about. After reading through Parshat Beshalach, however, I'm left only with one big question: What happened to all the miracles? 

In this week's parsha, God makes a number of miraculous things happen. Moses raises his staff over the Red Sea and it splits in half, God sweetens the Israelites' water in the desert, God makes water flow from a rock, and God brings down manna (food) and quail for the Israelites to eat every day.  

All of this is quite impressive when you think about it, but what happened to the God who makes these miracles happen? Where is he today? Why doesn't God bring down manna and quail now to solve world hunger? Why hasn't God ended climate change and solved all of the issues of hate in our world? 

Over the last few weeks I've written a lot about God as a complex character in the bible. When I read through these stories each week, I see a changing, growing God who develops gradually over time. In the early stories of the bible, God intervenes a great deal. God plays a major role in what happens to our ancestors and the "heroes" of the bible. But when I look at the story as a whole, I begin to see the nuances of how God interacts with the world and the changes in his behavior over time.  

In the beginning, God creates the world and everything in it. God is extremely active and participatory in everything that happens on earth up until the story of Noah and the flood. At this point, God takes a step back and lets the story play out without as much intervention. God speaks with some, but not all, of our characters. Instead of making significant interjections, God pushes and nudges humanity in the right direction through different leaders. This limited guidance lasts until God gives the Israelites the 10 commandments at Mount Sinai. After this point, God takes another step back, now existing as a guiding cloud for the people. Moses appoints judges and leaders to help guide the Israelites, and God leaves them mostly to themselves. Finally, once the people enter the land of Israel, the manna stops and God's physical manifestation on earth ends.  

At this point, humanity is trusted to make its own decisions. When I think about the God that resolved all of our problems for us with miracles, I think about how little responsibility people demonstrated and how much we have learned over time. As a people, we have evolved alongside God. We are now deciding for ourselves where to go and what to do. With this independence comes the understanding that we have an obligation to address problems that arise but we also have the ability to solve them.  God has done God's part in teaching us and helping us grow, and has passed on the responsibility of fixing problems to us. Now we have the opportunity to create the miracles that will address the issues in our world.  

Building Something out of Nothing

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Throughout my 17 years at summer camp I have seen some amazing things. I have seen shy campers grow up to be all-star counselors. I have seen empty patches of forest turn into amazing activity areas, but never before have I seen something as incredible as I did last Spring Break.

Tree House

Last year a group of teens with little to no experience with power tools rolled up their sleeves and got to work during BreakAway: Tree House Design at Camp Chi. In five days they designed a concept, learned the ropes, and worked together to create a functioning tree house. And this was not any old tree house, but one that was built to last and be enjoyed by campers for years to come.

Tree House Group

Throughout this process, the campers came up with some amazing ideas that were not initially part of the plan, such as building a roof, windows, benches, and even a trail leading to the tree house. We got to a point where it wasn’t clear how we would finish in time with all of the extras that we were adding to the already difficult task of building a tree house. But not only did the campers come through; they exceeded our expectations of what Camp Chi's new tree house would look like.

Tree House Participant

Over the summer the tree house was enjoyed by hundreds of campers. Now we have the opportunity to create a whole tree house village that will be imagined, designed, and created by different groups of Springboard participants each year! If you would like to help us create something amazing this Spring Break, join us for Breakaway: Tree House Design, and see your dream tree house come to life!

-Kyle Kolling, Camp Chi Program Coordinator

Think You've Got What It Takes To Be The Next Great Chicago Athlete?

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There are so many amazing Jewish athletes out there. Whether you are watching the Olympics, baseball, football, basketball, or others, there is a good chance that you are watching a great Jewish athlete or sports professional without even realizing it. There are even some Chicago based Jews that have done incredible things in our own backyard. I wanted to highlight some of my personal favorite Jewish athletes below.

  • Theo Epstein: President of the Chicago Cubs who ended the two longest World Series droughts in Major League Baseball History! First, he led the Boston Red Sox to their first World Series Championship in 86 years and most recently he helped the Cubs win their first World Series in 108 years.
  • Jerry Reinsdorf: Owner of the Chicago White Sox and the Chicago Bulls. Jerry Reinsdorf helped the White Sox win the World Series in 2005. He also helped the Bulls win six NBA Championships and has been enshrined in the Basketball hall of Fame.
  • Adam Podlesh: A past member of the Chicago Bears who, as a punter, holds the Bears record for the largest net average of yards per punt.
  • Jason Brown: A Highland Park native figure skater who has won a Bronze Olympic Medal, a Bronze 2017 US Championship Medal, was the 2015 US National Champion, is currently ranked 7th in the world, and he is only 23 years old!

And these are just some of the Chicago based Jewish sports professionals! Think you could be next? Join Camp Chi’s Spring Breakaway Program “Game On” -a sports program unlike any that you have seen before. You will play a variety of sports, learn to think like a manager, and have the chance to become the next great Chicago Athlete!

Adding Some Jewish into Your Week: A Growing God

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Looking for some new thoughts this week’s Torah reading? Here are some reflections on Parshat Bo. 

Did you know that we read that Passover story in the Torah about two and a half months before we celebrate Passover? Starting two weeks ago, we began reading the epic story of Moses, Aaron, Pharaoh, the burning bush, Mount Sinai, the 10 plagues, and the 10 commandments and it will take us a few weeks to finish it.  This week, we read about the last three plagues that god inflicts on the Egyptians: Locusts, Darkness, and the killing of the first born.  

The last of the ten plagues is by far the harshest that god inflicts on Pharaoh and his people, and with it comes a major question. How can we rationalize serving and praying to a god who would commit such harsh punishments, even in the name of freedom? I'm sure that many scholars and rabbis have debated and tried to answer this question. The answer that makes the most sense to me is one that I came across when discussing this topic with friends in Israel.   

Over the course of the entire Torah god grows alongside humanity. Until this point, we have seen a vengeful god who kicked Adam and Eve out of the Garden of Eden for making a mistake, destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for their sins and turned Lot's wife into a pillar of salt when she failed to follow the order not to look back. This is the god who killed all of the first-born children of Egypt.  But as the story continues, god will grow.  

After destroying the world with a giant flood, god makes a covenant with humanity that he will never send another flood to destroy all life on earth and seals it with the symbol of the rainbow. After freeing the Israelites from slavery, god makes a covenant with them, gives them the ten commandments, and promises to lead them into Israel. Looking at these two instances together we are given a window into god's evolution. This view continues over the 40 years it takes to lead the Israelites into the land of Israel as we will see additional examples of god’s growth in how he treats humanity and responds to its flaws.   

Last week I wrote about god's statement of "I am who I am," and how we should all be "unapologetically ourselves." Each of us is unique, special, and important, and we should always be our authentic selves. This week, let's build upon that idea and recognize that we can grow and change.  Our pasts, our mistakes and our failures do not define us.  None of us are at the end of our stories yet. Like god in the story of the Exodus we can all grow from our pasts to make a better, brighter future.  

Interfaith work: Turning an Idea into a Reality

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Nearly 4 years ago, a conversation between a rabbi and a pastor sparked an idea: What if youth from both communities took a trip to the south together? Since its inception that day, the concept of an educational, interfaith trek southward continued to resurface, and has finally become reality. Let’s Get Together: An Interfaith Journey Toward Justice will bring Chicago's African American and Jewish teens together on a journey to explore our shared history in the Civil Rights Movement.  Far from being a simple sightseeing trip, participants will return to Chicago armed with strong bonds of friendship; a deep sense of shared purpose; and the leadership skills which will allow them to be change-agents in their communities.   

The chaperones for Let’s Get Together - volunteers from a variety of Chicago-based Jewish organizations - are all hugely excited to be taking part in the program’s maiden voyage.  As one stated in early correspondence with the group, “I am so grateful … for [this] vision of breaking down barriers, building connections, and empowering our youth to harness their collective power in advocating for lasting change, reconciliation, & justice.”  The colleague of another expressed his regret that he couldn’t return to 9th grade for the trip! 

The appeal of Let’s Get Together is simple.  If you are curious to learn from those who are different than you, or eager to explore your own past; if you want to see new places and make new bonds; if you are tired of how our city/country is so divided and are looking for a way to effect change, this trip is for you.

Sign up today at

Here are just a few of the historically significant places that Let’s Get Together will visit as we travel to Little Rock, Arkansas; Memphis, Tennessee; St. Louis, Missouri; and Springfield, Illinois:

Little Rock High

Civil Rights Museum

St. Louis Arch

Springfield IL Capitol

What I Gained from Participating in Voices

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I have been a part of the JUF program “Voices” for three years now, and joining was one of the best decisions I have ever made. Voices is a Chicago Teen Foundation where high school students participate in a year-long program, learning the ins and outs of grant making through a Jewish lens and making real allocations to causes participants care about.  

Carly Colen

 “Voices 101” is for first-year participants and they have $25,000 to donate to non-profits by the end of the year. Participants break up into committees based upon their non-profit interests and perform community needs research. Throughout the year, participants are taught about grants, budget analysis and site-visits and at the end, the money is donated. It sounds relatively simple but it isn't. Not only does it teach teens about philanthropic concepts, but also about what they value as people. “Voices” teaches teens to make tough real-world decisions. Quality or quantity? After-School programming or basic needs? Education or healthcare? 

“Voices Alumni” is for students who have completed the first year and it tackles the same issues, with already having the prior philanthropic knowledge. The difference: instead of starting with $25,000, we start with $0. We are responsible for raising the money that our foundation will give out in the form of grants. We create fundraising events such as dinners, art-fairs and letter writing campaigns. Fundraising has taught me a lot about realistic goal-setting, which is an important skill to have in life. With each “Voices” meeting, I continue to learn and grow as a Jewish Philanthropist. And I say Jewish Philanthropist, because Jewish values are embedded in the program. We study Maimonides’ Ladder of Giving and apply our Jewish values to our process. 

“Voices” is also a great way to meet other Jewish teens from around the Chicagoland area who also want to make a difference. That’s also what’s really neat about “Voices”, it’s a great way to engage in Tikkun Olam, making the world a better place. I know that even after I’m done with “Voices” I will continue to be an active Jewish Philanthropist and apply what I have learned from “Voices”. 

-Carly Colen, 11th grade 

Adding Some Jewish Into Your Week: I Am Who I Am

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Looking for some new thoughts on the Torah to share this week? Here are some reflections to add a modern perspective to this week's Torah reading.

This week's Parsha, "Va'eira", completes the first conversation between god and Moses. In this conversation at the burning bush, Moses says to god “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The god of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” god responds with the famous words, "Eh'yeh asher eh'yeh."

This Hebrew phrase has been translated into English in a number of ways, with robust commentary accompanying each interpretation. Two popular translations include "I am that I am" and "I will be what I will be."  Some view this as god telling Moses god's true name, others just as an explanation of what god is.  My own interpretation is that god is simply sharing a fact with Moses; god is who god is and he doesn't need to provide more of an explanation than that.

If you look at the Torah as a complex story, and consider god as one of the characters (rather than an almighty, omniscient being) this quote has even more important implications. Over the course of the story so far, god has grown as a character, and it is here that god says "I am who I am." As a character, he can be interpreted as sending the message, "This is who I am. I don't have to explain myself any more than that. If you don't like it, sorry."

The lesson we can all take from the Torah this week is to be unapologetic about who we are. We should wake up every morning and say "I am who I am or I will be who I will be."  We should care less about what others think and be less concerned with judgement and hate. If everyone could say "this is who I have grown into, and this is who I will continue to become," the same way that god does in this complex story of the Torah, the world could be a much better and easier place to live. 

What is Social Engagement and is there anything Jewish about it?

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Social Engagement

There is a famous phrase that outlines the major tenants of Jewish life: “Al shlosha devarim haOlam omed –  al haTorah, v’al haAvodah, v’al G’milut Hasadim.” In English this famous statement translates as: the world stands on three major acts- the act of learning or studying, the act of doing or working, and the act of showing compassion and kindness.  The value of giving back makes up not one, but two of the three fundamental components of leading a fulfilling life.   As Jews, it is also what we are obligated to teach to the next generation.  

Parents hope that their children grow up to be good people who care about others, to stand up for what’s just, and to leave the world a better place than they found it. Social action – the act of taking steps to change things that are wrong, backwards or are impeding the state of others – is a key part of what parents hope to teach their children, and what people who serve the youth community (like us) desire to instill in those we work with. Camp professionals partner with parents in this goal. We believe it is our job to provide campers with opportunities to learn about what matters to them, and expose campers to all sorts of causes and organizations that may inspire them to do good. 

This year, we added a Social Engagement track to Breakaway so that teenagers have the opportunity to learn about a variety of causes in their local and global community. This program provides resources on how to address important causes, organizations to get involved with, and opportunities for teens to take a stand on what matters most to them. Not only is being involved in social action a good resume booster for those entering college, but participating in this type of program supports an integral pillar of Jewish life and strong identity development. In addition to providing all of the above, Breakaway: Social Engagement does so in a Jewish setting, offering an immersive communal experience where participants will form new friendships and lasting memories.   

Interested in spending your Spring Break getting inspired and making a difference? Sign up for Breakaway: Social Engagement today and we'll see you March 25-29 up at Camp Chi!