Blog with Springboard

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

Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

Naomi Altman's Jewish Journey

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

I attended Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School from nursery until 8th grade. While I was there, I gained an amazing Jewish education that has served me well in life so far. Going to Israel in 8th grade with my grade was an experience that I will treasure for the rest of my life. Instead of spending time with family in the areas where they lived like on my previous trips with family, I was exposed to many different areas and perspectives that I had not been afforded prior. I am also very thankful to have spent my summers at Camp Interlaken JCC in Eagle River Wisconsin. Going to camp strengthened my Jewish identity and gave me the confidence to participate in Jewish life fully. Being part of a Jewish community has been very important to me especially since I currently attend a non-Jewish school. I have become a part of many different Jewish organizations including BBYO, Diller, RTI, and one of the heads of JSC. All of those things have helped me get to where I am currently in regards to my Jewish identity. Being a Peer Ambassador is an exciting step for me and my Jewish identity because I want to share and create programs that will get people as excited about Judaism as I am. I am so thankful that I was exposed to all of these amazing programs and I want to help more people become involved. I would like to stay involved and be a leader in the Jewish community when I go to college and beyond and I think that being a Peer Ambassador will give me the skills and experience to make that happen. 

Naomi Altman

Naomi is a Junior at the Latin School of Chicago where she is a member of the field hockey and softball teams. She is the managing editor for Discourses (her school’s political magazine) and the head of her school’s Jewish Student Connection. She volunteers at the field museum, graduated Diller Teen fellows last year, and is currently a part of RTI (research training internship). 

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Springboard Peer Ambassador Sophia Schultz

(Social Action) Permanent link

Sophia Schultz

My family began attending SJCS, the Secular Jewish Community and School of Oak Park when I was in first grade. Each year with my age group, I participated in either a social action project or service project. In third grade, for example, I made headbands to sell in order to raise money for a children’s hospital. Other projects I participated in included donating food to and volunteering at the Oak Park Food Pantry, and cleaning up a forest preserve. I was taught at a young age that the proper thing to do was to always help others and to do my part to repair the world (Tikkun Olam) which I have always directly aligned with my Jewish Identity. This past summer, I participated in JUF’s Camp Tov in which we discussed Jewish values and how they relate to our purpose in doing good for others. We met with several organizations, learned about their pursuit, and what we could do to help them. When we met with Sophie Draluck, a freshman at UPenn who began Cycle Forward, an organization that collects feminine products for women in need, I was immediately drawn to the organization’s ambition and started my own Period Products Drive. By running my own drive, I inspired my friend to get her swim team to do a Period Products Drive for their yearly service project.

In addition to discovering impactful organizations, participating in conversations on Camp Tov Zoom Calls made me feel like I truly belonged somewhere. Living in a community with a very small Jewish Population, I have never truly felt accepted besides at SJCS. During Camp Tov, I was able to make connections and share similar beliefs with the other Jewish Teens. This experience encouraged me to become more involved in my Jewish community and to apply for the Springboard Peer Ambassadorship. I am excited to get connected with more Jewish teens during my Peer Ambassadorship and to continue to develop my Jewish Identity. 

Sophia is a Senior at Lyons Township High School where she is a news editor for her school newspaper. Through her Participation in SJCS (the Secular Jewish Community of Oak Park) and JUF’s (Jewish United Fund) Camp Tov, her Jewish identity has become central to her passion for social action and service to others. 

Meet Stacy Bernstein, the new NFTY Midwest Area Associate Manager

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I am so thrilled to be in my new role as the NFTY Midwest Area Associate Manager, and therefore get to be working with the enthusiastic teens from NFTY CAR and five other NFTY regions all throughout the Midwest.  Before beginning this role, I worked on the Reform Teen Initiative in St. Louis – here, I spent 2 years building an initiative focused on teen engagement.  I had the opportunity to run middle school programs, immersive experiences, and leadership trainings.

My passion for working in the Reform Jewish professional world began when I was growing up.  I was an active member of NFTY Missouri Valley in middle and high school, making friendships and memories with other Jewish teens from across Missouri, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, and Colorado.  I also grew up attending URJ Goldman Union Camp Institute.  Here, I truly found my Jewish identity, and I can confidently say I wouldn’t be the Jewish adult I am today if it weren’t for Jewish summer camp.

With these past experiences, I’m thrilled to be working at the URJ with a variety of Jewish teen leaders and youth professionals who are also excited and passionate to bring NFTY, the reform youth movement, to their communities, and truly watch it thrive.  Even more so, in my first month, I have been blown away by the incredible leadership teens in Chicago show, and have enjoyed being welcomed into the community.

When I’m not gushing about Reform Jewish teens, you can find me working out at Orange Theory Fitness, eating ice cream, or talking about how much I love KU Basketball (Rock Chalk!)

Stacy Bernstein

Stacy Bernstein is the NFTY Midwest Area Associate Manager at the URJ.  She oversees six regions: Chicago, Missouri Valley, Ohio Valley, Northern, Northeast Lakes, and Michigan.  Stacy went to the University of Kansas where she studied Elementary Educator and was an elementary school teacher for 2 years in Topeka, KS before coming back to St. Louis to work with the Reform Teen Initiative.  Stacy is thrilled to have made this leap in her career and is excited to get to continue meeting enthusiastic professionals in the Chicago area.

#RepairTheWorld Wednesday with Springboard Peer Ambassador, Talia Holceker

(Holidays, Social Action) Permanent link

Hanukkah, Challah, and Volunteering

Celebrating Hannukah with my family is notably one of the most important events that have helped shaped my Jewish identity. Huddled around the Menorah, singing the blessing, and lighting the candles. Judaism has always connected me to the value of family and caring for one another. I have such fond memories of Hannuakh and watching the candles burn and shine in my kitchen. Last Spring, during quarantine, I tried making Challah for the first time. Even though it didn’t turn out great, Challah was a way for me to connect with Judaism and it brought me back to when I would eat Challah at Sunday School.

challah bread

More recently though, I think JUF has truly helped shape my Jewish Identity. For the last two years, I have volunteered through Camp Tov and this year participated in Voices. Being around other teens with the same values and beliefs as me was powerful. Those camps also introduced me to how much I love volunteering. It connected me with so many amazing organizations that I have continued to work with. This past summer, I participated in a program called “jaywalking” which was started by a fellow teen and raised money for food insecurity in Chicago. I am now an active volunteer with Cradles to Crayons which is one of my favorite organizations. Those are just two examples of how JUF has shown me how important volunteering is. I am so excited to be a Peer Ambassador this year because I will be working with other Jewish teens and connecting them to educational and exciting programs. I am looking forward to planning my event and connecting it with a lot of my interests. 

Talia Holceker

Talia is a junior at Francis W. Parker School of Chicago, where she is an active leader and member of her community. Through her work with Cradles to Crayons and the Anti-Creaulty Society, her Jewish identity has become central to her passion for volunteering

#RepairTheWorldWednesday: What repairs your world?

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Jared London: Little Moments, Big Impact

Hey everyone! I am Jared, Camp Chi’s new Program Coordinator. I grew up in the North Shore attending Camp Chi every summer since 2007. This upcoming summer will be my 15th spent at my home away from home. I could not be happier to work my dream job at Camp and to continue working with the Chicago Jewish Community! I have known this is what I wanted to do for most of my life, and I am excited to share with you the story of the moment that started this dream.

Jared London 1

Back in 2010 I was heading to my fourth summer away at camp as an incoming 7th grader. I had spent the previous three summers enjoying every single second of camp, but for some reason my fourth summer did not start off the way I had expected. I was terribly homesick. To this day I could not tell you why I was homesick, but that feeling was completely dominating my camp experience for the first few days. One night towards the end of the first week I told my counselor Jake that I wanted to go home. He did not say very much, and I went to sleep. At some point after I had fallen asleep Jake woke me up, and the only words he said to me were “grab your pillow and blanket…” I followed him out to the porch, and we continued walking to a place in camp called the commons. During the day the commons don’t look like much, it’s really just a slab of concrete towards the back of camp, there are a couple basketball hoops, a gaga pit, but this slab of concrete is now my favorite place in the world because of what happens next. Jake laid his pillow and blanket down and I did the same. He did not try to convince me to stay at camp, he just told me to look up at the stars. I looked up and was genuinely taken back by how incredible the night sky looked. The commons which are fairly underwhelming during the day, became the most amazing place at night. The treetops create a perfect circle with a crystal-clear night sky in the middle. We sat there for a while and stargazed, Jake pointed out a perfect view of the big dipper and then played the song Hallelujah (Rufus Wainwright Version) on his speaker. I even saw a shooting star. We got up, went back to the cabin and I went back to sleep. That next morning, I woke up and on my pillow was one of the bandanas Jake wore almost daily. He tied it on my head and gave me a fist bump. I was never homesick again. Jake took 20 or 30 minutes out of his night to change my life forever. The commons became my favorite place, stargazing my favorite activity, I wear a bandanna every day at camp, and I still listen to hallelujah every night before I go to sleep. I am convinced that without that night, I would not be where I am today. From that point forward, I never wanted to spend another summer not at Camp Chi. I went on to be counselor, unit head, and now a member of the full-time team as Program Coordinator. 

Jared London 2

I think this is a great story given our current climate. You never know when someone is going through a rough patch, and a small (or big) act of kindness can have such a huge impact. I am so excited to be in a position where I have the opportunity to make a positive impact on my camp and the greater Jewish Community.

Jared London is the Program Coordinator at JCC Camp Chi. He also runs Chi Town Connection (CTC) JCC Chicago and Camp Chi’s year-round program for teens in 8th-11th grade. He is extremely passionate about Camp and Teen Programming and the impact they can have.


#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Connecting Chicago Written by Co-Founder Rem Johannknecht

(Social Action, Celebrate Our Community) Permanent link

Repair the World Wednesday Image

Connecting Chicago was founded by Rem Johannknecht and Lucy Gold in March of 2020. Sophomores at Payton at the time, this team of friends was inspired and met the moment as individuals around the City of Chicago fell victim to isolation amid shutdowns and stay at home orders. When public school students began at-home learning, they understood that thousands of families would soon be struggling to keep from falling behind.

Pivoting to meet the needs of their community, the organization crafted a mission statement: “Connecting Chicago fosters opportunities unlocked by education. We are bridging Chicago's vast educational inequities by empowering students in and out of the classroom, providing critical services regardless of household income.”

Rem and Lucy organized their fellow students in Chicago to launch an innovative virtual tutoring program. Available to students of all incomes, the program impacts over 1000 students over the course of the year and is growing steadily. Both tutors and students alike have been motivated by a sense of community, connection, and service during these unprecedented times.

After collecting feedback from their volunteers, the founders organized two teams to guide their improvement steps. First, Rem oversaw a resource development team that crafted best practices and compiled resources for tutors in English/Language Arts, Mathematics, and World Languages. Then, Lucy created a recruitment team which has been hard at work finding amazing new volunteers crucial to the health of the program. Recently, the recruitment team finished crafting their holiday fundraising plan. With a goal to collect five thousand dollars, they are committed to ensuring the sustainability and growth of Connecting Chicago.

Recently, the organization switched to a quarterly sign up system where one-on-one pairings are made for several months. This means that students currently enrolled will continue through January! Anyone interested in signing up for the third quarter will have the opportunity to do so on their website!

Ella, a tutor with Connecting Chicago since the spring, says that her time has “been nothing short of amazing since I started tutoring with them. They are empathetic, organized, easy to contact, and completely flexible with scheduling."

The organization’s hardworking tutors’ hard work has not gone unnoticed. A parent acclaimed that their family’s “tutor has had an amazing impact on [their] son. She’s a wonderful role model and teacher. Her attentiveness to schedule, responsibility, learning needs, and engagement has been truly impressive. I have no doubt that this interaction is having a very positive impact on my son.”

The organization’s say that the future for Connecting Chicago is bright, and that their mission to connect students with high-quality resources will remain critically relevant! Currently, they are creating plans for the tutoring program to continue to thrive, as well as looking into starting an affordable summer camp!

For more information on the organization, please visit their website at!

About the Founders:

Rem and Lucy are both current juniors at Walter Payton College Prep. Their collaborative friendship initially started when they were partners in driver’s ed, completing mandatory hours behind the wheel together!

Rem Johannknecht is the Founder of Connecting Chicago and is known for his hard work ethic. At Payton, he is organizing a TedxYouth Conference, excels on the varsity sailing team, and participates in Model UN. Outside of school, he has organized fellow Chicagoans on several political campaigns, and enjoys learning languages.

Lucy Gold is the Co-Founder of Connecting 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 Payton's Special Olympics Committee. Out of school, Lucy loves her job at the Cubs, babysitting, and hanging out with friends and family.

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Nourish our Neighborhoods By the Springboard Team

(Holidays, Program Experiences) Permanent link

Jessica Tansey Image

This Chanukah, Springboard is thrilled to partner with JUF TOV to collect winter gear for those in need through Nourish our Neighborhoods on Sunday, December 13th. There will be contactless drop-off locations throughout the Chicagoland, include the city and suburbs.

This has been a tough year for so many in our community and the necessity to support those in need is even greater this year. At Springboard, the Jewish middot (values) of kehillah (community), chesed (kindness), and kavod (respect) are essential to our core principle of supporting the Chicago teen community. When thinking about what opportunities to provide for our community this Chanukah, it was important to us to create on-ramps for teens and their families to donate to organizations that will help the most in need this winter. We are proud to share that those receiving our donations on December 13th represent a diverse group of organizations serving a variety of populations including those working within the Jewish community, Black and Brown communities, adult disability community, domestic violence community, and more.

Since Thanksgiving starts tomorrow and the beginning of the “holiday” shopping season, take a moment this holiday to reflect on how we can all make a difference in the lives of others and the impact of our actions. On this black Friday, instead of buying cute socks or other gadgets for ourselves, the Springboard team plans to purchase winter gear that we will donate on December 13th. If you would like to join us in keeping others warm and safe this winter, you can sign up today at to donate winter gear to those in need.

We also recognize that this has been such a tough year for many of you. If you decide to donate on Sunday, December 13th to one of the ten locations for Nourish our Neigbhorhoods, Springboard will give any teen ages 13-18 a special Chanukah gift with some limited edition swag that will keep you warm as well this winter. Just make sure you email once you register for Nourish and she will get you a gift when you donate. 

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Sammie Reinstein

(Social Action) Permanent link

In history class, I have always read about these revolutionary elections that changed the course of history forever. However, I have never expected that I would be living through one. Before the pandemic hit, politics was not a common topic of discussion among people my age, yet when the stay-at-home orders went into place, many people my age were starting to see how government, federal and local, affects them. Whether it is tuning in to every school board meeting, watching Governor Pritzker’s daily remarks, or following the passage of the stimulus checks, people my age began to notice the role of political leadership all around them. That is why voting in this election was so important for me. I needed to vote because the while government can decide the future of the country, I can as well. All it takes is one vote.

Because this was my first election, I knew that it was important that I stayed engaged. Once the primary season ended, I realized that I wanted to have a role in this election as a volunteer, and thus, I joined a high school volunteer group for a presidential candidate. Not only did I get to call voters, but I also met politically active students all around the country. Inspired by these students and their passion, I took on a couple of leadership roles. I served as the events manager for high school women and Illinois high school students chapters. In these roles, I was able to organize events in which we called voters, participated in enriching discussions, and watched informative political documentaries. I have enjoyed my time in this organization, and I have realized that I want to continue to volunteer for candidates because it is truly amazing to help people participate in one of our most fundamental democratic processes.

I took what I learned from my volunteer work to my ballot. After calling voters about mail-in ballots, I decided to use a mail-in ballot myself. It was a fairly simple process to request a mail-in ballot, and the clerk in my community was very helpful with getting that ballot to me. When my ballot finally came in the mail, I was beyond excited. I immediately filled it out, reading each instruction carefully, thinking through each candidate and their views. The next day, I turned in my ballot to the circuit court with my dad. I went up to the dropbox, and I put my ballot in the box. I then stood there long enough waiting for the sound of my ballot hitting the bottom of the box that signaled my ballot was received. After we heard my ballot hit the bottom of the box, I turned to my dad and exclaimed, “That’s democracy for you!”

Even though it seems like the world came to a halt this past March, voting was important for me because I was voting for the future of the pandemic response, the future of my state’s tax system, and the future of my community leadership. People often dismiss that teenagers like myself have valid opinions, but this election, I offered a perspective of what a high school student wants the future to look like. It was my vote and the other record-breaking amount of votes that made this election one of the most revolutionary in our nation’s history. 

Sammie Reinstein

Sammie Reinstein is a senior at Vernon Hills High School, and she is a Kol Koleinu fellow. She is involved in her school’s dance team, female empowerment club (Dare to Empower), Best Buddies, and choir. In her free time, Sammie loves to read, watch documentaries, and catch up on the latest news in the world of politics.

Becoming Part of A Jewish Community By Alex Newman

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

I was immersed in to the Jewish culture at a very young age. From ages three to eleven, I attended a Jewish elementary school. With Hebrew and Jewish studies classes every day, along with temple on weekends and being amongst like-minded Jewish individuals, my culture surrounded me. Unfortunately, aside from this privilege, I did not enjoy my time at that school, and left after fifth grade. From then on I had felt detached from my religion because it was no longer all around me. In some ways, no longer attending such a religiously affiliated school made me feel less Jewish. It wasn’t until two years later when one of my best friend’s, Sofia More, had her Bat Mitzvah that I rediscovered my love for my religion. Before that day, I had trouble connecting with one of the most important Jewish values, community, because I associated the Jewish parts of me with a place I felt no belonging in. Watching someone I cared so much about stand on the Bema made me realize that how I connected to my religion was up to me. I realized I was no less Jewish because I didn’t read Hebrew every day, or because I no longer attended a Jewish school.  I finally saw my religious community not as the one I had left, but the one I had joined. From then on I’ve been much more aware of how I bring Judaism into my own life, which is exactly why I became a Peer Ambassador. I’m excited to learn more about what being Jewish means to me, and how I can once again immerse myself into that culture.

Alex Newman is a Junior at Lane Tech High School where she’s on the Track and Field team, is the co-president and captain of the Ultimate Frisbee team, and a member of the Omega program. Outside of school, Alex is the secretary of the Piece by Peace organization, a youth outreach program run but students. Alex’s work with these programs has been rooted in her Jewish values, specifically that of community.

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with... YOU!

(Social Action) Permanent link

For this repair the world Wednesday we are featuring.. you! Are you looking for ways to help your community this month? While COVID is still impacting our lives in a big way, we can’t forget about those in need around us. With Thanksgiving around the corner, and food on our minds, what time better than the present to donate some canned goods to a soup kitchen. Maybe, you want to hit the holiday toy sales and donate some gift this holiday season. Whatever you want to do, there someone out there you can help! Check out our quiz below to see what volunteer opportunity might be right for you!

Make an Impact

To navigate to the opportunities outlines above click the links below. 



Center on Halsted’s

EZRA Multi-Service Center’s

We Got You

In Person Opportunities:

Maot Chitim

Hanul Family Alliance

We Got You

#RepairTheWorldWednesday: Things I Learned From Being an Election Judge for the 2020 Presidential Election

(Social Action) Permanent link

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to work as an election judge for the 2020 presidental election. I decided to serve as an election judge since it was driving me crazy that I couldn't vote in this election. I wanted to find a way to make a difference and serving as an election judge was a great opportunity for me to support our democracy. Here are four things that I learned throughout my 15-hour shift:

  1. Teamwork is key:

Setting up for Election Day was tedious and required a lot of patience (with the machines and each other). My polling place was assigned six poll workers, three of which had never worked an election before. Luckily, we had some wonderful women on our team who were experts and were extremely kind and patient throughout the entire very long process. With all of us working together, we were able to set up in time before the election, and clean up afterwards without having to stay too late. 

  1. Not everyone will have empathy, and that’s okay:

Since a plethora of devices were struggling to connect to our WiFi pod, one of our computers used to check-in voters was running very slowly throughout the entire day, causing a short waiting period for voters as the machine processed everything. The wide range in the way voters reacted amazed me. Some exercised patience and thanked us all for being volunteers, some gave into anger and insults, and some just stood quietly while the computer did its work. I quickly learned that the best way to handle upset voters was to try my best to remain empathetic and handle the situation calmly and gracefully. 

  1. Happy voters are worth it:

My favorite part of this entire experience was the excitement and joy that some people expressed while voting. Around 6 AM, right when we opened, a woman came in and did a little dance as soon as she cast her ballot. It was energizing and inspiring to see a woman at such an early time in the morning be so peppy and ecstatic to vote.

  1. Yoga time is the best time:

At about 1 PM, after eight hours of work, since we were in a dry patch with no voters coming in, my team and I decided to do a bit of yoga. After doing yoga together, we really started getting to know each other better. Over the remaining seven hours, we talked all about school, jobs, interests, passions, fears, and spent lots of time laughing. I got a chance to learn my team’s stories, who they are, what makes them tick. I’ll forever carry with me the “breakfast club” feel I got from everyone sharing aspects of their life with people who were pretty much strangers. There was a vulnerability and genuinity to it that I’ll continue to hold on to.

Overall, this experience was one I will never forget. I learned about teamwork, how to handle certain situations, enthusiasm, and other people's perspectives. This was an incredibly valuable experience and I encourage others to try it out. If you do, you’ll most likely learn some lessons of your own that will stick with you forever.

Ania Sacks

Ania Sacks is a junior at Oak Park and River Forest High School. Ania participates in many Jewish activities such as Teen-Seed 613, RTI, Jewish Student Connection, Sunday school teaching, NFTY, and is President of her Temple youth group (OPTY). Outside of school, Ania loves to paint, write, play the violin, and explore social justice.

#RepairTheWorldWednesday: The Impact of 18 Under 18 Honorees

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As part of last 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 then identified at least one action they would take to address their chosen issue. Although each Impact Project represents different topics, timelines and scales, they are united by deep roots in Jewish values.

In honor of the 2020-2021 18 Under 18 nomination process kicking off this week, we want to highlight four honorees and their Impact Projects. Please see the videos below to learn how Gwen, Hannah, Josh, and Lena made an impact on their community!

Gwen Tucker

Hannah Adams

Josh Pogonitz

Lena Bromberg

Do you know an amazing teen who should be recognized as one of this year's 18 Under 18 Honorees? Nominate them here by Thursday, November 12th!

Yom Kippur in Israel

(Holidays) Permanent link

Imagine walking home from Kol Nidre on Erev Yom Kippur and taking a seat in the middle of Michigan Avenue. Not in the middle of the sidewalk, but in the middle of the actual street. Imagine the utter chaos. However, this is not the case in Israel. The streets are completely empty with the exception of emergency vehicles. Children are biking and scootering and families are strolling their babies through the streets. I had always heard that the whole country shut down on Yom Kippur, but did not realize the magnitude of it until I got to experience it first hand. 

Although a significant percentage of the Israeli population is not Jewish (24%), and 41.4% are Secular Jews, everyone in Israel either observes or respects the observance of Yom Kippur. You could walk in the streets of Tel Aviv any day during the year without the idea of Judaism crossing your mind, but on Yom Kippur, you would be reminded of our strong, united Jewish community. On Yom Kippur, the streets are completely empty of cars, but full of respect, unity, courtesy, and overall peace. This special day gives us the opportunity to step back from our hectic day-to-day lives and take time for self-reflection. 

So on Erev Yom Kippur, in small groups, we walked from campus to one of the main streets in Hod Hasharon. And we took a seat right in the middle of a main intersection. At first, I was shocked. Sitting in the middle of the intersection with no caution or worry at all? I was flustered, but listened to my Israel Studies teacher anyway. After sitting there for a couple minutes, I really realized that no cars were going to pass. Nothing was going to interrupt that moment of tranquility. I started to tear up stunned by the fact that where I was standing, in that moment, is the land of the Jewish people. I realized how proud I am to be part of this community. To be part of a nation that can endure so much adversity but still unite as one.

Noa Maeir

Noa Maeir is a junior at Deerfield High School and is currently studying abroad at Alexander Muss High School in Israel for the fall semester. Back home at DHS, she plays field hockey, participates in the student-run talent show STUNTS, and is on the board of Key Club. Noa is active in the Jewish community with participation in BBYO, JUF: Voices Board, Moving Traditions, and traveled with JUF Springboard for Big Apple Adventure in 2019. Except for 2020 because of COVID-19, Noa has spent every summer at Camp Ramah Wisconsin since 2013 and served as an Amitei Ramah Teen Fellow. Noa also enjoys biking, spending time outdoors, and traveling. 

#Repairtheworldwednesday: Igniting Teen Advocacy Around the World

(Social Action) Permanent link

It's been a long time since Covid-TV was on the Springboard blog! Since that time, we have been working to expand Covid-TV to cover more aspects of Social Justice and Tikkun Olam than just the pandemic. We are so excited to introduce Empower Teen! 

Empower TV

Covid-TV is now just a branch of our bigger website, Empower Teen. Empower Teen’s mission is to educate our teen readers on social action, change, and entrepreneurship.

Right now, Empower Teen has 4 main channels. The first, of course, is Covid-TV, which connects teens from 10 different countries around the world and has raised over $15,000 for at-risk communities in the pandemic. 

However, the other three channels are brand new. We just launched Resist-TV, which has two main parts: BLM-TV and Pay Gap-TV. Both these channels contain resources to learn about the issue and take action to make social progress. If you visit BLM-TV, you can find almost 20 different resources to learn about Black Lives Matter, petitions to sign, and ways to influence the movement in your own school or community. Pay Gap-TV links readers to statistics about the wage gap, sexual harrasment and gender/race inequalities in the workplace, and ways to try and close the gap, like petitions and scripts to call one’s representatives or senators. 

Our second newest channel is called Mental Health-TV, which aims to end the stigma around mental health and provide resources and self-care tips for improving emotional well-being. This page has two parts. The first is called “Learn,” and includes definitions of mental health and creates the distinct difference between “good” and “poor” mental health. The second part, “Resources,” links readers to emergency hotlines, articles on warning signs of poor mental health and how to reach out for help, and self-care tips to encourage readers to take care of themselves and take the first step towards recovery. We have already hosted events for Mental Health-TV, and plan to hold more zoom workshops in the future centered around mental health and self-care. 

The last new channel, and probably the one we are most excited to launch is Entrepreneurship-TV, or E-TV. Because of our journey of starting this blog as teenagers, we understand how challenging it is for teens to start their own blogs or businesses. Through E-TV, we plan to connect teens interested in business or those who have started their own companies to adult entrepreneurs and business owners. Similar to a mentorship program, we want teens who are just like us to have more experienced people to reach out to and get advice from to expand their business. We will also be hosting E-TV talks with entrepreneurs so that readers can have a chance to ask questions and learn more about the process of starting a business.

We are so excited to start hosting events for Empower Teen and ignite teen-advocacy in all of our readers. You can check us out here:, and subscribe to stay updated on blog posts, events, and E-Talks. We hope that by expanding to Empower-Teen we will continue to do our part in Tikkun Olam and encourage other teens to become activists and leaders in their communities. 

Lauren and Kia

Lauren Tapper is a sophomore at the University of Chicago Laboratory schools. She started Covid-TV because she wanted create a platform for teens who were experiencing the pandemic all around the world to connect with each other. As Covid-TV grew, she wanted to expand the site to cover other aspects of social justice, hence the creation of Empower Teen. She loves to read, play with her dog, and is an avid Chai Tea drinker. 

Krishita (Kia) Dutta is a sophomore at the University of Chicago Laboratory schools. She created this platform so that people who feel alone know that we're all in this together. Some of her hobbies are reading, painting, and constellation reading!

The Importance of Civic Engagement: Ways to Get Involved Before You Can Vote

(Social Action) Permanent link

The first Presidential election that I was alive for was in 2008. I proudly knew that, though I was not yet able to vote, I supported “Broccoli Obama.” To be fair, I was only three at the time and I had no idea what was really going on, but that did not stop me from proudly proclaiming my preferred candidate to my family every time that they asked. This was the beginning of over a decade of civic engagement Now, I am able to comprehend who the different government officials are and what I can do to make sure that they are best serving my needs as a citizen, and the needs of the greater public. I have gone canvassing, written hundreds of postcards and letters, and educated others on what they can do to get involved. 

Although I am unable to vote, I believe that complaining about the government is a privilege only earned after civic engagement. For this election in particular, my family and I have written two hundred postcards to likely voters in Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. In each postcard, we explained why it was important to vote and when election day is (Tuesday, November 3rd, tell all of your eighteen-and-over friends). Postcard writing is my personal favorite method because it is not awkward at all and you never have to interact with the person who is on the receiving end. Phone banking and canvassing (going door-to-door) are admittedly much harder. There will often be many people who do not answer their phone or open their door. However, when someone really listens to what you have to say and truly takes it into account, you feel like you have accomplished something.  At any rate, I have always found that I build up stamina as I go along and I get desensitized to the awkwardness. Even if you do not want to do any of the above activities, it is imperative that you remain informed about the election and the candidates, and political issues that may arise from different people being in office. This is one of the easiest things you can do to remain engaged, all you need is google and some time.  In addition, although I have not done this on account of my age, people sixteen and older in Chicago can be election judges! You even get paid. The link to sign up is:

Whatever you do, for whatever reason, civic engagement is extremely rewarding. If only to feel like you have made an impact on your community and the people in it. 

Dalya Elnecave

Dalya Lessem Elnecave is a sophomore at Lane Tech High School where she is a tutor in the writing center. She is the Social Action/Tikkun Olam Vice President (SA/TO) for Anshe Emet’s USY chapter (SHMUSY) in addition to being the Social Action Committee for Chicago Region USY (CHUSY). She is also a Hebrew Madricha at the Anshe Emet Religious School. She enjoys literature and theater.

#RepairTheWorldWednesday: The Silver Lining of Not Getting a Haircut

(Social Action) Permanent link

As a young kid I felt about haircuts the way most kids felt about going to the dentist or eating brussel sprouts, I hated them. Going to get hair cuts was something I avoided at all costs. I could not be bribed, coerced, or convinced to even get a trim. After years of not getting haircuts, all of the sudden I had hair that almost reached all the way down my back. The best way in my mind to continue avoid going to the dreaded salon was to just chop it all off so it could grow for another handful of years. I fell into this pattern of getting one haircut every 2 years and chopping off 8-12 inches each time. Because of this, I have donated my hair 3 different times throughout the last 8 years.  

I have donated to  PanteneLocks of Love, and  Children with Hair Loss. I’ve donated 30 inches of hair overall, which equates to half a total wig. Donating hair is such a wonderful and important way to give back. We take certain things for granted, and these are small things that can make huge differences in others' lives.  

During the time of COVID this is a great way to give back. Not getting a haircut for months due to a pandemic has a silver lining, and that’s hair donation! 

Adina Lipschultz

Adina Lipschultz has worked for Springboard for the last two years. Before her role with Springboard, she graduated from the University of Illinois in Champaign Urbana. Adina attended Camp Young Judaea as a camper and staff member for 9 years, is a Solomon Schechter Alum, and is an avid Harry Potter fan, DIY expert, and former figure skater.  

Rejoicing with Simchat Torah

(Holidays) Permanent link


Simchat Torah is a holiday of rejoicing. It marks the end of one reading of the Torah and the beginning of a new cycle on the very same day. Moses bids farewell to the people he has led through the desert and then, without missing a beat, we begin again with the story of creation. This ritual teaches us about endings and beginnings.

Sometimes, one chapter of our lives needs to end to make space for the next one. Saying goodbye to one part of our life is often bittersweet, but it makes room for new ideas, new relationships, and new experiences. When we finish reading the Torah, we go back to creation; we get to re-envision the world from the very beginning.

On the other hand, no chapter of our lives ever disappears. Our experiences make us who we are, and we can always go back to visit them through our memories. We can also re-interpret them and continue to grow from them as we mature and understand their impact on our continuing story.


There is an old Israeli song that says “Hayamim chol’fim, shanah overet, aval hamangina l’olam neesheret,” which means, “The days are passing, the year is passing, but the melody remains forever.” The melody is the Jewish People, it is the Torah, it is the song inside of you. Chapters end and new ones begin, but that unique spark within you remains forever.

On Simchat Torah, we recognize the power of endings and beginnings understanding that as we grow, chapters of our lives will end and new ones will begin. Sometimes we get to decide when those transitions occur, and sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we are aware of the change, and sometimes we only see it when we look back.

At the end of the Torah, Moses recounts many of the experiences of the Israelites, but when he retells these parts of the journey, he sees them differently than he was able to see them at the time they occurred. We can do the same with our own lives. However, we should not dwell for too long on remembering the past. We roll the Torah back to the beginning, to the story of creation, because there is a new world waiting to be born. 


Rabbi Reni Dickman is Senior Jewish Educator at JUF and the Executive Vice President of the Chicago Board of Rabbis. Before taking on these roles, she taught at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School and the Chicago Jewish Day School. She embraces the fall as a time of change – changing leaves, changing weather, changing clothes and changing hearts. 

Simchas Torah: The Road to Happiness

(Holidays) Permanent link

These days it seems like there’s another Jewish Holiday every couple days! We started with Rosh Hashana, then came Yom Kippur. And just a few days later, we come to the seven day holiday of Sukkot. Sukkot is known as “Zman Simchaseinu - the Time of Happiness”. But, there is another holiday that comes at the end of the seven days of Sukkot called "Simchas Torah." On Simchas Torah, we celebrate the completion of the cycle of the reading of the Torah as well as start from the beginning again. On this day, Jewish people across the world sing and dance with the Torah scrolls in celebration of the Torah and its completion.

Ok, I can understand why we would be celebrating completing the cycle of reading the Torah. But why do we feel the need to start over immediately after finishing? In addition, why do we need another separate holiday attached to Sukkot at the end of the whole holiday season? And finally, what’s so happy about this time for it to be known as “the Time of our Happiness” and “The Happiness of the Torah?”

When G-d offers the Torah to the Jewish people, he calls it a gift. As such, we treat the Torah as a special gift from G-d. There is so much depth and wisdom that can be found and uncovered in it. So it’s no surprise that we have a big celebration when we complete the reading every year. But again, why start over right away? I think the message is simple. There are so many levels of understanding and so much meaning found in the Torah. Once we finish reading it through once, we are excited to get right back to it to continue to better ourselves and learn deeper insights and ideas!

When the Torah mentions the holiday of Simchas Torah, Rashi, an 11th century, French Torah commentator explains that G-d so to speak tells us, “Kashe alay preidaschem, - your departure is difficult for Me”. Meaning to say, after spending so much time with G-d, from Rosh Hashana all the way through Sukkot, G-d wants us to stay with Him for one more day. No extra commandments like the Shofar or Lulav and Etrog, just special time with G-d. After setting our goals for the new year on Rosh Hashana, and striving to be better people on Yom Kippur, we have this special holiday where we can push ourselves to start on our journey to become our best selves possible.

In Judaism, we always want to keep improving ourselves to be the best we can be. This drive for self-improvement is embodied in how we immediately start reading the Torah again once we finish. That is why this time is known as “Zman Simchaseinu - The Time of our Happiness” and “Simchas Torah- The Happiness of the Torah”. When we start and continue our journey of actualizing our potential and becoming the best versions of ourselves, that is true happiness.


Rabbi Jeremy Schaechter is the Director of North Shore NCSY and JSU. He runs all different types of programming for Jewish teens throughout the northern Chicago suburbs including Jewish clubs in Public high schools, weekly learning and social events and more. He is also the Director of TJJ, an incredible 4-week teen summer trip to Israel. Contact Rabbi Jeremy, to learn more or to get involved.

Looking Forward: How Simchat Torah Teaches Us to Continue Learning

(Holidays) Permanent link

Simchat Torah is the holiday when the Jewish people finish reading the Torah and begin again. Similar to the way that we anticipate learning new insights from the Torah each year, our Lewis Summer Intern Natalie shares with us what she is anticipating this year and how ice skating is something she has done for fifteen years and continues to learn new things each day.

I was an ice skater for fifteen years. I started when I was three years old and went all the way till college. While most people think about skating as single skating, I was a synchronized skater for eight years. But my love of skating encompasses all sectors, from ice dance to pairs to singles to synchro, as well like to call it.  

Every year the international skating season starts with the Grand Prix Series which includes six competitions. The weeks leading up to the first Grand Prix holds more anticipation for me than any other weeks of the year. The entire skating world is putting in predictions based on competition assignments and who will make the Grand Prix finale, the culmination of the series. My best friend, who I skated with, and I talk day in and day out about skaters and their possible positions going into the season.  

And then the first competition begins, and everything feels right in the world. The first skating group gets on the ice and I can take a deep breath. Skating season has begun and for the next six months my weekends will be full of watching competitions and recaps. I am able to end each weekend listening to my skating podcast about what happened in the skating world this week, because there is a skating world.  

But for now, the anticipation must continue because who knows when international travel and skating competitions can begin again. Until then, I will be watching out for new program information, watching old clips, and watching my skating podcast. 

Natalie Rudman

Natalie Rudman is a sophomore at Tulane University. She spent Summer 2020 as a Lewis Summer Intern at UpStart Lab. She’s passionate about the juvenile justice system, Jewish life, and of course skating. Outside of school and work, Natalie spends her time with friends exploring the city of New Orleans 

#Repairtheworldwenesday with Balance Boxes - Where are they now?

(Social Action) Permanent link

Balance Boxes

In May, we shared the story of Balance Boxes,a non-profit started  in March by two Deerfield Teens Samantha Feinberg and Sydney Holubow. They provide educational and enjoyable activities to students in in low-income communities. We checked in with them and are so excited to share how they continue to impact our local community and beyond. 


At the Balance Boxes packing party a plethora of boxes were assembled. Youth ages 6-18 came and helped assemble over 550 boxes in just two hours. Students from Deerfield, Hinsdale, Chicago, and more came together and volunteered! Each box was made with books, games, tutoring services, meals, and more! All of the youth came with masks and spread out outside to be COVID friendly. It was an amazing event that allowed us to help 550 kids!


Balance Boxes is remaining fully youth run with chapters across the globe. We have chapters across the USA and in Argentina, Canada, Germany, Egypt, India, Israel, Thailand, Turkey, England, and  Indonesia. At this time we have over 70 youth volunteering with our organization.


This past month Balance Boxes spoke with two wonderful groups of teens at Camp Tov. We led a workshop on the steps (we took) to starting a nonprofit. Additionally, we heard many of the ideas the campers had to offer and would do if they started their own organization. Finally, we ended off the event with a volunteer activity. Each camper helped assemble four art kits for our boxes. 

Learn more about Balance Boxes at

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Chi-Town GVP Summit

(Social Action) Permanent link

Gun violence claims nearly 100 lives every day in the United States. No other developed nation experiences gun violence of this magnitude. 

In 2020 there have already been 26,000+ deaths from firearms. There were also 417 mass shootings in 2019 which is almost 100 more than in 2018. That number has steadily increased in recent years with mass shootings almost doubling since 2014.  

There are reforms that can be put in place to help curb mass shootings and shootings in general. These policies include ERPO’s which are also known as ‘Red Flag Laws’, mandatory background checks, making gun trafficking a federal crime & getting military style assault weapons off our streets.  

All those reforms are supported by gun owners with 60% supporting ERPO’s (American Public Media) nearly 85% supporting mandatory background checks (John Hopkins Bloomberg school of public health study) and more than 60% of all Americans supporting a Assault weapons ban (2019 Gallup Poll). 

These should all be common sense reforms if not because of how much support they have but because of how many lives could be saved by such easy reforms.  

Nathan Schleiden

Nathan Schleiden is the executive director of Chi-Town GVP Summit, a youth-run nonprofit project dedicated to helping youth activists working to end gun violence not associated with larger groups. Their website is and can be found on Twitter; @chitwngvpsummit, Instagram; @chitowngvpsummit and Facebook; Chi-Town GVP Summit. 

Meet Naomi: Springboard’s New Teen Engagement Manager

(Community Spotlight) Permanent link

I am so excited to be joining the Springboard team as the Teen Engagement Manager. Ever since I was an intern at the JUF in college (shout out to the Lewis Summer Internship program), I have dreamed of working at the JUF and supporting the Chicago Jewish community.

I am originally from Oak Park, a suburb just west of Chicago. My home synagogue, Oak Park Temple, was always a special place for me and the space that felt like my second home. Before high school, my entire Jewish world was based in Oak Park. However, the summer before my freshman year, my entire life changed when I attended my first NFTY event.

Naomi at NFTY

The event was a five-day retreat called Summer Kallah. In those five days, my Jewish identity and interest in being a leader in my community was suddenly roused. After that one retreat, I began to connect with Jewish teens from all around the Chicago area and the country. I went on to serve as the NFTY Chicago Programming Vice President and President. I even met my husband in NFTY and majored in Jewish studies at the University of Wisconsin-Madison because of the impact NFTY had on my life.

I am so thankful that my parents signed me up for my first NFTY event. Some days I look back at my life and think about how different things would have been if I had not gotten involved with NFTY and my temple youth group.

That is why I am thrilled to be on the Springboard team. The opportunity to connect Jewish teens with programs and opportunities that have the potential to change their entire lives and inspire them to explore the Jewish identity is what drives me each day to do this important work. Each person that Springboard helps to connect with a meaningful Jewish experience is incredible. Whether it’s through TOV Teens, USY, JSC, NFTY, BBYO, Keshet, summer camp, or the dozens of other Jewish opportunities for teens in the Chicago area, I am excited to help each teen find the program or multiple programs that will leave a positive and lasting impact on their life.

When I’m not connecting Jewish teens with programs, you can usually find me baking bread, playing with my new puppy, or trying to find the tastiest taco in Chicago. I recently moved from Chicago to Evanston and love exploring the beautiful parks nearby.

Naomi Looper

Before working at Springboard, I was OSRUI Assistant Director and NFTY Chicago Regional Director. Prior to that, I worked at Temple Jeremiah in Northfield as the Youth and Family Engagement Director. I attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison (go Badgers!) and earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Jewish Studies and International Studies. While in college, I worked as the youth director at Temple Beth El in Madison, WI and served as a student representative on the UW Hillel board. I am currently pursuing my Masters in Jewish Professional Studies from Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership.

Self-Care Tip: Living Authentically

(Health and Wellness) Permanent link

Self-care has become a buzzword during this time, so we want to hear from different people in our community what self-care means to them. This blog from Claire is the first of this series. If you would like to share what self-care means to you, contact

I still remember the day I got my first “alternative” haircut. I had no idea at the time how changing how I looked was about to affect my entire life; if I had, well, I still would have done it.

I have learned that expressing the way that I feel internally must be a top priority in order to survive. But this knowledge doesn’t change the fact that being visibly different is a really hard thing. After I got that haircut and changed my clothes, I noticed a change in the way people treated me. This new look wasn’t louder, but it was harsher. More masculine. My identity that used to be fairly inconspicuous now inadvertently shoves its face under the noses of people who really don’t care to acknowledge that kind of difference. Simply existing in the world as my true self takes a toll on my mental health, my relationships and my professional life. But it’s also invigorating, spiritual, and vital.

My self-care is pushing through self-hate. Because I know that I can’t change or hide who I am anymore. That part of my life is over. 

Claire Katz Mariani

Claire Katz-Mariani is passionate about social service in all forms. Claire is a senior at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where Claire is pursuing a BFA in Theatre Studies as well as a BS in Community Health with an emphasis on Health Education & Promotion. Claire is the president of LGBTJew, U of I Hillel's student group for promoting inclusion in Jewish spaces.  

One Impactful Moment from my Israel Trip By Daphne Budin

(Holidays) Permanent link

The day before Yom Kippur starts thousands of people go to the Kotel to pray during Slichot (the beginning service of repentance). My friends and I waited for a few hours to eventually stand by the Kotel for 30 seconds; I was able to touch the Kotel, and repent. It was a moment where I felt like a tourist, but also where I felt I belonged.   

The next night was beautiful; the sun was getting ready to set and the breeze was light but refreshing. My friends and I had just finished eating dinner, and we walked to The Jerusalem Great Synagogue for Kol Nidre Services which happens the night Yom Kippur starts. After some back and forth between my counselor and the security guard we finally got let in. I was sitting on the balcony with all the women and I looked down in awe. Going to Kol Nidre services was something I had been doing since I was a baby, but being in The Great Synagogue was a moment I will never forget. I was full of joy, and it was such a powerful moment with all the voices around me. I still get chills thinking about that night. We then walked to Kikar Paris, in the heart of Jerusalem. Nativ (The gap year program I went on) has a tradition of sitting in the middle of this typically busy street and singing Z’mirot (songs). Surrounding us were families, tourists, locals who expect it annually, and people from other gap year/ high school semester programs. I wasn’t even thinking about food, I was thinking about how grateful I am to be a Jew surrounded by people I had met two weeks prior, who were now my best friends. That night I went to sleep thinking of how lucky I was to be in that incredible environment on such a meaningful Jewish holiday for Jewish people all around the world.  

As we were walking back from services, I ran into some friends on Nativ, and we ended up sitting in the middle of the street having a long, deep conversation about life and gratitude. This Yom Kippur, in Jerusalem, I looked beyond dreading the fast and focused on gratitude, bonding with new people, and really opening up to the positivity of the holiday.  

As Yom Kippur was nearing the end, my peers and I walked alongside my Director to a Synagogue called Raz’s Minyan for Neilah (the closing service for Yom Kippur). I walked in and was, again, in awe. Every single person in the women’s and the men’s section, young and old, was praying with so much passion and energy. I walked outside with some friends; we listened and prayed in unison with the community that we were surrounded by. It was a moment that I will remember forever because it made me realize how proud I am to be Jewish.  

The feelings I had on Yom Kippur 2018 are indescribable, irreplaceable, and will be forever cherished.  

Daphne Budin Photo

My name is Daphne Budin, and I’m a Lewis Summer Intern at CJE SeniorLife. Before starting my studies at Syracuse University, I took a gap year with the Nativ College Leadership Program in Israel, where I studied and volunteered in a kindergarten. Now, I'm in the Falk College at Syracuse, where I am majoring in Human Development and Family Science. I am passionate about working with children, and I've spent two summers working at Camp Ramah Wisconsin. Outside of school, I have been involved in a Sorority, Hillel, Chabad, and Relay for Life.  

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Sofia More and Volunteering during Social Distancing

(Social Action) Permanent link

As we have gradually become accustomed to our “new normal” and things are beginning to slowly (but surely!) open back up again, something that I encourage you to think about is volunteering. There is not one standard way to give back to your community, and some of the things we are so accustomed to may not come back for a long time. However, many of Chicago’s places that regularly accept volunteers have started opening back up again. Before quarantine happened, I had never volunteered at the Greater Chicago Food Depository. Now I have already been there twice since it has allowed volunteers and I felt comfortable the entire time. While I was not necessarily prepared for the physical labor, it felt amazing to actually be doing things with a purpose that really required work. I went with my grandma and sister the first time I went and they found it easier than I did! What I really liked about the Greater Chicago Food Depository is that they have you do different things each time you go, and once you are done they give you a numerical value of the work you have completed. When my cousin visited us from St Louis, after quarantining we went to Cradles to Crayons. Although I had volunteered there in the past, this was a much more personal experience to me because they only allowed small groups and it was just 4 of us working together. During my summer of Covid, every day has almost felt the same. Volunteering at these two organizations has given me a chance to do something different. Not only did it switch up my pace, it has felt amazing to get out of the house and do something for the greater good of my community. Besides these organizations, there are a number of places you can volunteer at in the Chicagoland area and be safely socially distanced. However, if you still do not feel comfortable - don’t worry! There are plenty of ways to give back. Tikkun Olam is more important than ever.  


Sofia More is a rising junior at Jones College Prep. She is a Diller Teen Fellows Alum and this past summer a JCC on the Go-Go counselor. She is currently in JUF’s Research Training Internship, BBYO, Temple Sholom’s Midrich program, and Jewish Student Connections Club. Sofia is an activist for lgbtq+, female, Jewish, and BIPOC voices in her community and beyond. She is extremely passionate about voters rights and representation

If you are interested in learning more about volunteering opportunities near you, contact Genna Kahn, Program Director,Teen Volunteering and Philanthropy at 

Below are some opportunities to explore 

In person: 


A Letter to My High School Self Written by Emma Bliwas

(Health and Wellness) Permanent link

What would you say to your middle school, or grade school self if you had the chance? What would future you say to present day you? In the spirit of the new school year, and Rosh Hashana, let's take some time to reflect, re-energize, and rewind.  Let this be a year full of self improvement, reflection, and mindfulness. Here is what Emma Bliwas would like to say to her high school self from her current perspective as a college student at the University of Denver.

Dear Emma,  

These four years really do fly by. It is cliché and hard to process when you are going through high school. However, you will be looking back on this experience and reflecting if you got involved with all the extracurricular activities you strived to be a part of. Did you get to know lots of different people or did you spend too much energy trying to feel a part of a singular friend group? It is so important to create your own friend circle. It is easy to get sucked into your own friend group because many high schoolers do. Instead of focusing on getting close with your friends’ friends who you feel absolutely no connection to, get out of your comfort zone. Try new activities where you meet people who are different from you that may become your new best friends. If you are interested in a course on debate or photography, sign up for it. Don’t choose the same elective each year because high school is an opportunity to start discovering your passions.  

Thank your parents for driving you to high school football games and tennis practices. Soon, you will be able to drive everywhere and you won’t get to jam out to Michael Franti every day while your mom drives you to school. Appreciate the neighbors you have grown up around. After high school, many people move away to the city or to a different state. Just take in walking down the halls and seeing the same people during your five-minute passing periods.  

Appreciate the now. Don’t take the ACT five times because you will likely still end up at your dream school. The college process is stressful enough and you don’t need to compare your GPA or ACT score with your friends. When you graduate high school, no one ever mentions it. Focus on memories, not numbers. 




Emma Bliwas is a junior at the University of Denver (DU) studying International Business, with minors in Business Ethics/Legal Studies, Journalism and Spanish. Emma believes that transparency, integrity and accountability are crucial for success in school and the workplace. At DU, Emma is involved in Delta Gamma, DU Programming Board and Club Tennis. After her undergraduate career, she wants to pursue a career where she can directly communicate with clients and give back to her community.  

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Today’s Heros: Educators

(Social Action) Permanent link

We are living in unprecedented times where certain pieces of life that have looked one particular way for a long time, are having to adapt and change. Education is one of those things. While educators of every kind have been unsung hero’s at times, today they are the real life super hero’s along with  first responders, healthcare workers, and essential workers. Teachers have been adapting their teaching styles and structures, while also having groups of students they may or may not have ever met. There is so much behind the scenes that we don’t see, so many hidden challenges educators are overcoming to make sure kids, teens, and young adults don’t have their education impacted by COIVD. We wanted to take this week to say a BIG thank you to all the teachers working so hard to make going back to school as seamless as possible.  

A great teacher can do so much more than provide a quality education, they are community builders. Community, and any kind of connection, is more important than ever. In the Chicago suburbs one of the places teens have found community in their schools has been in their Hebrew classes. This is what a few of last year’s Hebrew in the High Ambassadors had to say about their fantastic Hebrew teachers.  

“Giveret (Ms.) Berman truly cares about each and every one of her students. Regardless of a student's Hebrew skill level, she devotes the same passion into helping them succeed. For me, Gvt. Berman did more than improve my Hebrew — she improved my high school experience. Going into a public high school from a small, private, Jewish middle school, it took me time to find my footing. Gvt. Berman's classes were escapes from the outside stress of high school, and they provided me with a second home. I felt comforted and empowered by learning Hebrew in such a supportive environment, which gave me the confidence and learning skills to succeed in any class. My overall success in high school is largely due to the sense of community and belonging that Gvt. Berman gave me from the very first day.” Noah S.  

“Our class is a community and despite its easy-going vibe, it is amazing how much we learn in a short amount of time. She also sponsors our Israel Interest Group and Israeli Dance club and has been a tireless supporter of all of our passions.” Talia K. 

“[My teacher] is truly one of the kindest people I know. She cares so much about every single one of her students and cultivates an encouraging and warm environment in her classes. She also allows for us to truly be ourselves and talk about issues that are important to us. She really knows how to make learning fun. “ Stephanie K. 

“[My teacher] has created a space where I feel excited to learn Hebrew and feel connected to Jewish and Israeli culture. She works to make sure that classes are always filled with a mixture of fun and learning! Giveret Raiber has played a substantial role in ensuring that the Hebrew community is thriving and growing within our diverse high school. “Mia S. 

“Our class of 8 is like a community. We all have things in common, including our love for Israel and our perseverance to learn to speak Hebrew. Our whole class has grown so much […], and I will never forget the first day of class with her when we learned our “Hebrew word of the day” song, back when we only knew a few words. We now know how to have a full conversation in Hebrew. Throughout this pandemic, Geveret L and my Hebrew class have been a constant source of stability, comfort and normalcy from day one. Every morning at nine am we have a zoom class where we learn, sing, speak Hebrew, and continue to feel connected to each other. I will forever be thankful for Geveret L and will never forget all she has taught us.“ Kaila P. 

To learn more about taking Hebrew at Deerfield, Glenbrook North, Highland Park, Niles North, New Trier or Stevenson high schools or at Caruso or Shepard middle schools' email  

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Noah Lichstein and Voices

(Program Experiences) Permanent link

When I signed up for Voices at the end of the summer of 2018, I didn’t know what I was signing up for. I had heard so many great things about Voices from friends who had been part of the program in the past, but I had no first-hand experience with the program itself nor any program like it. All I knew was throughout high school, I had been wanting to be involved with something Jewish, but I had yet to find what I really wanted to do; until I started Voices. 

Voices encourages and provokes lots of thought and reflection on personal values. Early into Voices, I identified that Tzedek is something very valuable to me. Not only did Voices help me identify this, Voices gave me opportunity after opportunity to take action on it, and to help others take action as well. Not only did Voices help me identify and stick to my values, working with others and collectively contributing to something greater and bigger than ourselves was even more rewarding. 

This past year, the Alumni board, which I sat on, had around 12 board members, including myself. As we received grant proposals, the Covid-19 pandemic also began affecting the US and our in-person meetings came to a halt and at the same time, many of the organizations’ needs shifted so they could support their members through the pandemic. As a board, we quickly shifted our outlook and our funding priorities, and we were able to help organizations navigate through the start of the Covid-19 pandemic. Not only were these organizations that were either affected or helped those affected by Covid-19, each board member, including myself had a say in what issues we wanted to support. One committee I sat on was the disabilities committee, which looked into organizations that provided help and services to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Services like these became very important as Covid-19 closed schools and other support systems previously providing assistance to those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Because of this, I know that the Voices Alumni Board contributed to a meaningful cause, and was impactful, in a time of need. 

I am so grateful I was able to make Voices a meaningful part of my junior and senior years of high school. As I transition into college and beyond, my values are clear to me and Voices had a large part in helping me identify and uphold those. Voices has also taught me how to contribute to something greater than myself and because of my experience in Voices that is something I will always strive for.

Noah Lichstein

Noah Lichstein is currently a freshman in the Swanson School of Engineering at the University of Pittsburgh. During his junior and senior years of high school, he sat on the board of Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation. Outside of Voices, Noah enjoys taking photos, traveling, cycling, and playing squash.

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Springboard Peer Ambassadors

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#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Springboard Peer Ambassadors by Brittany Abramowicz

Last February at the Dunkin Donuts in Northbrook, I meet with the teens who were starting their journey as Springboard Peer Ambassadors. I told them that over the course of the next eight months they were going to take the lead on making sure their friends knew about Jewish teen programs, and would even have the opportunity to create activities to help more people connect to each other and the Jewish community.  At that time none of us could have predicted what the next eight months would have in store for us.  

One of the many challenges we’ve all had to navigate over the past few months is how to stay connected. So of course, the Peer Ambassadors Program that aims to connect teens to community was dramatically impacted. Jewish teen programs were moved mostly online, and there are now specific stipulations that need to be put in place to do something simple like having a few friends over for Havdallah and a Bonfire. Despite these challenges, this first cohort of Springboard Peer Ambassadors did find ways to help their friends connect online and make Jewish teen programs more accessible.  

In a time when people may be feeling isolated or out of sorts, this group of teens have been working to connect with people through acts of Tikkun Olam. Through their acts of kindness, they’ve made sure their friends know they are there for them, and made sure people are finding ways to relax and have fun, especially during a challenging time.

 After our last meeting, the Peer Ambassadors shared some reflections on their experiences, and this is what they had to say:  

“By getting my Jewish friends together for my events, I realized that being Jewish is also about the connection between Jewish people.”  - Jamie  

“I've realized that Judaism revolves a lot around connection. By connecting with other Jews, I've developed a strong sense of belonging in the Jewish community.”  – Ania 

We are now accepting applications for the next group of ambassadors if you want to make a difference by helping people find meaningful connections to each other and the Jewish community you can learn more and apply here

Brittany Abramowicz works with Springboard to help teens find their fit in the Jewish community. 

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Seed613

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There are many ways to embody what Tikkun Olam means and turn it into action. Our community has many programs that allow teens to do just that; one of them is JCC’s Seed613. This program empowers female identifying Jewish teens to work together to identify challenges in the community and create solutions, whether big or small, that will make a meaningful difference. Tikkun Olam and repairing the world come in many shapes and sizes. Here are some of the incredible examples of projects Seed613 fellows have done that do just that:

Disconnect2Reconnect: is a campaign to educate teens on the positive benefits of reducing technology use in everyday life. This 5-day campaign will be implemented in schools across the Chicagoland area, encouraging students to disconnect from one type of technology or social media each day. Technology usage has been linked to increasing mental health issues in adolescents, and we hope to educate both teens and their parents on the positive and negative impacts of technology.

disconnect to reconnect

Mindfull: an after-school club at high school focused on inspiring students to lead a healthy lifestyle. The clubs are student-led and each week, club-goers participate in a healthy activity such as smoothie making, or learning about different wellness options. MindFULL also prioritizes environmental initiatives – creating a school community garden and completing a relevant service project. MindFULL was created to address the lack of health and wellness information available to school-aged children.


 CopStop: The mission of CopStop is to spark empathy between police and community members in order to build in accountability and transform the culture, relationships, and popular opinions between inner-city citizens and police. It’s an app where users can see crowd-sourced reviews of local police departments, view individual officers, and leave feedback for police.

Cop Stop

 My Student Mind: My Student Mind a website designed to form a digital community for students working through understanding their mental health, encouraging them to take control of their mental well being both inside and outside of the classroom. My Student Mind has everything a student needs to take control of their mental health. The site creates a community of students all with the same goal in mind; mental well being. It provides both tangible and emotional tools that students can customize and choose if and when to use based on their personal interests and dependencies. Once you log on, you have control.

My Student Mind

While Seed613's focus is on innovative projects like the ones above, the fellowship offers so much more; a community - "When I met the other girls, I knew I was welcomed and appreciated for being my true self [...] I realized how lucky I was to be in a room full of people that wanted to support me, my ideas, and this program.". Community is something we are all craving given the state of the world. To learn more about Seed613, the community it can give you, and to get a taste of what participating might look like, sign up here  for the very first Taste of Seed613 tonight on Zoom. Some of the most impactful and innovative things happening today have been created by teens, and you can be next! 

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with JCUA, Springboard, and JUF Teens

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Antiracism Training

We are living through history. 2020 has become a pivotal time that will be remembered for many reasons, including shining a light on the racial injustices that have plagued our nation’s history for many years. Being actively Anti-Racist, and making racial justice a key part of your ally-ship is so important. There is always more to learn, more to share, and more ways to help- and here is your chance!  

JCUA, Springboard, and JUF Teens have partnered to create an Anti-Racism Training. In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, many of us are thinking critically about structural racism in the United States. Join us to learn to be a better anti-racist ally through critical theory, American history, and Jewish texts and values. The Teen Anti-Racism training will be held Sunday, August 23rd (1:00-4:30 PM) and Tuesday, August 25th (4:00-6:00 PM). Click to register  here. We hope to see you there and work together to learn and make a difference.  

Check out these additional resources:  

Ways to Help from Black Lives Matter 

Jewish Action in the face of Anti-Black Racism 

Anti-Racist Reads for Teens and Children  

Anti-Racist Articles, Social Media, Movies, Documentaries and Books 

Springboard is Proud to Announce This Year's LEAD Award Recipient

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LEAD Finalists

The LEAD Award (Leader Educator Advisor Dugma/Example) was created to recognize outstanding adults who go above and beyond in their role of educating and caring for Jewish teens. Springboard and JUF are thrilled to recognize Daniel Warshawsky as this year’s LEAD Award recipient! Additionally, we would like to recognize and thank all our LEAD Award Finalists, Adam Blue, Eric Golberg, Samantha Isenstein, Jessie Morris and Adam Rubenfire, for their incredible work and contributions to the Jewish teen community. Nominees were recognized by teens in the community who completed applications sharing how the nominee had influenced them. Here are some of the wonderful things teens said about their educators, advisors, and mentors. 

Adam Blue

Adam has been a role model for me for a long time.  He continuously demonstrates to the people around him the importance of respect and works hard at instilling the value of treating others with dignity and respect, no matter their viewpoint, among the interns he oversees.         – Jacob K.  

Jessie Morris

Jessie has been a role model to me because she is so positive whenever we have club and she welcomes everyone into club with open arms. Jessie is considerate and always gives the best advice while engaging in conversation with club members. -Ella R.  

Samantha Isenstein

Samantha has helped me with my leadership and is very flexible and works very hard for teens in our community. She is very caring and understanding of everyone and their needs. – Josh L.  

Eric Golberg

Eric is truly someone who helps me create fantastic programming by finding time to sit down and work with me one on one. Eric welcomes people into our chapter with the utmost respect, showing me what it looks like to be a leader.  Eric is consistently enthusiastic about programming, even if he himself is not directly part of the program. – Geoffrey G.  

Adam Rubenfire

Adam helped facilitate a connection, worked tandem with me in crafting an amazing program, and was there to congratulate and recognize me for developing what all the teens who attended said was an awesome program! Teens rarely receive recognition and gratitude from others in today's society, and Adam is someone that is constantly uplifting; we need more people in the world like him. – Andy N.

Daniel Warshawsky

Daniel has taught me the importance of finding your own path in Judaism. You don’t always have to follow exactly what your parents do or what your friends do, but you have to find what is most meaningful to you. He has also taught me to stand up against the injustices in Judaism. You don’t have to accept something just because it is written, you can challenge it and do what you think is right. – Stephanie K.  

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Camp Tzedek

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Camp Tzedek

Camp Tzedek proved you can have fun and change your community at the same time (and virtually!).  Over the course of a week, Camp Tzedek gave campers a chance to learn more about homelessness, food insecurity, and youth-at-risk issues in Chicago.  We put that new knowledge to use as we evaluated grant proposals and site visits with six organizations.  At the end of the week, we awarded almost $8000 in grants to three different local Chicago organizations. Here are a few six word memoirs from campers to share what they learned over the course of the week. 

Teens can also make a difference.  – Kayla Kupietzky

Philanthropy is very interesting and fun! – Ethan Sugar

Philanthropy is sharing/donating your passions.  – Eva Beresin

It's surprising some students are homeless.  – Dina Levin

The organizations all wrote a proposal.  – Louie Bloomberg

The power of education and community.  – Emily Helfand

Giving time/money can change lives. – Eva Cohen

Making a difference can feel amazing!  - Talia Holceker

If you’re interested in making a difference in your community and teen philanthropy, consider applying for the Voices: the Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation board.

#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's Experience on L'Taken

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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 , , and . If you want to learn more about The Religious Action Center and their L’Taken D.C. trip, visit and .


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: 

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Cycle Forward and Sophie Draluck

(Social Action, Health and Wellness) Permanent link

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 (, 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  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 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

(Social Action) Permanent link

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

(Social Action) Permanent link

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

(Social Action) Permanent link

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,, 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, “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

(Program Experiences) Permanent link

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 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

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

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

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

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

 Permanent link

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

(Health and Wellness) Permanent link

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

(Health and Wellness) Permanent link

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

(Health and Wellness) Permanent link

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

(Health and Wellness) Permanent link

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

(Holidays) Permanent link

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

(Social Action) Permanent link

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,

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, 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

(Health and Wellness) Permanent link

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

Read more

Finding Hope By Josh Pogonitz

(Health and Wellness) Permanent link

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

(Social Action) Permanent link

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 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

(Health and Wellness) Permanent link

warshawsky prayer

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Jessica Tansey

(Social Action) Permanent link

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

(Health and Wellness) Permanent link

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

(Holidays) Permanent link

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 by May 20th.   

Meditation as a coping mechanism for mental health by Josh Pogonitz

(Health and Wellness) Permanent link

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, ( 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

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link


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

(Social Action) Permanent link

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

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

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

(Program Experiences) Permanent link

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

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

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

(Program Experiences) Permanent link

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 or visit

My Hebrew Story - by Stephanie Kallish

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

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

(Community Spotlight) Permanent link

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!


 Permanent link

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

 Permanent link

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

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

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?

(Community Spotlight) Permanent link

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

Sababa Surf and Self Care

(Health and Wellness) Permanent link

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

(Health and Wellness) Permanent link

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.