Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Noa Mishell

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Noa Mishell

How to Connect the Past to the Present

After the death of my Bubbe in 2016, it became my goal to preserve her legacy. My Bubbe was a Holocaust survivor of the Shavli ghetto and the Stuttoff concentration camp. I began to research the Holocaust, eventually pursuing an internship at the Illinois Holocaust museum. 

During my junior year of high school, my friend Lila Steinbach connected many Rochelle Zell students with the Illinois Holocaust Museum. We became interns at the Take a Stand Center. We facilitated the Holographic theatre and led special exhibits. 

The Holographic theatre allows visitors to converse with a holograph of a Holocaust survivor. While they are not talking to an actual person, it feels as though they truly met a survivor. They build a relationship with a survivor through this incredible technology. 

Moreover, whenever I had an opportunity to facilitate special exhibits, I connected with the visitors through education and a shared interest to create a better world. Most recently, I led an exhibit called Memory Unearthed. This exhibit displayed pictures that Henryik Ross, an inmate at the Lodz ghetto, took using a polaroid camera. Visitors learned about the Nazi horrors through the poloroids. 

What strikes me the most during my work at the museum is people’s reactions meeting a granddaughter of a Holocaust survivor. Many visitors are shocked; they cannot believe that an 18 year old girl has a close relative who survived the Holocaust. 

While it does feel as though this tragedy occurred a long time ago in a distant country, we are still living in a world filled with hate. I truly believe that Holocaust education will help contribute to a more just world. Whenever visitors hear from the holographs or enter the special exhibits, they are able to pay witness. We must take these stories and keep them close to our hearts in order to create change in this world.

Noa Mishell is a recent graduate of Rochelle Zell Jewish High School, and she is currently a freshman at Emory University. Noa was a Diller Teen Fellowship in 2019. She is passionate about Holocaust education and history.

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Jessica, Claire, and Ella

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Repair the World Wednesday

We were very fortunate to get to attend the L’taken social justice seminar with The Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism this past January. The Religious Action Center, or RAC for short, advocates on a variety of social justice issues from the perspective of Reform Judaism. One of the amazing programs the RAC has to offer is the L’taken social justice seminar, and it is truly a one of a kind experience. Over the course of the weekend, we attended a variety of sessions to learn about Judaism, advocacy, and social justice issues, toured our way around DC, and lobbied congress. L’taken brings together teens, rabbis, cantors and youth group staff from all across the country who all share a passion for social justice. It felt so special to be with fellow teens from various geographic locations and backgrounds while sharing the commonality of being Jewish and wanting to change the world. One of the other amazing aspects about this weekend is that real change was made. After learning from the sessions and discovering what social justice issue we wanted to focus on, we had the opportunity to put our skills to the test and share them with our congressmen and congresswomen. We even got to meet Senator Tammy Duckworth and lobby to Congressman Brad Schneider himself! 

After attending L’Taken in January, we were so excited to hear that we would be able to extend the connections we made and our advocacy work through the Reform Action Center’s Teen Justice Fellowship. In this program, we attended 5 zoom lessons led by Logan Zinman Gerber, the RAC national teen campaign organizer, where we learned about the importance of voting and what teenagers (who can’t vote yet) can do to still make an impact on the nation. We were taught how good organizing and leadership is essential to get people to take notice of the country’s problems, and how teens are truly the face of change. Understanding why people need to vote and the difference that they can make in an election is necessary in order for our democracy to stay strong. In 2018, voter turnout for 18-29 year olds went from 20 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2018, the largest percentage point increase for any age group (79% increase). This extreme increase is promising, but there is still such a long way to go! We are hoping that through small acts of non-partisan encouragement, today’s youth will not only be inspired to vote, but will understand the necessity of voting. 

At the end of our fellowship, we were tasked with organizing a project around the topic of teen involvement in voter registration. We decided to work together in order to create an event for teens at three congregations in our area (Temple Jeremiah, North Shore Congregation Israel, and B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim) that traveled to L’Taken together. The reason for this was to encourage a strong community between the teens in the area because many of us don’t know each other, but we all have a passion for social justice and Judaism as well as great ideas that can be shared. That’s what our project is truly about: an opportunity to learn. We want to teach teens in the area how they can advocate for teen voting, even if they can’t vote, as well as how to use their voices for issues they are passionate about. We want teens that come to our event to walk away with the knowledge of the importance of voting and using their voices, as well as resources that they know how to use in order to make their voices heard. 

If you are a highschooler or first time voter and would like to attend our zoom event, we would love to have you! Feel free to reach out to any of us at ebrubenstein@gmail.com , jshade03@gmail.com , and cjschwartz123@gmail.com . If you want to learn more about The Religious Action Center and their L’Taken D.C. trip, visit https://rac.org/ and https://rac.org/2018-2019-ltaken-program-season .


Claire is a rising senior at Deerfield High School. She is a board member for her temple youth group, an active member of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, and co-founder of her local March for Our Lives chapter. At school, Claire is a member of her swim team and Mathletes team, and she is the co-president of her Girls Coding Club. In the future, Claire hopes to use her knowledge of coding with her passion for social justice to write programs that will help make the world a better place. 

Jessica is a rising junior at Deerfield High School. She is the programming chair of the BJBE teen youth group, and a teaching assistant for the temple’s Sunday school. She has been involved with the Illinois Holocaust Museum Teen Committee and her school’s genocide commemoration day committee as well. Jessica plays on the tennis team and is in the DHS band. She is very passionate about the importance of voting and educating teens on how they can make an impact on the country and world. 

Ella is a rising junior at Glenbrook North High School. She has attended L’taken and participated in different follow up seminars with the RAC both Freshman and sophomore year. Ella proudly serves as the vice president of programming for her BBYO chapter. She also is a member of the StandWithUs teen leadership council, a peer mentor at Special Gifts Theater, a member of JUF’s Voices, involved with her school’s Jewish Student Connection Club, a member of her school's speech team, and an active member of Temple Jeremiah. Ella loves all things Judaism, social action, and community service and looks forward to educating teens on how they can be civically engaged without being able to vote. 

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Rachel Nasatir and JWalking with JUF Teens

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From a young age, I have been fortunate enough to be very active and connected with the Jewish community of Chicago. I participated in many JUF programs, went to a Jewish day school, and kept up to date with the community. However, during the pandemic, I began realizing the lack of opportunity for city wide engagement within JUF and the teens in Chicago. After discussing some nuances and clique elements of how my friends and I were keeping ourselves busy, all of us were in agreement that going on walks has truly been a blessing during this time. Not only is it a great form of exercise, but the benefits are unparalleled. That is why I decided to create JWalking with JUF, an event where each participant can fundraise based off their mileage goal, whether it be through walking, biking, scooting, or any other type of transportation other than driving. Then, with the money raised, we will be allocating it to the Maot Chitim fund where Passover and high holiday supplies are given to the elderly. I have taken part in Maot Chitim deliveries biannually since the age of 3, and it truly makes such a lasting impact upon the older generations. The other half of the money will be going to Kiwi Kids, an organization founded during these past couple months that focuses on giving all families, Jewish or not, access to healthy, hot, delicious, and certified kosher meals. These two organizations provide immediate support to families affected by this pandemic and would utilize the funds raised by JWalking to an enormous extent. Please join me and gather your friends (make a fun trip out of it!), as we walk, help gather our community, and support the exhausting fight against coronavirus.

To learn more and register click  here.

Rachel Nasatir is the daughter of JUF president Lonnie Nasatir and attends Jones College Prep High School in downtown Chicago. She participates in Write On for Israel, Jewish Student Connection club, The US Holocaust Museum Youth Board, and went to Bernard Zell. She is an avid activist for the Jewish, female, and political community. Rachel is currently working on behalf of a presidential campaign.

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Camp TOV and Camp Tzedek

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JUF Teens

This #RepairTheWorldWednesday is highlighting the incredible work of Camp TOV and Camp Tzedek, a returning program and new program to the JUF Teens repertoire. Now more than ever, we need to be working to fix fundamental issues in our society and community; we can all do our part. Camp TOV and Camp Tzedek are two programs that can help you do your part in a fun and educational way! 

Camp TOV is a longstanding and central part of JUF Teens. You may be thinking Camp TOV means Camp of good, and while it does a tremendous amount of good, TOV stands for Tikkun Olam Volunteers. During Camp TOV, you will learn about different Jewish values along with a variety of local organizations. There will be hands on impact projects daily that you can participate in. Repairing the World, or Tikkun Olam, is something that can be achieved through making one dog toy, writing a letter to a senior, or helping organize a supply drive for a local organization. Every little bit counts, and through Camp TOV you will be a lot more than a little.  

Camp Tzedek, which is new to JUF Teens, is a program that is packing a whole lot of philanthropic education into a week-long camp. You will learn about social justice issues facing our community, how to read grant proposals, and ultimately allocate out over $7,000 to local organizations! Because Camp Tzedek is virtual this year, it is committed to building connections between teens from around the country, so sign up with a camp friend, family member, or get ready to make new friends who are also passionate about philanthropy.  

There are so many ways to do our part during this difficult time. Whether taking individual initiative and starting your own organization, donating to a food drive, supporting local businesses, or signing up for one of these incredible camps, opportunities to do good are out there! If you want to learn more about Camp TOV or Camp Tzedek send contact us and we can answer all your questions.  

Springboard Celebrates 2020 18 Under 18 Honorees

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As part of this year’s 18 Under 18 program, each honoree designed an Impact Project where they elevated an issue of importance to their peers, parents, clergy, Jewish professionals or community members. Each honoree also laid the groundwork for a long-term plan or took at least one action toward addressing their chosen issue. The honorees have persevered despite the difficult circumstances presented by COVID-19, and continue to work to strengthen the Jewish community. As you flip through the pages of the Recognition Book, which shares more about each of the honorees, elevates their stories and showcases the ways in which they are making a difference in our community, you’ll have the opportunity to get to know these 18 inspiring teens. Click here to hear from some of our honorees about the incredible work they've done.

Gwen Tucker

Gwen writes for her school’s newspaper and is a board member of SOAR (Students Organized Against Racism). Through her work with RTI (Research Training Internship) and JCUA (Jewish Council on Urban Affairs), her Jewish identity has become central to her passion for social justice.

Hannah Adams

Hannah is a leader of Jewish Student Connection, financial chair of Model United Nations, operations & outreach chair of the economics team, founder of mindFULL (a club that promotes the accessibility of wellness and healthy food), and a varsity lacrosse player. Hannah is a madricha at the Anshe Emet Religious School, and she has also spent the past 7 summers at OSRUI.

Josh Pogonitz

Josh has been on both his school’s cross country and basketball teams all four years of high school. Through working on his own mental illnesses, and rediscovering happiness last year, he has learned that though there are still struggles in life, it is okay to not be okay and that it is okay to make mistakes. In November of 2019, Josh spoke at No Shame On U’s annual event about his journey through mental health.

Lena Bromberg

Lena plays on her school’s volleyball team, organizes visits to a nearby retirement home, and participates in several other clubs. Most of Lena’s free time is spent babysitting. She has spent the past five summers as a camper at Camp Ramah in Wisconsin.

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Sophie Levitt and Rachel Harris

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The Research Training Internship (RTI) is a 10-month Jewish feminist research cohort for teen girls and non-binary teens.  Each year, the group researches a social justice topic facing the Chicago area Jewish community to bring awareness and action to that issue. This year’s group explored marginalized and privileged identities within the Jewish community. This work is more important than ever; it is actively altering peoples opinions and understand of the world which is changing the world step by step. What follows is an excerpt from this year’s report written by Sophie Levitt and Rachel Harris, two of this year’s interns. They chose to research race and ethnicity within our local community. 

“The Jewish community is not a monolith. There are multitudes of identities. Yet, there aren’t many active efforts to include these identities. We explored race and ethnicity and how it affects people’s abilities to participate and identify with the Jewish community. In doing so, we wanted to bring more awareness to the intersectionality in our community and better suit everyone’s needs to make it more inclusive. Continue reading to see what we discovered. 

Our research first started off with a survey to get a handle on if, and how, people of color and non-Ashkenazi participate in and identify with the Jewish community. We received 137 responses. Of those responses, 27 people identified themselves as people of color and/or non-Ashkenazi. Our specific focus was how White, Ashkenazi Jews and non-White, non-Ashkenazi Jews lives differed. The biggest difference was found in synagogue attendance. 67% of White, Ashkenazi people attend synagogue, while 48% of non-White, non-Ashkenazi people attend synagogue. These differences can be found throughout the survey, in places like camps, community centers, and organizations. It is clear that participation differs between White, Ashkenazi Jews and non-White, non-Ashkenazi Jews. The lack of participation means that not everybody is being represented in Jewish spaces. Whether it is a cause or a consequence, racism is directly tied into this lack of representation. 50% of people say they have seen racism occur in the Jewish community. Anecdotal evidence from non-White, non-Ashkenazi Jews shows this in glaring detail. 

The second part of our research, interviews, solidified our understanding that there was a problem in the Jewish community surrounding race and ethnicity. Some of our interviewees talked about the connection they had to the Jewish community, but they all talked about being “othered”. Time and time again, their Judaism was called into question by fellow Jews. Non-White, non-Ashkenazi Jews were not made welcome. The racism and exclusion we saw spurred us to action. Our work brings light to and tries to remedy the attitudes and behaviors of the Jewish community.”

We invite you to our virtual community presentation July 13 to learn more about Sophie and Rachel’s research as well as the other topics covered in this year’s report.  Please RSVP here: https://tinyurl.com/RTIPresentation6 

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Cycle Forward and Sophie Draluck

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Cycle Forward

Why is it that we feel a need to hide our tampons up our sleeves like some kind of contraband as we sneak off to the bathroom at school or work? And why is it that we whisper about our periods to our friends for fear of being overheard? When women menstruate, historically, we view that as something to be ashamed of, something that is handled in private—just one of those things we don’t really talk about. My name is Sophie Draluck, and I am here to talk about it. I am here to discuss menstruation openly and proudly in an effort to shed the stigma that often surrounds our periods, and to address the lack of access to menstrual products that far too many women around the world face. According to data from the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics, 500 million people experience “period poverty” around the world, or in other words, do not have access to menstrual products. Globally, period poverty causes millions of women and girls to miss work or school, and in many cases, drop out altogether. Because of the harmful stigma surrounding menstruation, most people are not even aware that period poverty is a pervasive issue across the entire world.  

I did not learn of this glaring issue until 2017, after reading an article in the Chicago Tribune about teens in Uganda missing a week of school a month because they lacked access to menstrual products. As I dug deeper, I discovered that this lack of access isn’t just a problem facing women in remote African villages, but that the problem is global. Even in my “comfortable” hometown of Highland Park, I learned that women are struggling to afford menstrual products due to their high cost and unattainability through food pantries and government assistance programs, and when I met with my local food pantry, I discovered that menstrual products were among the most requested, yet least donated items. 

Deeply disturbed by these realities,, I set out to tackle period poverty by starting Cycle Forward (www.cycleforwardnow.org), a non-profit aimed at empowering women and girls by promoting menstrual equity, or equal access to period products. Cycle Forward creates a positive and immediate impact by collecting in-kind and cash donations that are used to fund the bulk purchase of menstrual  products, which we then distribute to women in need through food pantries, shelters, and other organizations that directly serve under-resourced women and teens. So far, we have donated over 75,000 tampons and pads across the Chicago area, Florida, U.K., India, and Haiti. Cycle Forward also seeks to reduce the negative stigma surrounding periods by educating others about period poverty through events and speaking engagements and by encouraging open dialogue about periods and menstrual inequity.  

As a way to increase awareness and to empower more women and teens, Cycle Forward launched a High School Outreach project this year, partnering with school service clubs, and working with them to hold a period product drive for a local pantry. Organizing a school or community period product drive to support your local food pantry is a great way to get involved and ensure that women and teens in your area have the access to menstrual products they need to fully participate in their communities. Please know that Cycle Forward and I stand ready to work with you to help launch a project! 

Because raising awareness is so essential to making progress, I’m especially grateful to announce my receipt of a 2020 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award! Tikkun Olam means “to repair the world,” and the Tikkun Olam Awards are given annually to Jewish teen leaders committed to addressing the most pressing challenges in their communities. I’m excited at the opportunity this award gives me to grow as an activist and to continue working to achieve menstrual equity. You can learn more about @dillerteenawards and the other powerful young changemakers making a difference in their communities as this year’s awardees at  https://www.dillerteenawards.org/  Additionally, to keep up with our fight for menstrual equity or to join us in becoming part of the solution, please follow us on Instagram @cycleforwardnow or email me at cycleforwardnow@gmail.com for more information. And remember, when girls win, we all win, even if it’s by one boldly displayed tampon at a time. 

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Meredith Rivkin

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Meredith Rivkin

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

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

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

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

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

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with COVID-TV

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Gwen Tucker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Write on for Israel

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

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

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

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

three WOFI students

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

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Isaac Shiner

Write On Fellow

Ida Crown Jewish Academy

Isaac Shiner

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

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

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

You Get Out What You Put In By Naomi Scholder

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Noami Scholder

Write On Fellow

Rochelle Zell Jewish High School

Naomi Scholder

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

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

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

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

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

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Avi Shapira

Write On Fellow

Evanston Township High School

Avi Shapira photo

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

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

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

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

Self-Validation By Josh Pogonitz

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don't let yourself ...

Over the course of the past few years, I have learned about self-validation and how helpful it is to practice each day. I want to share with you all knowledge and insight that I have learned. I hope it can be helpful to you as well! 

Many, many times in my life, I have invalidated how I was feeling. For me, as someone who is hard on themselves, a lot of my anxiety stems from worries that I am a bad person based off whether or not I am enough as a person, etc. As a result, I often invalidate myself as a person. My anxiety and OCD want to imprison me by my emotions and thoughts creating a barrier that is comprised of self-invalidation and being hard on myself. One way I avoid defining myself by these worries, by this anxiety, and instead combat them, is by validating what I am feeling and thinking, as well as validating myself in general.  

you're worthy

What are some ways to self-validate? 

1) Actively listen and pay attention to our thoughts, feelings, emotions, and behaviors  

2) Allow and be tolerant of ourselves to feel whatever we are feeling whether it is anxiety, depression, distress, anger, or other. Also, trying not to judge ourselves for how we are feeling can be very valuable.  

2a) Similarly, it can also be helpful to not “should“ on how we’re feeling. For example, “I should not be feeling depressed.” By trying not to use these types of phrases, we are allowing ourselves to feel.  

2b) Judgements include both positive and negative ones. An example of not judging how we are feeling is, “Wow, I am feeling very sad right now.”  

3) Respond to how you’re feeling in a way that we’re taking ourselves seriously by accepting that how we’re feeling is okay. An example: “it is not pathetic, soft, nor stupid to be feeling how I am feeling.”  

3a) This step, in particular, may be subconsciously skipped over and so it is important to pay attention to not doing so. 

4) Perceive our emotions, feelings, and thoughts as acceptable, making sense, and accurate in a current situation even if it is not felt to be necessary. 

4a) Oftentimes, we may feel that self-validation is not going to be helpful, necessary, or is not deserving. It can be difficult to practice it, and still it is important that we still self-validate until we reach a point where our mindsets are clearer so we can then better deal with the pain we're experiencing.  

4b) I can’t count how many times I have felt that I did not deserve validation and/or it would not help. Then, after some time, it helped me cope with my anxiety and depression. 

5) What would you say to your friend if he or she came to you about how he or she was feeling? For me, this can be a helpful technique while self-validating because I find it beneficial to imagine a friend coming to me about how he or she is feeling. I would never tell a friend that he or she deserves to feel the pain they are experiencing. I would only treat myself like that. So, I like to tell myself to validate myself like I would validate a friend, or to “be my own friend.” 

6) When it comes to being harder on ourselves, it is important that we try and resist saying invalidating and mean things to ourselves.  

7) It can be helpful to hang up a sticky note on our bedroom walls, make a background, or even just keep a card in our wallet that reminds us to validate ourselves  

What are some signs of self-invalidation? 

Sometimes invalidation can be unintentional, so I wanted to share a few ways we recognize it. Some signs include associating our emotions, thoughts, and feelings as an overreaction, pathetic, stupid, soft, weak, not tough, not worthy of our time 

What are some of the benefits?  

Can deescalate intense emotions 

Helps self-esteem and helps to increase self-love 

Can be used as one of the first steps to coping  

Last but not least, a concept I have found interesting when it comes to self-validation is that in order to validate, we do not have to agree with, nor justify, the situation at hand. Even if we do not agree, it is important that we still validate how we’re feeling. For me, sometimes I do not agree, and after I validate and practice another coping technique, I have been in a clearer mindset and can better cope and soon love myself more, as well as be less hard on myself. An example of this concept is a case of mindreading a situation. The behavior of assuming and making judgement is unjustified and while the worry and anxiety associated with it is unjustified, the feeling is still valid.  

Once again, I hope sharing what I have learned about self-validation can be helpful to some of you readers! 

Sending my love to you all! Peace out! 

#selfvalidation #selfesteem #selflove #copingtechnique #youarenotalone #yougotthis #wegotthis  

What are Cognitive Distortions? By Josh Pogonitz

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cognitive distortions

One helpful way to cope with mental illnesses is to recognize the different ways that we are thinking. Learning about, recognizing, and then challenging cognitive distortions does just that.  

So, what are cognitive distortions? “Cognitive distortions” are unhelpful thinking styles. The word “cognitive” means the mental action or mental process of taking in knowledge and understanding of something through thoughts, experiences, and senses. In other words, it means a perception, sensation, notion, or intuition. A thought that is “distorted” is twisted, falsely interpreted, and misleading. 

The 10 different common cognitive distortions I have learned about are as follows. I have shared with you short explanations from two of the sheets I was given while in therapy. They contain explanations, different examples, and different ways to cope with each of them. Feel free to print them out!   

  1. All or nothing/black and white thinking - viewing situations, people, or yourself as entirely bad or good, there being nothing in between.    

  1. Mental filter - only paying attention to certain types of evidence.   

  1. Jumping to conclusions - the two different kinds of this distortion are mind reading (thinking that we know what someone is thinking or thinking they know what we are thinking) and fortune telling (predicting the future).  

  1. Emotional reasoning - thinking that the way we feel or the thoughts we have must be true. 

  1. Labelling - labeling ourselves or others.  

  1. Over-generalizing - based on a single event, we then make broad conclusions.  

  1. Disqualifying the positive - discounting the positives that have happened and only focusing on the negatives.  

  1. Magnification (catastrophizing) and Minimization - blowing things out of proportion and shrinking things to be less important.  

  1. “Should” Or ”must” - using terms like “should,” “must,” or “ought” 

  1.  Personalisation - blaming ourselves for things we are not actually responsible for or conversely.  

While in therapy over the past few years, I have learned about these cognitive distortions. Without realizing it, I often think in these ways. Also, for me, my anxiety and OCD tint my perceptions of life, causing me to think and believe in these ways. What this coping technique is, is to learn about and separate ourselves from them, from our mental illnesses. For me, that means separating myself from how my OCD wants me to think which is in the form of these distortions. 

I truly believe that it can be super helpful to learn about these unhelpful thinking styles, gain awareness about how these patterns fit our thought processes, and then challenge them. It may be difficult and painful to practice recognizing these thinking patterns, and that is okay and even normal. You are not alone. Everyone struggles with cognitive distortions. After deeply learning about them in treatment last year, I still find it difficult to challenge my cognitive distortions. Sometimes, it is very difficult to do so because I may strongly believe in the thought distortion I experiencing.  

Two cognitive distortions that I experience are “all or nothing thinking” and “mindreading”. Below are personal examples: 

  • An all or nothing thought- “I did a great job today at basketball practice for the first hour and 45 minutes, but that does not matter at all because I missed the last three shots I took. I played horribly today.” This is similar to other types of distortions.  

  • Mindreading - I often feel tremendous guilt and shame because I feel worried that someone is feeling angry, anxious, or depressed because of me. I may think this way because I worry that I offended them, or triggered anxiety or depression when I did not.  This is also similar to Personalization.  

I hope that learning about and recognizing what cognitive distortions are can bring a sense of hope and relatability to any of you readers. 

We can do this! Sending my love to you all! Peace out! 

#selflove #cognitivedistortions #copingtechnique #youarenotalone #fighter #warrior #yougotthis #wegotthis 

Imperfectionism By Josh Pogonitz

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self love

Since elementary school, I have struggled with perfectionism in many different forms. Here are a few examples of my perfectionist nature, I often tried to make sure my handwriting was perfect, when I worked really hard on an assignment I tried to make sure the paper I handed in was perfectly clean and not bent, and I was often hard on myself for not being a the nicest person I could possibly be.   

While in high school, my struggle to be perfect spiked off the charts. Different from elementary and middle school, I didn’t always realize that I was striving for perfection. The reason for this is because my perfectionism was a part of my OCD and became more surrounded with ”just right” feelings.  

A “just right” feeling is when we pursue whatever we are doing until we feel ”just right”. More so in the past, but still sometimes today, I may worry that I am not enough. I may worry that I am not working hard enough at the work I am doing, or being a good enough person. To illustrate, I have often tried being a perfect person who worked for a “just right” amount of hours and who put enough thought into the answers I wrote down for a school assignment. I have also strived to be someone who never metmy  own needs before meeting the needs of others. Someone who never yelled at anyone, someone who was never mean to anyone, and who never made any mistakes. In addition, I have struggled with perfect organization. Especially in my bedroom, I often feel that all of the things in my room must be organized and arranged in good enough ways, everything must be perfectly clean.  

One of the reasons why this was so painful to be living through is because the perfect and “just right” feeling standards changed over time. For example, when I would meet the perfect standards of hard work by working for three hours, then I would feel like I have to work four, then five, etc. If I did not meet these “just right” standards, I would feel a lot of distress, and a lot of anxiety. I have been extremely hard on myself and believed that I did not have any self-worth. It became extremely difficult to function.  

As I said before, not realizing that I was striving for perfection was because it is a part of my OCD. Until the third month of residential treatment, when I was confronted by my treatment team and by my parents that I was trying to be perfect, I ALWAYS disagreed with them. For many years, I wasn’t separating myself from my OCD, and therefore it took control of me. My OCD was distorting my thinking and tinting my perception, which caused me to solely think how my OCD wanted me to think.  

I have learned that the first step to healing is identifying what needs to be worked on and recognizing the mental illness. The reason why I could not see any other way of living besides being perfect was because for so long I had not separated myself from my OCD. 

One day while at art therapy in residential, I was making an object that I could use while experiencing high levels of anxiety and depression to ground and comfort myself. I was gluing together felt, faux fur, and other materials. At the time, I was feeling very passionate about writing and drawing the word “LOVE,” and so I cut out the letters using felt. When I was gluing the letter “L” to the object, I glued it on backwards. I was feeling so upset that I messed up; I was being hard on myself, and giving myself negative self-talk and then I realized something: it is okay to not be perfect. My backwards L became a  symbol that it is okay to make mistakes. We are human. I created a logo out of it that says “Self Jove.” In the logo, I colored in the letters outside the lines and colored them in in an intentionally scribbled and imperfect way. The logo represents that even though we make mistakes and that we are imperfect, it is important that we still love ourselves. 

It is important that we separate ourselves from perfectionism. In therapy, I have practiced challenging my anxiety and OCD by trying not to meet the “just right” standards and trying to live differently. 

We are not our mental illnesses. We can be imperfect and still love ourselves. We can be imperfect and still be worthy. There is hope.  

I hope this symbol can resonate with some of you and that my struggles with imperfection can, too. 

Sending my love to you all! Peace out!  

#selflove #imperfection #perfectlyimperfect #youareenough #weareenough #happiness #fighter #warrior #youarenotalone#yougotthis #wegotthis 

Path to Healing by Josh Pogonitz

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healing graph

Often in my life, I have experienced setbacks. Especially when I feel like I am making progress, setbacks occur. These setbacks can include me being really hard on myself; sometimes I recognize that a coping mechanism is necessary, but I don't use one. Other times, I may feel like I have failed to challenge my mental illnesses, or I may have an anxiety attack. While I was at my residential program last year, every time I really began loving myself, and feeling hopeful, I would experience a setback and I would strongly believe that all of my progress disappeared. 

What I have learned is that the path to healing is not about eliminating all pain. If one does have a setback, that does not mean the progress is erased. 

serena williams quote

Let’s visualize together - imagine progress as a line graphed on a chart. Personally, without even realizing it, I perceive progress to be a constant line that only travels upwards. Throughout therapy, I have been internalizing the idea that the line is all over the chart. And it is important to remember that it is okay for progress not to be linear, it is simply what being a human is about. 

To quote Serena Williams, “A champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall.” Here is my interpretation of what she is saying, what matters is what happens after we fall, for we are not defined by the pain or by the fall. Our wins are not the only thing that matter, for they are just a part of the journey. In order to get to those wins, we have to get back up after falling. All we can do is move forward. Another meaningful quote is: “Just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.” In other words, just when we may think our progress has reached its end, we end up blooming. Just when we think our fight is over, we keep on fighting. And remember, it is okay to take moments to cry, to allow ourselves to feel the pain instead of shoving it down.

Another helpful coping technique I like to use when I have a distorted view of progress is really checking the facts of what happened. I have been constantly practicing this because I while I am certain that my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs are true about progress, this does not make them facts. For example, just because I am certain that I do not deserve to feel happy, that does not make it true that I am undeserving or unworthy. Sometimes, separating myself from this can be very challenging for me to do because these thoughts can be so strong. It can be difficult to even identify how I have progressed because my thoughts, feelings, and beliefs interfere. 

It is possible to heal. “Trust the process” - I am sure a lot of us have heard this phrase before. For so long, I hated hearing this phrase because I felt so hopeless. It was meaningless to me that therapy has helped so many people because I saw myself as the exception It was not until I truly began trusting my treatment team, began challenging my Anxiety, OCD, and Depression, and began separating  myself from my mental illnesses, that I began to see my progress. I needed to trust them and my parents that I even had OCD in the first place. I needed to challenge my OCD, even though most of the time I didn't even recognize it for what it was. I needed to stop challenging my team on the idea that something needed to be challenged. I had to trust them that they were right. I had to do this until I saw it for myself. 

We can do this! Sending my love to you all! Peace out!

#selflove #healing #hope #weareworthy #warrior #thoughtsarenotfacts #feelingsarenotfacts #youarenotalone #yougotthis #wegotthis

Teens Talk Torah: Celebrating Shavuot with Recent B'nai Mitzvah

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Shavuot Learning Experience

Over the past few months, we have seen how social distancing has impacted every aspect of our lives. For a number of teens and their families that also included B’nai Mitzvah celebrations.  Many teens mark this milestone of being in counted as a Jewish adult by creating a D’var Torah or a speech highlighting lessons learned from the Torah, from Jewish mentors and role models, and from the process of preparing for this Jewish rite of passage.  

This week is Shavuot, a Jewish festival that marks an important rite of passage for the Jewish people, receiving the Torah at Mount Sinai. One tradition of Shavuot is to stay up all night learning as a community. To enhance our holiday experience, we invited teens who recently celebrated their Bar/Bat/B’nai Mitzvah to share their important words of wisdom.  

Today we are excited to present Springboard’s Shavuot Learning Project. This project features a collection of texts prepared by recent B’nai Mitzvah students.  We invite you to join us in learning from these incredible teens as part of your Shavuot celebration. We want to extend our thanks to Adam, Ari, Ellie, Elisha, Harper, Josh, Julia, Lorelai, and Nina for helping our community learn together, even though we are unable to be together in person.  

Mazel Tov to all the teens who contributed to this project and Chag Shavuot Sameach!  

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Balanced Boxes

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Balanced Boxes

Balance Boxes: Providing educational and academic activities to underserved youth

Hi everyone! Balance Boxes is thrilled to share its mission and progress with Springboard Chicago. Balance Boxes was started in March of 2020 by two Deerfield High School students, Samantha Feinberg and Sydney Holubow.

Balance Boxes is a registered 501(c)3 that provides students in low-income communities with educational and enjoyable activities. Each box is created with a designated theme. This is done to ensure the boxes can be made to the child’s liking. Boxes always include a couple of books (picture and chapter books), educational games, and/or school supplies. Along with the educational factors, each child receives either a theme-related toy, art project, sports ball, or game. Each box is also equipped with an easy to make meal and kid-friendly snack to keep the child engaged in the activity. One of the unique factors of Balance Boxes is that each family receives information to register their child for free one to one virtual tutoring.

Progress and the Coronavirus

In April, Balance Boxes delivered 240 boxes to kids (Kindergarten-2nd grade) in underserved communities. To determine which schools, Balance Boxes assists, test scores, family income, demographics, and free/reduced lunch programs are researched. Next week, (May 27th), Balance Boxes is personally delivering another 75 boxes to a school in the city of Chicago.

It is definitely a challenge to deliver boxes during a pandemic. Balance Boxes has been in contact with principals and staff members at various schools. Oftentimes, students go to their school weekly to pick up materials. That said, Balance Boxes finds a convenient time to drop off the boxes with staff members and they handle the distribution process. This ensures that safety requirements and social distancing regulations are upheld.


Balance Boxes has over 40 partnerships with local, national, and international businesses. To create partnerships, Balance Boxes often reaches out to companies that are kid-friendly and supportive of our mission. Much of the items in a box come from both community and business donations, which help a great deal. A complete list of all of the organizations that have donated (product or monetary funds) can be seen here, https://www.freetorunfoundation.org/balanceboxes.

How can you help?

Balance Boxes will accept any good condition or new board games, puzzles, school supplies, or children’s books. Balance Boxes will also accept new art projects, packaged snacks and microwavable meals, and monetary donations. Additionally, spreading the word about Balance Boxes helps a lot. If you know of a school, student, or family that would benefit from a box, feel free to contact Balance Boxes through our website https://www.freetorunfoundation.org/balanceboxes, Instagram (@balanceboxesnp), or Facebook page (Balance Boxes).

Samantha Feinberg is the Co-founder of Balance Boxes-- an initiative to get youth academic and enjoyable materials. She's civically engaged, passionate about human rights, and loves learning about history and politics. Outside of Balance Boxes, Samantha is involved in, JUF’s Voices, Student Congress (debate team), Model United Nations, Human Rights Club, Teens Stand Against Trafficking, The North Suburban Legal Aid Clinic Student Board, The Holocaust Teen Executive Committee (USHMM), the IL Holocaust Museum Teen Board, Israel Club, Teens Give Tutor and Voters of Tomorrow.

Sydney Holubow is the Co-founder of Balance Boxes-- an initiative to get youth academic and enjoyable materials. She's very passionate about ending the wage gap in IL and nationwide. She loves engaging in STEM based programs. In addition to Balance Boxes, Sydney is on the planning committee for GirlCon Chicago. She is an advocate feminist and started a local chapter of Girl Up at Deerfied High School and she is a member of Deerfield’s Human Rights Club.

Response for Teens and Mental Health Awareness Month

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It has been said repeatedly that, “we are in the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat.”  We have all been suffering the storm of social distancing and stay-at-home orders.  You miss your friends. You miss the people at school that weren’t your friends, like the kid that sat next to you in Bio and made jokes about the teacher. You miss the freedom to be yourself without the gaze of your parents. But for most, while social distancing is difficult, it is not social isolation.  If you identify as LGBTQ+, however, being cut off from support networks, like friends and GSAs, and possibly living in non-affirming spaces, may be truly taking its toll.  Along with providing networks of support and chosen family, school and camp offer safe spaces for you to express your identity and find community. Without those, it may feel like you have fallen overboard without a life preserver.  But, you are not alone.

Response for Teens seeks to educate and empower you with the tools to navigate life.  The blog post is filled with advice from experts at The Trevor Project, information and links to programs for social connection, and crisis lines to call if you need help for yourself or your friends. 

Response for Teens and Mental Health

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Finding Hope By Josh Pogonitz

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the strength within you

Throughout my life, I have been struggling with anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and depression. I’ve been seeing a therapist since fifth grade. Beginning in seventh and eighth grade, my mental illnesses became immensely painful. One of the worries that pained me the most was the thought that I rarely worked hard enough for school, sports, and being a good person. Because I considered myself not enough, I so strongly believed that I did not deserve to feel happy, to eat, or deserve love. This was a part of my OCD. When I dealt with loved ones and mental health professionals, I rejected that I even had OCD. I had been entraining in my head that all the disturbance and pain I was experiencing was my fault. Because of this disturbance and other struggles, as well, I began to self-harm and have suicidal thoughts and desires. I felt that the only solution was suicide.  

During my junior year of high school, I went to inpatient hospitalization, a day program, and then an out of state residential program. One of the first things I told my new treatment team at residential was, “I am sure you are good at your job but trust me you won’t help me. I’m a hopeless cause and everything's my fault.” Two months went by. Still, I was feeling so much pain, so much hopelessness. I thought that I would never leave the residential program. It had been so long and still nothing had changed, I thought. I just could not agree with everyone, for I was still ingraining in my head that there was no chance they were correct. I would not even consider that it may have not been.  

Then, around week number 10.5, I surrendered to everyone that maybe my struggles were not my fault. Maybe there was another way to live. Maybe I did have OCD. I rediscovered happiness and that life is worth living. I began feeling more hope.  

It all started with that first time I practiced challenging my anxiety and OCD, trying to learn more about and fighting my OCD in a whole other way. 

Fighting our demons and mental illnesses may take time, sometimes it may just be one little thing that you recognize you’ve progressed in and that makes all the difference. “Sometimes the strength within you is not a big fiery flame for all to see, it’s just a tiny spark that whispers ever so softly, ‘You’ve got this, keep moving.’” 





For so long, I was so certain that I was that exception to mental health treatment helping, I was infinity percent certain that I did not deserve to live. As I stated before, after around 10.5 weeks, I began separating myself from my mental illnesses and still today, I struggle. But that’s okay. It does not mean anything less of myself or my fight if I still do struggle, because with that whisper that I tell myself to keep going, that I recognize even if it is a small fiery flame in the moment, there is still hope, I got this. And so do all of you. 

I love you all! Peace out!  

#selflove #hope #mentalhealth #fighter #warrior #anythingispossible #youarenotalone #yougotthis #wegotthis 

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Connect Chicago Written by Co-Founder Lucy Gold

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connect chicago

Connect Chicago was started by two Sophomores at Walter Payton College Prep. Their goals are to help during this global pandemic while adhering to health guidelines. It started as an operation to connect those who are isolated with volunteers for daily calls to check-in and have a quick conversation. Recently, Connect Chicago has begun free tutoring for students K-12th grade for free via virtual platforms. The tutors are all high school or college students. The root of Connect Chicago is to focus on human connection in a time where we are separated. The mission of Connect Chicago is to connect enthusiastic volunteers with individuals who are seeking a helping hand as a result of the Coronavirus and social distancing. Through daily phone calls and tutoring, we are bridging the gap during this period of isolation, so we remember that at our core humans are connected. One call at a time, we aim to foster meaningful relationships and bring positivity to lives affected by stay-at-home orders as we adapt to our new reality. The ways you can get involved are sharing Connect on Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin, so we can help more kids. You can also volunteer today. Our website is connectchicagoinfo.com and our Instagram is connect_chicago. Let's get connected!

Lucy Gold is a sophomore at Walter Payton College Prep. She is the co-founder of Connect Chicago and loves to help others. In school, she manages the football team and boys basketball team, she is a peer buddy in Best Buddies, and will be Vice President of the school's Special Olympics Committee. Out of school, Lucy loves her job at the Cubs, babysitting, and hanging out with friends and family.

A Prayer for Hope written by Daniel Warshawsky

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warshawsky prayer

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Jessica Tansey

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Jessica Tansey

“I want to get all of us thinking about how to bring communities together to support each other during rough times.” 

How one Lincoln Park teen, Jessica Tansey, is tackling two problems with one solution in this difficult time. In the Chicago Tribune article below, read about Jessica’s idea coming to fruition for her community in need. Anyone can make a difference, and the creative contributions of Chicago teens are really inspiring. This #RepairTheWorldWedneday Springboard wants to highlight and thank Jessica for her passion, ingenuity, and commitment to those in need. 


It is Okay to Cry and It is Okay to Feel Afraid By Josh Pogonitz

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Often in society, there is a stigma surrounding crying and feeling fear as they are emotions associated with weaknesses. If a male cries, in particular, he may be seen as weak, soft, and not “tough.” Other times, in a comforting way, someone may tell someone else not to cry and that everything is going to be okay.  

In my opinion, crying is a sign of strength. It means you are releasing and embracing your emotions, as well as living healthily. It means that we are willing to deal and cope with our emotions instead of shoving them away. G-d gave us this natural ability to cry for a reason. Throughout my journey of mental health, I have learned that if we do not cry while thinking lowly and shamefully of ourselves, eventually we will emotionally explode, like a shaken-up soda bottle.  

One of my favorite quotes related to this topic is as follows: “A strong person is not the one who doesn’t cry. A strong person is one who is quiet, and sheds tears for a moment, and then picks up her/his swords and fights again”. In other words, having strength includes practicing that it is okay to have a setback and that it is okay to cry.  

A Strong Person

As stated before, the emotion of fear is also often viewed as a weakness. Many people may say to be fearless. But, how can we control whether or not we feel afraid and what is so wrong with feeling that way? Another favorite motivational quote of mine is “You do not have to be fearless. Doing it afraid is just as brave.”  

Act with Bravery

While at the residential program I attended, I thought of an interesting idea: A lot of people say to approach difficulty in life without fear and instead with bravery and courage. I disagree with this, for one could only act with bravery and courage if there is fear in mind. So, if it is so wrong to feel afraid, then how can we live with bravery and courage?  

Lastly, I have learned about the concept relating to the word “should.” It can be super helpful to not place this word on ourselves. Below are two examples of how it is not helpful use the word upon us and our feelings from the past or in the present moment: 

I “should not” cry or be feeling this way.  

I “should have” just done ____ instead of doing ___.  

It can be very difficult to not use the word “should.” It takes practice. From my personal experiences, when I catch myself using this word and then reframe the thought by saying it in another way, I feel this sense of freedom. It is one way that I am not allowing my demons of mental illnesses overcome me.  

So, if someone tells you or you tell yourself to stop crying and feeling afraid, tell them or yourself, “No. I am going to allow myself to feel what I am feeling and that is okay!” 

I hope that at least even just a little part of this post resonates with any of you readers and that it can help you in any way. Sending my love to you all! Peace out!  

#selflove#fightthestigma #fighter #warrior #selfvalidation #yougotthis #wegotthis#youarenotalone  

Mitzvah's, Milestones and Mt. Sinai

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Mitzvah Speech

Even though things are different right now, there are still lots of milestones that deserve celebrating. Like everything else, many teens and families were forced to re-think Bar/Bat/B’nai Mitzvah celebrations scheduled for this spring. 

One of the implications of this rite of passage is being counted as a member of the community. If you celebrated a virtual Bar/Bat/B’nai Mitzvah or were supposed to celebrate this milestone and were unable,  Springboard would like to help you share your words of wisdom and insights on Torah with the broader Jewish community. 

This year the holiday of Shavuot begins on Thursday evening, May 28th. On Shavuot we celebrate receiving the Torah at Sinai. One way that people observe the holiday is to stay up all night studying Torah as if we were at Sinai anticipating the giving of the Torah. With Shavuot coming up, we would like to invite anyone who has prepared a D’var Torah or a Bar/Bat/B'nai Mitzvah speech to share it on the Springboard Blog so we can create a modified Shavuot learning. Teen interpretations of Torah would really enhance our holiday celebration and we would love your help raising awareness about this opportunity.

Springboard can accept text-based documents and/or videos of the teens’ speeches. We will post them on our blog and may use them on our social media as well. Each submission should be accompanied by a picture of the teen and a caption with their full name, city and favorite Jewish food. Everything should be sent to Springboard@juf.org by May 20th.   

Meditation as a coping mechanism for mental health by Josh Pogonitz

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My name is Josh Pogonitz and I am a Senior at Ida Crown Jewish Academy. I ran for my school’s cross-country team for all four years of high school and the basketball team for three. I struggle with anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and depression. Beginning in eighth grade, I struggled with suicidal thoughts and desires, as well as self-harming throughout my life. Last year, during my junior year of high school, I rediscovered happiness and that life is worth living while in residential and outpatient treatment at Rogers Behavorial Health for seven months. I spoke at No Shame On U’s annual event in November of 2019 about my journey and experience. Additionally, as an 18 Under 18 Honoree, I am pursuing a project in the Jewish community by presenting mental health workshops that talk about my personal experiences and what I’ve learned throughout my mental health journey. My goal is to continue dealing with my own struggles while also shedding hope for other struggling with mental illness.

I wanted to share something with you that has helped me along my journey. I personally love meditations, because they help calm me down when I’m experiencing a lot of emotional pain, like anxiety. Often before I do a meditation, such as before I did this one, (https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=F8EIbBR43Q0&feature=youtu.be) I may strongly not want to do it because I may be experiencing so much emotional pain, like anxiety. And that is okay, it is normal to feel these ways. While it is okay to feel this way, that does not mean it still cannot be helpful. I cannot count how many times I’ve not wanted to utilize a coping mechanism because of the pain I was experiencing, and it ended up helping. There isn’t a single way in which meditation can help us, in fact it often ends up helping us in ways we do not expect. Some ways that are helpful for me to do this meditation are by closing my eyes and lying down or sitting in a chair. Also, trying to sit or lay down without fidgeting is helpful. When I feel anxious, for example, I often tend to nod my leg up and down very quickly. I’ve learned that this can trigger and cause anxiety in and of itself, and so trying to refrain from doing this can also be super helpful. Another thing that helps me is not focusing on whether the meditation is “working” or not. It may not seem as if it is helping at first but try and give it some time. We can do this, one step at a time!! I love you all! #meditation #selflove #mentalhealthawareness #yougotthis #wegotthis #warriors #together #youarenotalone 

How my Israeli taxi driver got me a bike and taught me chutzpah: By Molly Kazan

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Before I started working for Springboard I spent a year living in Latvia and Israel while working for JDC, a global Jewish organization. That’s where I learned about a program in Poland called Ride for the Living: a 60 mile bike ride from the Auschwitz concentration camp to the Krakow JCC. A month before the ride last summer, I decided to start training and figured the best way was to find a bike to ride around Jerusalem (a huge challenge with all of Jerusalem’s hills!)

After researching various bike shops across Jerusalem, one shop recommended I check out a Moshav (similar to a Kibbutz, a cooperative farming community) outside of town. The bike shop gave me the number of some man who sells bikes for resell at the Moshav. As such, this contact became “Bike Man” in my phone because I never got his name. I called Bike Man one morning and he said he was getting ready to head to Tel Aviv soon, but if I jumped in a taxi, I could make it to the Moshav and he would wait for me. My Gett Israeli taxi app wasn’t working and I didn’t have any cash on me, so I hailed a cab the old fashioned way. The first driver wouldn’t take me to an ATM to get cash for the ride, but the second driver would. This is how I ended up in Avi’s taxi cab.

Avi wore a kippah and spoke to me like the silly young American I am. I quickly tried to establish credibility by aggressively speaking Hebrew and asking him how long it would take to get to this Moshav because I wanted to catch Bike Man before he left. Avi aggressively replied in Hebrew: “why are you going all the way out to the Moshav?! It’s too far!!” I explained in broken (but pretty impressive) Hebrew that I was going to meet Bike Man and see what he had to offer. Bike Man said his bikes were about 500 shekels ($140) and being the silly young American I am, I figured that was a good price for a bike in this town to immediately help me “train” for the Poland ride.

Avi, being my new favorite Israeli, immediately declined this request and said he would spend the morning helping me find a bike in town because it was incredibly ridiculous to drive out to the Moshav. Thank goodness for Avi. We drove near the Shuk (market) to two different bike shops and I waited in the taxi so Avi wouldn’t get a ticket while he went in and negotiated for a good bike for me. He came back out of the second bike shop and told me to wait 20 minutes, and that I would be paying 350 shekels ($100) for the bike, new chains, and new breaks. Avi told me he had just bought his 10-year-old son a bike from a similar shop, and that I should absolutely not let them rip me off by paying one cent more for the bike, and to hold my ground like the smart Israeli-with-chutzpah I am.

About an hour and a half later (I got lost thanks to not knowing my way around Jerusalem without staring at Google Maps or Moovit), I parked my bike and walked into work out of breath and exhausted (lesson learned: Jerusalem hills are intense.) All thanks to Avi the taxi driver, and his insistence that we don’t schlep out to see Bike Man. Thank you Avi, for teaching me the value of grit, persistence, and Israeli chutzpah. Yom Ha’atzmaut Sameach! 

Jack Sloan Taking Things Into His Own Hands

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During this difficult time, Jack Sloan (14, Israel Now/ Ta’am Yisrael Alum) isn’t letting social distancing or the pandemic stopping him from making a difference. He is using his resources and creativity to help our front line heroes. Check out the video below to hear some hard hitting questions from kids around the country, and stay tuned until the end to hear a bit from Jack and when he is doing to help.

Jack Sloan video 

How computer science strengthened my problem-solving skills

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My name is Naomi. I am a Diller Teen Fellow and I gave a presentation to the other fellows about how computer science strengthened my problem-solving skills. This year in school I decided to take some computer science classes. In school, my strengths lie in the humanities since they have always come easy to me but STEM classes like computer science are more interesting to me since they are challenging. I took an introduction course at school and enjoyed it so much so I decided to take the next course as well. I currently am in a more advanced class and I even decided to join a computer-science based team called cyber patriot which is a cybersecurity team that is run by the airforce. When I started out, I really had no idea how to do any of the things I was excepted to do but I soon learned. Even though I am the only girl on the team, my teammates treated me with respect and helped me learn the things I needed to learn. 

When I initially presented this to the other fellows, I posed a question to the group asking if they are ever faced with problems they feel as though they cannot solve and what was unique about those problems. I received many different answers but the general consensus was that these types of problems were very complex and did not have just one way of solving them. They also were, for the most part, very time-consuming issues. I then posed a similar question asking what their approach was to solving those problems. I got a wide range of answers but many felt as though when they were faced with a complex problem, they felt stuck and did not know how to move on from there. I understood how they felt; before I learned this new way of solving problems, I would also get stuck as well.  I would sit in front of the computer getting more and more frustrated and making little progress. I then learned a process in computer science that I then implemented into other parts of my life. 

Pseudocode is a process that I learned in computer science which is planning out code into small steps before going out and actually writing it. I learned this in the context of coding but I have applied this way of thinking to other parts of my life whenever I am faced with an issue. For example, in Diller during leadership Shabbaton, I led a program and I had to do a lot of work in order to plan it. Instead of looking at the project as a whole, I broke it down into manageable steps, just like I did with my computer science projects. Coding has many specific rules that need to be followed, which is called syntax (the grammar of computer science). In computer science, a small error like putting a comma instead of a semi-colon can break the entire code. Problems like that can also happen in problems that have nothing to do with computer science. If one tries to do everything at once, they will get stuck by minor details along the way, preventing them from being able to formulate a solution. In order to prevent problems like that from even starting, it is helpful to plan as simple as possible in order to prevent being stopped by one insignificant detail when your idea is correct. 

The last question I posed to the group is how they could apply the computer science way of solving problems to their day to day lives. Previously the fellows gave me examples of problems they have been faced with in the past that they felt were insurmountable but found out that it really only felt like that because they did not try to simplify their problems. Since they looked at it all at once, they felt like there was no way that they would be able to achieve their goals. In closing, if you have a problem that you are trying to solve, maybe something big like the female wage gap or something a lot smaller like procrastinating while doing homework (both of which fellows mentioned during the presentation), try the computer science way of problem-solving. 

Naomi Altman is a sophomore at the Latin School of Chicago. She is a Diller Teen Fellow and is a JSC committee member. She volunteers at the Field Museum and is part of the Northwestern Medicine Discovery Program. She also plays softball and field hockey for her high school and is on the CyberPatriot and Science Olympiad teams.

My Hebrew Story by Blake Finkel

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Blake Finkel

My Hebrew journey began on Tuesday nights and Sunday mornings at my Synagogue when I was in 2nd grade. With many years until high school and more focus on socializing with friends than studying what we were learning, I did not make instant progress. Through my Hebrew school years, I learned Hebrew primarily to be used in prayers. While part of class was dedicated to understanding Hebrew and its history, most of the Hebrew I learned was memorized and not fully understood.  After my bar-mitzvah, I was inspired to learn Hebrew and become fluent in reading, writing, and conversing.

When I entered high school, I joined almost all of my classmates in taking Spanish. Everyone had taken Spanish in middle school and it was the easy choice to continue taking the Spanish path. During my freshman year, I learned about the Hebrew program at my school and my interest in learning Hebrew resurfaced. I made the decision to take Hebrew during my Sophomore year.

Hebrew class in high school provides so much more than a simple credit and learning a language. For me, Hebrew class provided a family. Spending time with people who shared the same passions that I do created an amazing learning environment where I could turn to any classmate for help.

As I continued to learn Hebrew, I suddenly understood what I was saying when I prayed. Services became more of reading and understanding, rather than reciting a memorized list. Through different field trips and community events, I began to meet other teens at different schools who were taking Hebrew and I was immediately able to have a connection. Now, I am in Hebrew National Honors society which hosts many community events to teach and provide Hebrew experiences to people of all backgrounds in the community. As a student, I wish to continue my Hebrew journey into college and beyond. As a member of the community, I encourage kids, teens, and adults to take Hebrew, as it is never too early nor too late to begin or continue your Hebrew Journey.

Tikkun Olam with Tivnu School Break Trip

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When I first learned about Tikkun Olam with Tivnu, a trip focusing on houselessness and how to combat it, it immediately caught my attention. I’m constantly looking for ways to change the world with a hands on approach so this program sounded like such an amazing opportunity. At first I was somewhat hesitant to try this new experience but that all changed as soon as I started meeting the other teens and leaders just as eager as me to make a difference. Every day was packed with amazing volunteer work, learning experiences, and time to explore the beautiful city of Portland.

Tikkun Olam at Tivnu

Ania Sacks (left) with friends on Springboard’s Tikkun Olam with Tivnu School Break Trip 

My favorite volunteer opportunity was when we visited Cascadia Clusters, a nonprofit that trains people to build tiny homes. Most of my time at Cascadia Clusters was spent on de-nailing boards that could then be used as structure on tiny houses. After de-nailing for a while, I along with two other people on the trip built a sawhorse; a table that supports wood for sawing. It was such a cool experience to do something like this that I had never done before and I felt so proud when looking at the final product. Both activities really helped me see that even an activity as small as de-nailing boards or building a sawhorse can contribute massively to the overall product of a tiny house. Another activity we did was go to a small organization called Outside the Frame. Outside the Frame is a production company that trains homeless youth to be directors and actors on films they create. While at Outside the Frame, we watched a series of short films written, directed by, and starring some of the incredible people we had the chance to talk to.

One of the things that resonated with me from this experience was when one of the women told us about how their mission at Outside the Frame is to show houseless people that they deserve more than just needs. I think a lot of people see houseless people as just needing food and shelter. While this is true, I think that places like Outside the Frame are so important to give a creative outlet to the houseless and give back their dignity. Throughout this blog post I’ve been using the term houseless rather than homeless. As we learned on this trip, some people prefer the term houseless instead of homeless because a house is just a building whereas a home is a place where you feel safe and surrounded by a community. Overall, this trip was such an incredible experience. I learned so much, experienced so many amazing things, made many new friends, and had an amazing time. 

Ania Sacks is a sophomore at Oak Park and River Forest High School. Ania went on Tikkun Olam with Tivnu and is also involved in many other Jewish activities such as NFTY, Teen Seed 613, Jewish Student Connection club, Madrichim, and Oak Park Temple youth group (OPTY). Outside of school, Ania loves to work on art, write, and play the violin which she has been playing for over nine years.

My Journey to International Sh’licha

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Kelly Fagel

When I first joined BBYO, I didn’t understand the magnitude of the organization.  All I knew was that I was in a chapter, sometimes I hung out with the whole region, and people go on this thing called CLTC in the summer.  The more time I spent in BBYO, the more it made sense. I was opened up to a whole world of teens just like me.

My chapter has always been on the smaller side.  We are a tight-knit group of girls with passion and strong sisterhood.  Stepping into a leadership role felt like a natural move for me, so I ran for my first board position for the Spring Term of my eighth grade year.

It wasn’t until spring of freshman year when I was elected to my first term as Chapter Sh’licha that I gained some clarity about my future in this organization.  There was something about the position that I was immediately drawn to. The work I did didn’t feel like a chore, and it was something I felt excited about. I was right where I needed to be.  At CLTC in 2018, the idea of running for International Board popped into my mind. It was a short, quick thought that I quickly dismissed, knowing I was committing myself to lots of other activities in high school.  Regional board felt like a reasonable goal to work towards, but not until my senior year.

I remember a night when I told my older sister, “I think I’m going to wait until senior year to run for Regional Sh’licha… I feel so passionate about it and I want to save it until then.”  Just a few months later, regional declaration packets were released, and I realized that if I felt so passionate about the position, there was no reason to wait. On the day of regional elections, everything clicked into place for me.  I was, once again, right where I needed to be.

I left for Perlman Summer (International Leadership Training Conference and International Kallah) with the intention of gaining perspective and thinking about my future.  International Sh’licha had moved to the front of my mind, and I wanted to use the summer as my time to decide if it was right for me. In order to do so, I fully immersed myself in Jewish experiences at Perlman.  I planned Shabbat services and made the most of the opportunities presented. I am so thankful for that summer. Leaving Perlman, though, I felt more passion but only slightly more clarity than I had before I left.  When the time came for declarations for International Board, I would decide what route to take.

I was in love with the work I was doing in my region, and the idea of doing that work on a global scale was within reach, so why not go for it?  I began the election process, and I found myself in the same position I was in when I ran for Regional Sh’licha: right where I needed to be. Of course, there was more pressure and the stakes felt higher, but I knew that whether I won or lost, I wanted to put everything I had into the election… and so I did.

Elections were a blur.  My stomach was in knots for every election that preceded mine, but something was waiting for me at the end of the day: a new board position or a different path in BBYO.  I just wanted to know which it would be. I don’t remember too much from being on the podium during my election, but I do remember one familiar feeling. I felt like I did when I ran for Chapter Sh’licha and Regional Sh’licha.  I was right where I needed to be, up on that podium, sharing my passion with the International Order of the B’nai B’rith Girls. 

Kelly Fagel has just been elected to serve as the 32nd International Sh’licha (Vice President of Jewish Heritage, Social Action, and Community Service) of the B’nai B’rith Girls.  She has been an active member in BBYO since her eighth grade year, and she’s taken many leadership roles throughout that time. Kelly is passionate about creating meaningful Jewish experiences and involving teens in their communities.  She is so excited to enter a new role in BBYO and work for the Jewish community on a global scale.

JUF Write On for Israel Fellows Advocate on Capitol Hill

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JUF Write On For Israel

In case you missed it, we wanted to share the article from last week's JUF News Express about JUF Write On For Israel Fellows' visit Washington D.C. to meet with lawmakers. Participants also share meaningful reflections on the impact of their two-year fellowship.  

JUF Write On for Israel Fellows Advocate on Capitol Hill Nine high school seniors from eight Chicagoland schools meet with members of the Illinois congressional delegation in Washington, D.C., this week to discuss issues of importance to the Chicago Jewish community.

The students, Senior Fellows in JUF’s Write On for Israel program, traveled to the capital as the culmination of two years of intensive study and skills building that has prepared them for leadership roles when they get to campus next year.

In meetings with Representatives Jesus “Chuy” Garcia (4), Mike Quigley (5), Raja Krishnamoorthi (8), Jan Schakowsky (9), Brad Schneider (10), Bill Foster (11), and Adam Kinzinger (16), as well as senior staffers in the offices of Senators Tammy Duckworth and Richard Durbin and many other Illinois Representatives, the Fellows urged Congress to advance the work of the Bipartisan Task Force for Combating Anti-Semitism, to back increased funding under the Nonprofit Security Grant Program, and to support funding for the Partnership Fund for Peace. Additionally, they thanked the delegation for continued support of appropriations of defense aid to Israel under the 10-year Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) and passage in the House of the Never Again (Holocaust) Education Act.

"I hope you appreciate the opportunity you've been given," Rep. Schneider told the group. "With this opportunity comes responsibility that you'll only fully understand when you get to college. Thank you for what you are doing."

The Fellows reflected on their experience and pointed to a wide range of accomplishments and achievements.

“This experience had helped me in many ways,” said Marina Foss, who attends Niles North High School. “I learned that I know more and am able to say more than I give myself credit for.”

“I learned the importance of forming relationships,” said Gabriella Bellows, who attends Glenbrook South High School, adding that when she enrolls at American University next fall, “I will rely on relationships I already have and continue to build new ones.”

Max Levine, who attends Walter Payton College Prep High School, summed up his accomplishments in Washington by saying, “ I feel confident that I can speak up in support of Israel and get my ideas across articulately with evidence to back it up.”

To learn more about Write On For Israel email springboard@juf.org or visit juf.org/writeon/

My Hebrew Story - by Stephanie Kallish

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Steph Kallish

Hi Springboard! My name is Stephanie Kallish and I am a Junior and Hebrew three honors student at Highland Park Highschool. Last summer I went on USY Eastern European Israel pilgrimage. This was an amazing experience on so many levels, but one of the best parts was my ability to apply my knowledge of Hebrew every single day. When I walked the streets of Tel Aviv I heard Hebrew being spoken in its natural habitat. When I bargained in the shuk I was able to listen to the conversations of the people nearby. It was incredible to take my knowledge from class and apply it to real and vibrant situations in the Israel. 

Something that I did not expect was how knowing Hebrew brought me closer to my Israeli family. I met my cousin Racheli for the first time in Israel. She did not speak any English so I was able to use my Hebrew knowledge to communicate with her and understand the conversations of my other family members. Every time I picked up a sentence, I was excited. I could have never understood as much as I did without being involved in the Hebrew program at Highland Park.

Another powerful Hebrew experience that I had took place in Tiberias. I was with someone who was allergic to dairy and he wanted to know if a gelato shop had any dairy free options. He was having a hard time communicating with the gelato staff because he had no knowledge of Hebrew, and she had limited English capabilities.  I was happy to jump in and ask if they had any gelato without milk, a skill that I would not have gained without being involved in the Hebrew program at school.

Taking Hebrew made my Israel experience with USY more immersive and exciting. I am thrilled to be a Hebrew ambassador this year and hopefully have more moments that bring my knowledge from class to the next level. 

Meet Mady Frischer: NSCI Youth Engagement Coordinator

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Mady Frischer

(To the tune of Sk8r Boi by Avril Lavigne)


I was a girl

In the North Shore

Can I make it any more obvious?

I did USY

Went to O-S-R-U-I

What else could I try?

Did theater too

Got into AU

Went to school in DC for a year or two

Until study abroad

In Jerusalem

Took my career goals and totally changed them...



I was an IR Major

That’s what my job plans were

Then I found out I liked Jewish jobs

I had some internships

I learned a lot of tricks

At AJC, JNF, The Embassy of Israel and Kahal



Graduation was approaching

My future plans were encroaching

I applied for a CLASP position

Working at NSCI was a smooth transition

Everyday I work with teens

Making the Jewish programs of their dreams

I enjoy work everyday

And that’s all I want to say!


I was an IR Major

That’s what my job plans were

Then I found out I liked Jewish jobs

I had some internships

I learned a lot of tricks

Now I work full time at NSCI!


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Yael Smith

My parents like to say that my Hebrew journey began at birth. I watched Oy Baby DVDs, filled with Hebrew songs, weekly, before Shabbat and listened to Naomi Shemer Hebrew lullabies as I fell asleep in my crib. As a young child, I learned Hebrew in pre-school, then in kindergarten at CJDS and a few words here and there at home with my parents. After moving to the suburbs and going to public school, I learned the foundations of Hebrew in Religious school at NSS Beth El, and I quickly realized that Hebrew came pretty easy to me. At both Ramah Day Camp and Ramah Wisconsin, where I have been a camper collectively for 10 years, Hebrew is infused throughout the day. Camp Hebrew is the best because we learn slang words that would actually help us blend into the culture in Israel. Moving to Solomon Schechter in 6th grade only made my Hebrew knowledge stronger since the language was integrated throughout the whole school day.  Once I graduated from Schechter I decided to go to Highland Park High School. There, I had to choose which language to take: Hebrew, Spanish, Chinese, or French.  Because of my love for Hebrew, I chose to take Hebrew to continue learning the language that I always loved, in new challenging ways at a high school level.

By learning and speaking Hebrew I feel connected to Jews across the world. Just recently in Florida, at a restaurant, I was sitting next to an Israeli couple who spoke Hebrew. To my surprise, I could understand almost their entire conversation, and they were commenting on several other people in the restaurant! The more people who learn and speak Hebrew, the more the language will live on. Therefore it is important for me and for everyone to study Hebrew if they are given the chance. I am grateful to be given the opportunity to study this ancient language and pass it on to future generations.

My Hebrew Story: By Gillian Rosenberg

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Gillian Rosenberg

As my phone dinged with the first text from the Israeli teenager that I was assigned to host as part of Diller Teen Fellows, a rush of excitement flowed through my body. I was finally going to get the chance to communicate directly with an Israeli teen and eventually she would come to the United States and I would host her for 10 days. I was excited for so many reasons, but especially ecstatic to be able to practice my Hebrew with a native speaker my own age. Hanna, the Israeli, texted me in English and I immediately responded in Hebrew. I had to look up a few words, but for the most part, I had no trouble conversing. After a few days, we decided to video-call and speak to each other live. Little did I know what awaited me over the phone…

The minute I answered her call, it was as if all my years of Hebrew schooling went out the window. My mind was completely blank. I could barely comprehend even the simplest “Shalom” She was speaking faster than I had ever heard anyone speak in Hebrew. Now, I have come to learn that this is a common predicament that language learners face when talking to natives, but at the time I was completely shocked and overwhelmed. I managed to get through that conversation with a lot of “Tov” (good) and “Ken” (yes) and “Ma”(What), but I left wondering how I was going to host her for ten days and why I suddenly couldn’t speak Hebrew.

It turns out that speaking in Hebrew with that Israeli was the best thing that could have happened for my Hebrew. Over the course of the exchange and then as I traveled to visit her in Israel and speak with other natives, I learned more Hebrew than I could have thought possible and even started to think in Hebrew sometimes. As I think back to how I felt when I originally talked to her, I realize how much speaking fast and with natives helped me improve my Hebrew.

I learned the value of speaking with native Hebrew speakers, but what I also picked up from those conversations were subtle cultural differences between Americans and Israelis. I noticed the way our language affects the tone we use, the way religion connects to Hebrew, and a whole new perspective on Israeli life just from learning to speak like a native. Though it has been two years since I first received that text from that Israeli in Diller Teen Fellows, I still continue to speak with her and other natives to keep learning about Hebrew, understanding life in Israel, and continuing the relationships I have formed.

If you are learning a new language, the best advice I can give you is to allow yourself to be overwhelmed by native speakers and then use them to help you improve on your own skills. 

My Hebrew Story: By Noah Srulovitz

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Noah Srulovitz

My name is Noah Srulovitz, and I am currently a senior at Deerfield High School. Looking back at my high school experiences, something that stands out above all else is how profoundly taking Hebrew classes helped me grow: as an individual, as a leader, and as a Jew.

I decided to take Hebrew in order to maintain my connection to my Jewish identity and my relationship to Israel. For elementary and middle school, I attended Solomon Schechter Day School. After learning Hebrew as a second language for nine years, I wanted to continue to immerse myself in the language as a high school student.

Since my mom is Israeli and my family is connected to Israel, feeling immersed to the Hebrew language and culture is important to me. Frequently, I hear my parents watching an Israeli TV show from across the house. Hearing my mom helping my dad, who is trying to pronounce the Hebrew words he hears in the show, I am reminded how significant learning Hebrew is to my family: it brings us closer together.

Studying Hebrew provides a unique challenge that many other languages offered in high school cannot: there is an entirely new alphabet to learn. This makes studying Hebrew more rewarding when one succeeds in mastering a new vocabulary word or finally understanding a certain part of speech.

Hebrew also provides a connection to one’s Jewish identity and can strengthen their relationship to Israel. Being able to speak the same language as most Israelis do and as our forefathers did is an incredible ability that all Jews should have the opportunity to gain.

I have gained a sense of community and belonging by being part of my high school’s Hebrew program. Choosing to take Hebrew gave me a class where I can escape my stress and reconnect with my roots. There, I was learning about a topic essential to who I am that I was passionate about studying. Over the past three and a half years, I have been able to grow as an individual and as a Hebrew-speaker alongside others who are just as passionate about learning the language as I am.

After being heavily involved in the Deerfield Hebrew Honors Society and Deerfield Students for Israel, I want to use what I have learned about spreading the Hebrew language and apply it to Hebrew in the High. Learning Hebrew is an experience unlike any other, and I wholeheartedly believe that every single Jewish student should know this. 

Ta’am (Taste of) Yisrael or Ta’am Lily?

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National Institute of Mental Health

Shalom everyone, my name is Lily Booker and here’s a little Ta’am or ‘taste’ of who I am!  

I was born and raised in Deerfield, IL and spent many summers up at OSRUI. I was a camper for 6 summers and then spent an additional 6 summers on staff as a madricha (מדרחה) or counselor. I was even the unit head for Moshavah (מושבה), the outdoor, camping unit.  

Growing up, when I wasn’t at camp, I spent my time as a competitive swimmer. My favorite stroke was backstroke and I particularly loved the 200-yard freestyle relay. While I can’t swim as fast as I was when I was younger, I still love to get back in the pool when I can. I attended Boston University where I graduated with a degree in International Relations, with a focus on the Middle East and security. I recently got a five-month-old Maltese, named Bear, the cutest, smallest and mushiest thing of all time. I live in Lakeview and love spending time reading, walking Bear and hanging out with friends and family. 

I love all things outdoors, food and traveling. Which is why I love my job working as Community Engagement Associate for JUF Ta’am Yisrael, or Taste of Israel! JUF Ta’am Yisrael is the 8th grade trip to Israel, where teens get the opportunity to experience Israel for a week and get a taste of its people, history and culture. I’ve been to over 20 different countries and plan to visit many more in the future. My favorite (of course) is ISRAEL! Hence why I love my job helping teens explore Israel.  

Interested in learning more? Feel free to follow us on Instagram @juftaamyisrael or go to our website  http://www.taamyisrael.org

Sababa Surf and Self Care

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Sababa Beach Camps is stoked to partner with Springboard Chicago and the Teen Midrasha Coop to provide a week of "no worries." Teens today are over programmed, over stressed, and are swept up in the Race to Nowhere culture. This trip is a direct response to help you find balance, have fun, and gain self-worth. Not only is this trip a respite from the pressure; it also provides tools from a Jewish lens to help you live a more emotionally healthy lifestyle. 

Weather on a surfboard or deciding what to do on a Saturday night, life can seem like a series of balancing acts! We often want to see friends, but we also have a ton of homework. We want to eat healthy, but we are craving ice cream! We want to see the world, but we would miss our family! Sababa is all about finding your balance. Not only do you need a week at the beach, just to get away, but in Cocoa Beach with Sababa you will also meditate to yourself and discuss with friends how to live a more healthy lifestyle that reflects your true sense of self! 

For those of you who cannot attend this wonderful experience, please accept this gift from Sababa that will help slow the world down when life gets a little overwhelming! 

Let Every Breath Praise You

A beautiful concept in Judaism, and a primary teaching at Sababa, is that even a breath can be your prayer. Not every word you say is prayer, and obviously not every breath you take is prayer.

However, a deep breath taken with intention, focus, and reflection is certainly a prayer. We are taught ...

Kol haneshama tehalel Yah Halleluya

כל הנשמה תהלל יה הללויה

With every breath I praise You

A Kol Haneshema breath is inhaled  through your nose and exhaled through your mouth. The goal of Kol Haneshama breathing is to focus entirely on you and your breath; to let nothing else distract you.

Of course new thoughts or a distraction will enter your mind, but acknowledge them and return your focus back to your breathing!

Breathe in through your nose

Follow your breath down to your stomach

Now exhale slowly out your mouth. 

That exhale is your prayer; let it be filled with positive energy that you are putting out to the world!!! 

Let’s take 5 kol Haneshama breaths in as much silence as possible, doing our best to rid ourselves of any distractions. We will break the silence with…

Kol haneshama tehalel Yah Halleluya

כל הנשמה תהלל יה הללויה

With every breath I praise You

Chicago Makes Youth Mental Health a Priority in Our Community

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National Institute of Mental Health

Today, teens and young people are struggling.  According to the National Institute of Mental Health,more than 3 million adolescents, representing over 13% of the population, have experienced a major depressive episode.  The numbers are equally high for adolescents experiencing eating disorders, substance abuse and a variety of other mental health challenges.  Attempted and completed suicide rates continue to rise.  

Jewish teens are not immune.  This is why Springboard, Chicago’s Teen Engagement Initiative, is making adolescent wellness a priority in our community. In January 2019, Springboard hosted its first training course in  Youth Mental Health First Aid (YMHFA). The certification program, first developed in Australia, teaches participants to better understand typical adolescent development, spot signs and symptoms of mental health challenges, and respond to a youth experiencing a crisis.  The session was attended by 24 participants representing Jewish overnight camps, teen program directors, synagogue clergy and mental health professionals.  

This year, Springboard increased its support of adolescents and youth experiencing mental health challenges. The Jewish Teen Education and Funder Collaborative, the convening body for Springboard and nine other community initiatives around the country, created a community of practice, inviting each community to send a representative to a three day “train-the-trainer” program led by the National Council of Behavioral Health. To enrich the YMHFA training and ensure its relevance for the unique needs of the Jewish community, the Jewish Teen Funder Collaborative partnered with The Jewish Education Project to create a  companion guide for YMHFA facilitators to help infuse Jewish wisdom, values and context into the program.   

Springboard’s representative in this community of practice, the first of its kind in the Jewish community, is Lisa Ehrlich, Manager, Outreach and Community Education at Response for Teens. On January 16th Lisa will lead Springboard’s second YMHFA training in Skokie.  Learn more. “This subsidized training is one of many ways that Springboard is ensuring that Jewish experiences continue to be places where teens feel supported and safe to explore their own identities,” explains Sarina Gerson, Director of Springboard.  

Springboard is a community initiative created with the support of JUF/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago, the Jim Joseph Foundation and a consortium of local funders.