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Springboard Blog

Why I Joined the Peer Ambassador Program by Talia Holceker

(Program Experiences) Permanent link

Hello! My name is Talia Holceker and I joined the Springboard Peer Ambassador program last summer when I was searching for more ways to get involved within my Jewish community. I knew that I needed a program that accommodated my schedule, enhanced my leadership skills, and connected me with other Jewish teens in the Chicagoland area.  

I knew the Jewish United Fund was the right organization for me since I had attended both Camp TOV for two years and the Voices program in the summer. Through my two summers with JUF, I met some amazing people and felt like I was a part of a close-knit community that valued kindness and giving back to people in need.  

Through participating in Camp TOV and Voices, I met some amazing people and felt like I was a part of a close-knit community that valued kindness and giving back to people in need. Through these JUF programs I met Brittany from Springboard who let me know about many other programs. She introduced me to a new program that she was running called Peer Ambassadors (PA). This was perfect for me because it fit the criteria I was looking for. As a competitive dancer, most programs interfered with my schedule. The PA program offered flexibility, leadership, and partnership, which were all reasons I wanted to get involved. 

The Peer Ambassador program was perfect for me because it fit the criteria I was looking for. As a competitive dancer, most programs interfered with my schedule. I was determined to find a program for me, so I decided to chat with the Assistant Director of Springboard, Brittany Abramowicz Cahan, who introduced me to a new program that she was running called Peer Ambassadors (PA).  

The PA program offered flexibility, leadership, and partnership, which were all reasons I wanted to get involved. Over the past year, I’ve attended and created different events that were centralized around the Jewish community. The events have both pushed me out of my comfort zone and taught me many new things. For example, a few months ago I invited six of my friends to join a Zoom call where we all baked Challah together. I had the Springboard Teen Engagement Manager, Naomi Looper, instruct us on what to do and how not to mess up (I still managed to mess mine up). Regardless of whether our challah turned out well, it was a fun experience that brought a group of my Jewish friends together.

Challah Baking Group

This year, I am returning to the Peer Ambassador program as a Senior Peer Ambassador to help mentor new PAs and offer my advice from my past experiences. I cannot be more thrilled to represent such an amazing organization and a fun and interactive program!  

If you would like to apply to be Peer Ambassador you can learn more and apply here. Applications are due Monday, August 16th. Ambassadors can earn a total of $300 over the course of the Ambassadorship. You will also be eligible for funding to implement programming. The Ambassadorship will begin in late August 2021 and end in early June 2022. All applicants must be in 9th-12th grade for the 2021-2022 school year and live in the Chicagoland area. Applications will be reviewed on a rolling basis. If you have any questions email NaomiLooper@juf.org.

Talia Holceker Photo

About the Author: Talia is a rising senior 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-Cruelty Society, her Jewish identity has become central to her passion for volunteering

Join Us at JCUA's Youth Organizing Workshop By Sabrina Goldsmith

(Program Experiences) Permanent link

Hi! I’m Sabrina Goldsmith. I’m currently working as one of the Jewish Council on Urban Affair’s youth interns. I’ve worked with JCUA for over 3 years now, in various capacities. I’ve marched for police accountability, talked about income taxes at my synagogue, and participated in a prayer service outside of a detention center. And this summer, I’m working on youth engagement and education! 

I know over the past year, many people have been forced to face the inherent inequalities in our city and our nation as a whole. But, many people, especially teens, often don’t know where to start or how to actually create real, lasting, systemic change. If you’re looking to make a change in the world around you, supported by fellow teens, JCUA is the place for you! JCUA has been organizing since 1964, starting out by fighting for fair housing in low-income neighborhoods of Chicago. Today, JCUA is working on several campaigns ranging from Bring Chicago Home, which focuses on redirecting real estate taxes to help provide housing for the homeless to ECPS, the most progressive set of police reform measures in the country, which just recently passed city council.

If any of this sounds interesting to you, on August 1st from 11:00 AM - 1:00 PM, there is a virtual Youth Organizing Workshop. Join us to meet other folks who are interested in JCUA's youth organizing, learn more about what it is we do, and how you can get involved! We’ll talk about what community organizing is, how we build community, and how we are currently working to improve our city! This meeting will be completely led by JCUA’s youth interns, and we really hope to see you there.

Please RSVP here and invite anyone who you think might be interested in JCUA and our work.

JCUA-Event

About the Author: Sabrina Goldsmith is a lifelong resident of Chicago, and recent graduate of Lane Tech. She has participated in several social justice programs, including RTI and JUF Voices, in addition to her work with JCUA. She will be attending Brandeis University this fall, where she plans to major in Anthropology and Art History. 

The Intersectionality of Judaism and Queerness By Meitav Aaron

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

As I’ve grown to understand the complexities of my relationship to Judaism and Queerness (anyone who does not identify as both cisgender and heterosexual), I realized that my Queerness and Judaism were not separate identities encapsulated in one body but one identity that is constantly informing and influencing the other.

My journey to self-understanding and self-love has brought me to the junction of my Queer Jewishness, where both Queerness and Judaism are roped together into one ever-growing and shifting identity.

Queerness has taught, or in many ways reminded, my Judaism about the power of authenticity and finding my own way of connecting to my Jewish identity. Queerness and Queer culture teach us that authenticity is freedom, especially in the context of a world of binaries, and that while finding community in others is important and vital, so to is the need to develop our own relationship to ourselves and how we manifest Queerness.

Judaism in many ways also teaches the power of remaining authentically ourselves, but I often felt that the emphasis on connecting to Judaism growing up was placed on aligning myself with pre-existing modes of Jewish expression and identity. Queerness has taught me that my Judaism and the way I decide to embody and connect to my Jewish identity is at my liberty to choose. I can build my own authentic path towards a strong and enriching Jewish life that feels special and important to me without the need to constantly justify it or validate it. Queer Judaism in part is unconfined authenticity, the freedom to connect to and express my Jewish identity in any way that feels most meaningful to me. And that is a freedom I will continue to use to shape my ever-growing relationship to Judaism and Jewish communal life.

Meitav Aaron Photo

About the Author: Meitav Aaron is a rising Junior at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, Maryland where he is majoring in Painting and Humanistic Studies with a minor in Curatorial Studies. During the school year, Meitav works as an assistant preschool teacher in a Hebrew Immersion program as well as a Sunday school teacher and Hebrew tutor for a local synagogue in Baltimore. He is also the president of MICA’s Jewish student organization “Kehilat MICA” where he works to build and nourish Jewish communal life on MICA’s campus. He has a passion for the arts, Judaism, and Queer Judaism and is looking to start a career in Jewish communal work and engagement that includes the arts and building Queer Jewish community.

The Impact Of My Gratitude Journal by Annie Epstein

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

In May, I received a college care package from my synagogue, Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan, filled with Shabbat essentials. As I rifled through the box of candles and recipes, I came across a small blue notebook titled “Shabbat Gratitude Journal.” Since coming back to college during the pandemic, my friends and I used Shabbat as a time to safely come together, reflect on our week of zoom classes, and share a meal together. I really enjoyed those moments that added structure and fun to a seemingly never-ending week, but until receiving that notebook, I failed to apply the same energy during the rest of the week.

Shortly after receiving the package, I headed home for a much-needed short break after a difficult quarter of school. At home, I was struggling to maintain a positive attitude because I was lonely and my friends were still together in my college town. I felt inspired by that tiny notebook and decided to start writing down things, feelings, and events from each day that I was grateful for. I started to pay attention to the little things that I usually overlooked–bagels, walks in summer, hugs from friends that I haven’t seen since the pandemic began–and found that even the most mundane days were filled with things that I enjoy.

This gratitude practice drastically changed my mindset. I was definitely skeptical when I began, but after a month of journaling, I have three pages filled with all of these little things that I appreciated from each day this summer. I haven’t missed a day because I’m so excited to write down all of the things that made me happy so I can look back on them when I’m feeling down.

Because of gratitude journaling, I’ve learned to make the most of the bad days and realize just how much there is to appreciate in our lives. I highly recommend this practice to anyone who wants to bring the energy of Shabbat with them throughout the week. It all starts with a small notebook.

Annie Epstein

Bio: Annie Epstein is a rising junior from New York City at Northwestern University majoring in Journalism with minors in Psychology and Jewish Studies. During Summer 2021, she is a Lewis Summer Intern and Brand & Marketing Fellow for UpStart. On campus, Annie is involved with Hillel, Challah for Hunger, and Her Campus. After graduating, Annie hopes to pursue a career combining her passion for journalism and marketing with her love for Judaism.

Question Connection and the Diller Tikkun Olam Award

(Celebrate Our Community) Permanent link

Hannah Frazer

My name is Hannah Frazer, I am 19 years old and I am from Highland Park, Illinois. It is such an honor to have my work with Question Connection be featured on Springboard with JUF! Question Connection is a conversation starter card game designed to facilitate conversations, build community, and promote empathy. 

The game addresses feelings of loneliness, and mitigates the isolating effects of social media and bullying many young people experience in their time throughout school. Simply put: the game gets kids talking to one another. In an increasingly polarized world, the tool facilitates a safe and encouraging environment in which people recognize their similarities, ultimately fostering deeper connections, understanding, and empathy. As a high schooler, I recognized that simple ice breaker activities weren’t effective; I wanted to use my experience growing up in the age of social media to get kids engaged. I believe that everything good starts with a conversation, and that a lot of the isolation we felt could be resolved if we had an easy way to begin to talk. With my AP Psychology teacher, I developed an educational device that was transportable and easy to use. Creating a card deck with content that young people could relate to (for example, “My favorite emoji is…” or “If school didn’t exist, I would spend all my time…”), as well as translating the deck into 5 different languages, invites multiple cultures and perspectives to engage all different kinds of voices in the conversation. 

Question Connection is proudly used to facilitate conversations amongst members of the Harvard Women’s Empowerment organization, as well as at local Boys and Girls Clubs, and the JEP youth service tutoring program in LA. Students use the game in Highland Park High School’s orientation program, Giant Buddies, and Drop In Center. The game was introduced as a conversation starter activity in a local Anti Defamation League Certification training program. 

I am thrilled to announce that, through my work with Question Connection, I have been selected as a finalist for the 2021 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award! Becoming a Diller Awardee not only gives me an incredible opportunity to further my non-profit and give back to my own community, but it also provides me with a cohort of 14 other incredibly hard working teens who are equally passionate about the ways they’re going about repairing the world. I love that I now have a phenomenal network to collaborate with! I would love to encourage everyone who has an idea to help someone or to solve a problem, no matter how big or small, to step out of your comfort zone and go for it! 

Question Connection Games is always actively looking for new schools, extracurricular programs, and organizations with which to partner. If you know anyone who might be interested in becoming a Question Connection Ambassador, please let me know! To find out more about the game, visit questionconnectiongame.com.



What the Diller Tikkun Olam Award Means to Me

(Celebrate Our Community) Permanent link

Winning the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award has been an amazing experience that is opening up so many doors for me. Each year, the Diller Foundation awards 15 young Jewish leaders from around the country with $36,000 grants to further their education or projects that practice the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, or Repairing the World. Recently, I was named one of the 2021 winners for my project Covid-TV, which is a platform connecting teens from over 10 countries around the world during the pandemic. 

At the first meeting with the rest of the recipients, the foundation told us we were not just winning an award, but being welcomed into a family. I have found that family is the exact correct word to describe the foundation. By the end of the first zoom call, I immediately felt connected to the other winners over a shared love of Judaism and working to help others. The workers at the foundation are kind, welcoming, and value social justice and taking action when they see wrong in the world. The Diller Foundation is an incredible community, and at the risk of sounding cliché, I can really say that I’m inspired by the other teens and their projects that are changing the world. From 3D printing PPE for healthcare workers to fighting for musical education in schools, I am so impressed by the other winners and grateful to be in their community and a part of the Diller Family. 

I also feel that besides receiving funding to continue and expand my project, winning the Tikkun Olam award is a responsibility to continue living by my Jewish Values and working to help others. Reading and sharing the stories of other teens and their experiences during the pandemic helped me feel not so alone during a time of social isolation. I hope that the community created by Covid-TV helped other teens through the pandemic, and will continue to help them in the transition back to a maskless world without Covid-19. As Covid-TV grows, and as I grow, I have to remember to continue leading with my Jewish faith and values of Chesed (kindness), Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), and Kehilla (community) behind me. 

I feel so lucky and grateful to be given this opportunity, and to be so welcomed into the foundation. It really is an amazing community, and I am eternally grateful for all the support I have received from the Jewish community to teach me the value of doing good for others and to get me to where I am today.

Lauren Tapper

Bio: Lauren Tapper is a rising Junior at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in Chicago. She Co-founded Covid-TV, an online platform connecting teens during the pandemic and igniting them in social justice projects to help struggling communities in the face of Covid-19. In her free time, she loves participating on her school’s Model UN team, walking her dog on the Chicago Lake path, and is an avid smoothie drinker. 

You Will Be Found: Finding the Funds For College

(Celebrate Our Community) Permanent link

Upon applying for colleges, my eyes widened at the prices I saw outlining the cost of attendance. “How on earth am I going to survive with this much debt?” I wondered to myself. Just the application fees alone cost my family and I over $300 (and that was just for six schools). I knew that I needed to search for scholarships, but it felt as though they were impossible to find. “Oh! There’s one!” I would exclaim. “Oh… never mind. I’m not from Idaho.” Every opportunity had some odd specification to it, and I was afraid I wouldn’t find any help.

As time went on, I found a few here and there for around $1,000-$2,000 each and submitted my materials. I had nearly given up when I stumbled across the “You Will Be Found” essay contest held by Gotham Writers, Broadway Education Alliance, and Dear Evan Hansen the Broadway Musical. As a theatre major, the Broadway component immediately spoke to me, but my interest spiked when I read the prompt: "describe how you have managed to ensure those around you were a little less alone in recent months." I knew immediately that I had the perfect story to submit.

The full story I wrote about my “Grampuncle”, Alan and our relationship can be found HERE. It was an emotional story to write. I procrastinated for a good few weeks focusing on smaller scholarships and finishing senior year, but eventually, I sat down and just wrote. I wrote for a good 30 minutes, tears hitting my keyboard, and then I had to take a break. An hour turned into a day, into a few days, but I finally came back to the document the week before submissions closed and powered through. 

About two months went by and I heard nothing from any scholarships. Over the course of the weeks following, I received a few rejections as well. At this point I had almost completely given up the idea of the You Will Be Found contest. However, on June 17th, the morning of my high school graduation, I woke up to a voicemail from the Associate Producer of Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway. I was in shock. “Just give me a call back when you get a chance,” the message said. I leaped out of bed and immediately called her back still in my pajamas and with sleepy bags under my eyes. 

I knew what the call was going to be about the second I heard the voicemail, but I was still in an immense amount of shock when she informed me that out of over 4,000 submissions, my story was chosen and I had won $10,000 for school. I thanked her endlessly over the phone through tears of joy and we had a conversation about theatre and my story that brought me so much happiness. She then wished me well at graduation and we said “talk soon”. 

Words can not describe the joy and validation I felt when my story, OUR story (Alan and I, that is) had been chosen. I couldn’t help but think that somehow, somewhere Alan was looking out for m

-Max

You can follow along with Max’s next adventures and stories by following them on Instagram @maxwellssilverman

Maxwell Silverman

Bio: Maxwell Silverman recently graduated from Lane Tech High School in Chicago, IL and will be pursuing a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee in the Fall of 2021. They have been previously recognized by Springboard as one of the 2021 18 Under 18 Honorees, and is the Co-Founder and former Executive Director of Teens Be Heard (teensbeheard.org). With a love for dance, art, and activism, Max is passionate about storytelling and making change.


Meet Kobe, Our Engagement Specialist

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Kobe

I am thrilled to begin my role as an Engagement Specialist with Springboard at JUF! I value one-on-one connections, working collaboratively, and supporting students and families in any way I can. 

As a college student, I was an active member of my University's Hillel. I served on our student leadership team for two years. Through this experience, I connected with Jewish leaders in the community and from different college campuses through statewide initiatives. My work at Hillel inspired a love for service, Jewish learning, and identity exploration. In the past, I have taught at a few Reform congregations and in the public school system. Some hobbies of mine include recipe testing, yoga, and drinking coffee/tea! One of the things I’ll be doing with Springboard is meeting with teens and parents. As things open up I’d love to meet you for coffee or tea, get to know you and help you discover amazing ways to connect to the Chicago community.

I love being a part of the community in Chicago, and I am looking forward to beginning my career at the Jewish United Fund.

Meet Our Lewis Summer Intern, Alex!

(Program Experiences, Community Spotlight) Permanent link

Alex Gold Portrait

I am so excited to be joining the Springboard team as the Lewis Summer Intern for JUF teens and Springboard this summer! 

I am from Glencoe and have always belonged to Am Shalom where I have been able to grow my Jewish belonging and network beyond friendships within my hometown. I worked at my synagogue as a madricha for three years during high school. I was able to work with preschool aged children who were just starting their Jewish journey, all the way through middle schoolers, who were gearing up for their b’nai mitzvahs.  

I spent 8 summers at Tripp Lake camp in Maine There, I was also able to connect with young Jewish girls from all over the country. Connecting with these girls from such a young age and continuously growing relationships every summer, allowed me to make lifelong friends who I still have today. 

Alex Gold Photo

I am a rising senior at Franklin and Marshall College studying sociology and anthropology. I intend to graduate this winter and go off to graduate school where I will be able to get my degree in Social Work. I hope to work with teens and young adults who are navigating middle school and high school. Listening to other people’s life experiences, and giving advice, has been a passion of mine since I was young, and I cannot wait to start that chapter of my life! 

Shavuot Learning from Talia P.

(Holidays) Permanent link

Talia P

The Torah portion being read today, Emor, is a very important section that could also be thought of as the first Jewish calendar. It’s the first time in the Torah where all of the holidays and their dates are discussed together.  Emor starts off with god telling the Israelites that each week they should work for six days and observe Shabbat on the seventh. God then says to the Israelites that the fifteenth day of the first month they should celebrate Passover by not eating leavened bread for 7 days. Shavuot happens after Passover, and commemorates god giving the ten commandments to the Jewish people. The next holiday we hear about is Rosh Hashanah, which is observed with complete rest and seven loud blasts of the shofar. After Rosh Hashanah is Yom Kippur during which you should reflect on your choices and atone. Five days after Yom Kippur comes the week-long feast of booths, or sukkot.  Sukkot is the holiday that we’re currently celebrating. This is the only holiday where we‘re commanded to rejoice, and it’s usually celebrated in a Sukkah as a reminder of our Jewish ancestor’s journeys. God gives us the fixed and appointed times for all of these holidays, but, God leaves it up to us to make them holy by observing and celebrating them. Take note here. It’s not God that makes our holidays sacred… we do!

Let me ask you a question. One we’ve probably all heard! If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody hears it, does it even make a sound? Let me ask you this: If  God has a date for a holiday, but we don’t celebrate it or make it holy, does this holiday ever really happen? I think this is why it’s key that we work to make important moments special… Otherwise, what’s the point in experiencing them? Let’s take the current holiday, or Sukkot as an example. In my family, it’s a  tradition that we always put up a sukkah in our backyard, and at least in pre-pandemic times, we would always invite family and friends to spend time with us in it. This is what makes the holiday special for our family… It’s hard to imagine sukkot coming around without us observing the holiday like this— it's one of our fixed and most cherished traditions. And to put it back in Torah’s terms, by observing this holiday, we’re making it holy!

This idea of us being the ones responsible for making experiences special can really be applied to anything and everything in our lives. Consider our current pandemic situation...Many of us have had a hard time distinguishing the days from each other as we’re spending all of them at home, yet we’ve learned that the time doesn’t pass unless we do something to make each day different or special.  From waking up early to see the sunrise to going on long bike rides or having socially distanced visits with friends and family, I’ve prioritized making every day a little different. While we’re stuck in these uncertain times, we all have the ability to make these days count; let’s use it!!

So what about that tree. If I were to ask you this question right now, you’d probably say, logically that yes, that tree did make a sound--even if nobody heard it. But, the Torah answers this question a little bit differently. If there’s a set date for a holiday, yet nobody celebrates or makes it sacred, this holiday does not technically happen. 

What, then, can we take from this? Yes, of course to celebrate our jewish holidays, but we don’t need to only apply it to Judaism!! We can really apply it to any and every important event that we experience. So, next time you encounter a moment, think about what you’ll do to make it special.

About the Author: Talia is a currently an 8th grader who had her Bat Mitzvah this year. Her favorite food during Chanukah are latkes! Talia and her family belong to North Shore Congretion Israel in Glencoe.

Shavuot Learning from Jack

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Last spring, just as Jack and his family were preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, the world began to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the shift from in-person to virtual gatherings was dissapointing for many, Jack discovered that celebrating his Bar Mitzvah at home surrounded by his parents and sister, was, surprisingly, the perfect way for him to mark this milestone. Fourteen months after his Bar Mitzvah, Naomi Looper, Springboard Teen Engagement Manager, interviewed Jack about his experience of being one of the first teens to have a virtual Bar Mitzvah last spring.

Naomi: What was it like when you first found out you couldn't gather in person, and instead your Bar Mitzvah was going to need to be virtual?

Jack: At first we didn’t know what was going to happen. Pre-COVID I had suggested that I might want a smaller Bar Mitzvah because I did not want all of the frills that come with a big party and a lot of guests. When the virtual idea was presented as a possibility due to COVID, it actually felt so right. On the day of my Bar Mitzvah, I felt so comfortable. It was the right environment for me because I was able to relax and wear comfortable clothesI was able to be comfortable with my family. It was nice to have my parents there to support me since they have been supporting me throughout the entire process. 

Naomi: What did your family do to celebrate after the ceremony? 

Jack: After the main service, we went on a different Zoom with my extended family. We did an awkward horah dance and everyone sang with excitement over Zoom. After that, my mom asked me what I wanted to eat to celebrate and I asked for cinniman rolls. It was nice to have a low key celebration, relaxing with my family in the kitchen and enjoying the sweet cinnman rolls. 

Naomi: How did you feel that night? Was there a sense of relief and accomplishment? 

Jack: That night, I was really happy with how everything turned out. After the celebrations with my family, I logged onto my computer and chatted with my friends. They all told me what a great job I did! When I went to bed, I was satisifed with the entire day and expereience. 

Naomi: If you could go back in time and talk to yourself just as you were starting the Bar Mitzvah prep experience, what advice would you give to younger Jack?

Jack: When I first started preparing for my Bar Mitzvah, I was really stressed about having to memorize my Torah portion. I did not realize that there was a melody with the portion.  I would tell myself that the melody will help you learn the protion. At the start of preparing for my Bar Mitzvah, I was also not thrilled about practicing. So, I would tell a younger me to practice more and consistently. I would also tell myself that it will all be okay. I was really stressed about the whole celebration part since I don't like attention on myself. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself it will go well and practice goes a long way. 

Naomi: Now that you are about to start high school, how do you want to stay involved with Judaism? 

Jack: I want to stay involved with my Jewish community since that is what I love the most. My congregation, Temple Jeremiah, is the element of Judaism that means the most to me. I also had a lot of fun last year at the NFTY retreat, so I want to do more things like that. The history in Judaism also excites me, so I want to keep learning about that.

About the Author: Jack is a current 8th grader who had his Bar Mitzvah in March 2020. Some of his favorite Jewish foods are gefilte fish and matzah ball soup. Jack and his family belong to Temple Jeremiah in Northfield. 

Shavuot Learning from Danielle

(Holidays) Permanent link

Danielle

Good afternoon. My Torah portion this week is Ki Teitzei from the book of Deuteronomy. This excerpt teaches how we should treat those who are less fortunate than us. It shows we should give things we do not need to those who do need them, demonstrating empathy, a trait valued in Judaism. We as Jews must help the less fortunate because when we were in the land of Egypt, we were the ones in need and should not allow others to go through similar experiences. This text also states that everyone is in charge of their actions, establishing personal accountability, another trait valued in the Torah.

The teachings of this passage relate to modern life as it is comparable to the rationing of supplies at the start of this pandemic. Many people hoarded necessities with the belief that they would be unable to leave their homes for many weeks. This mindset did not demonstrate empathy, as many were left without supplies such as toilet paper, wipes, and hand sanitizer. Hospitals didn’t even have enough supplies to protect patients and staff. This incident displays the importance of compassion. If people had thought of others during this time, many more would have had what they needed when the pandemic hit.

A mitzvah is a sacred obligation, and when preparing to become a Bat Mitzvah, I took this guideline seriously. For my project, I asked friends and family to help me collect toys that I plan to give to Lurie Children’s Hospital when it is safe to do so. Many kids in hospitals are unhappy and don't have anything enjoyable to do, but with the many toys everyone so generously donated, we will help make their stay so much more pleasant. This mitzvah followed the theme of empathy so flawlessly, as so many people used the money they could have kept for themselves, but chose to give it to children in need.

As a part of my preparation for this service, I participated in the Circle of Life program. This project is a way to remember those who died in the Holocaust before they were even able to celebrate their B’nei Mitzvot. I chose to honor Simcha Apel, a young Jewish girl who had been hidden from the Gestapo with her family for many years before they found and killed her and many of her family. Despite how terrible this story is, it still follows the theme of showing empathy to everyone around you, no matter what the risk could be. The Polish people that had hidden Simcha and her family for those many years would have been killed if the Gestapo knew what they had done. Even with the extreme risk those people faced, they still chose to help the people in need. This was a true act of kindness and though it didn’t end up working out in the end, the Apel’s were able to spend many years together that they wouldn't have been able to otherwise.

I would like to thank everyone who helped me come to this point in my Bat Mitzvah journey, especially whilst being in a global pandemic. I’m sorry that we cannot be physically together today however, I appreciate all of you being here virtually. It is astounding how well we as a community can adapt to any situation. Thank you to everyone who allowed this to happen today, as I would not be standing here without many hardworking, committed people. Thank you Rabbi for studying with me, Cantor for helping me with many prayers, Charla for teaching me my Torah and Haftarah portions, and my brother Jacob for tutoring me. I would also like to thank all of my temple teachers for everything they taught me. Finally, I would like to thank my mom and dad for supporting me along the way. I am so grateful to have all of you present today, watching as I become a Bat Mitzvah.

About the Author: Danielle is a current 7th grader who had her Bat Mitzvah this year. She loves to eat latkes at Chanukah! Danielle and her family belong to Temple Chai in Long Grove. 

Shavuot Learning from Talia

(Holidays) Permanent link

Talia

In the Haftarah for the second day of Sukkot, King Solomon holds a big feast for all the men of Israel as they dedicate the Beit Hamikdash. First, the priests of Israel carried up the Ark. Next, the priests and Levites brought the tent of meeting. While they were doing this, King Solomon and the rest of the Israelites were bringing lots of sacrifices to the Ark. King Solomon announced:

“The LORD has chosen to abide in a thick cloud: I have now built for You A stately House, A place where You May dwell forever.”

With all of Israel standing, the King explained that his father David had intended to build the Temple, but God had chosen David just to lead the people. God had said that David was not the right person to build the temple; instead, God said that Solomon should build the temple and he did.

When I read this part of the Haftarah, I wondered: why couldn’t David build the Beit Hamikdash? After all, he was a great king and a strong warrior. David was a King chosen by God, whereas Solomon just happened to be his son. David even wrote the Psalms! David was the one who conquered Jerusalem, which is even called the City of David!! So, if all that is true, then why couldn’t he be the person to build the Beit Hamikdash?!

To learn more about this question, I looked to see what others have said. I found a verse in the book of Chronicles, (I Chronicles 22:6-8)

“You have shed blood abundantly, and have made great wars; you shall not build a house in My name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in My sight.”

In this verse God tells David that he cannot build the Beit Hamikdash because he “has blood on his hands”. Why does he have blood on his hands and what does that mean?

David was not a peaceful man. He killed a lot of people. For example, David sent Uriah, the husband of a woman he wanted to marry, to war to kill him! He also killed righteous non-Jews in his wars, Jews during the war between David and King Saul, Jews in unnecessary wars of conquest, and the Kohanim (the priests) in Nov. David was not the right person because he was a warrior with “blood on his hands”. Instead, God asked King Solomon, King David’s son, who was a peaceful man, to build the Beit Hamikdash.

Today is Sukkot. How do King David and the temple relate to Sukkot? First of all, the Beit Hamikdash was dedicated on Sukkot. Secondly, in the birkat hamazon on Sukkot there is a line: Sukkat David HaNofalet. This means “the fallen Sukkah of David." David did not have a Sukkah so what is that symbolizing? I think it symbolizes the temple. But, as I have been saying King Solomon is the one who built the temple. I think that this line is giving credit to King David because he made all the plans for the temple. This teaches us that God does not forget the things that we do. Even though David did not build the Temple, God still remembers everything he did along the way. And every time we do something we need to remember that God notices all the little things we do to contribute to it.

About the Author: Talia is a current 7th grader who had her Bat Mitzvah this year. She loves chicken soup with matza balls! Talia and her family belong to Anshe Emet Synagogue, Anshe B'nai Israel Synagogue, and Chabad Lakeview. Talia loves to go to Camp Chi and Camp Gan Israel in Lakeview in the summer!

Shavuot Learning from Ryder

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Ryder

In my Torah portion, Acharei Mot, after the two sons of Aaron died, the Israelites are taught how to be sorry for their mistakes, how to be better and be forgiven by others, themselves and God. Aaron brings two goats to his Israelite community as a sacrifice offering. One goat is to be killed to honor the Eternal God and the other goat is for purifying the Israelites sins. As Aaron puts his hands on the goat marked the sins, Aaron says all the transgressions and sins that the Israelites committed. Then he sends the goat out into the wild. You might think why would Aaron send the second goat alone? I think Aaron sent out the goat because when he whispers all his sins into the goat, the sins are transferred to the goat and are no longer on Aaron or the Israelites. Have you ever heard the word scapegoat? This is the origin of that word. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a scapegoat is defined by a goat upon whose head is symbolically placed the sins of the people after which he is sent into the wilderness in the biblical ceremony for Yorn Kippur or one that bears the blame for others. This ritual is also known as a purgation ritual. Purgation is the act of purifying something or someone. Obviously in this situation Aaron is not cleaning something but rather Aaron is wiping his slate clean from all his wrongdoings.

This practice might sound very familiar to you. Let me explain. During Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, we do purgation rituals by not eating for the day, also known as fasting. This is a time for us all to think about our sins and all our wrongdoings. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, AND the secular New Year, we make resolutions to do better in the future. These are times we are trying to move past our sins and be better for the future. But doing an act of purgation doesn't have to be that complicated like fasting on Yom Kippur. Everyone makes mistakes and hurts people all the time. We can't all fast every time we make a mistake. An easier way to release our sins is to SAY sorry, BE sorry AND do better in the future.

There have been times when I have said unkind things to my siblings. For example, when we are in the car I can sometimes be annoying to Presley and Casey by talking about things they aren't interested in. Doesn't everyone want to hear about Magic the Gathering? The latest Super Mario Games? Or exponential functions? Well,... I guess not. I know it bothers them when I talk about things they don't like because they ask me to stop but sometimes, I don't listen. I have said sorry to them, but that isn't enough. I have to DO better. When you know better, you do better. In the future, I am going to be thinking about how I have acted in the past and show them that I really am sorry. I will do this by taking the time to acknowledge their opinions and talk about things they are interested in, so they won't be annoyed.

Part of the reason people say and be sorry is to heal themselves, others, and the world. One part of becoming a Bar mitzvah is doing Tikkun Olam. That is Hebrew for, "repairing or healing the world". For my Tikkun Olam project, I am helping to heal the world by raising money to help heal kids in the hospital by providing them their own ukuleles and music therapy. Like my Torah portion mentioned, it is important to heal yourself and others by saying and being sorry. Saying sorry can heal others as well as healing yourself. Music can do the same thing for people, too.

Music is healing because sometimes when I am stressed or mad, I listen to music or play on my guitar. Music has a way of distracting me from anything that is bothering me and helps me feel better. I would like to share an original song that I wrote to explain some examples of saying sorry and being sorry.

Say Sorry Be Sorry By Ryder Tiplitsky

Have you ever felt bad about the choices you've made 

Living in darkness, hiding in shade

No one is perfect, doing the best we can

But sometimes we hurt when we get mad.

With unkind words, hurting your friends

Disrespecting your parents, things you want to mend

 

Say Sorry- it  can open your mind

Look ahead and leave the rest behind

When you're sor ry- you can heal from with in

Learn from the past and then begin

 

It's not over when you say those words

Your actions will speak louder- you gotta let them be heard

When you make better choices- then you'll know

You can move forward and it will help you grow

   

Be Sorry- it can open your mind

Look ahead and leave the rest behind

When you're sorry- you can heal from within

Learn from the past and then begin

   

Don't look back, look ahead

Take what you learned in your heart and head

Learn from the past and the wrongs you've done

You can make them right one by one

 

Be Sorry- it can open your mind

Look ahead and leave the rest behind

When you're sorry- you can heal from within

Learn from the past and then begin***

Before I end, I want to thank all of the people that helped get me here today. Thank you to everyone at Temple Jeremiah for working with me and teaching me how to love and appreciate Judaism. Thank you to my great friends and family friends who have all supported me and are joining us today in person and on zoom. I also want to thank my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and my amazing parents for supporting me, listening to me practice, and helping me celebrate this big day. Last, but definitely not least, I want to thank the most important people in my life- my brother Casey and my sister Presley. They make me smile, they make me laugh and they always know how to heal me.

Baruch atah adonai, may you be surrounded by music, family, friends and forgiveness. May they bring peace, love and healing into your heart, into your home and into your life. Amen.

About the Author: Ryder is a current 7th grader who had his Bar Mitzvah on April 24, 2021. He loves his grandma's matzo ball soup! Ryder and his family belong to Temple Jeremiah in Northfield. Ryder loves to spend his summers at camp at OSRUI! 

Shavuot Learning from Olive

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Olive

Hi everyone. This is a really strange time to have a Bat mitzvah. When I imagined it, I thought it would be a lot different than how it is now. But I’m grateful to see everyone’s faces and that my family is here. It is a hard time because we are all so isolated. It is hard to know how everyone is feeling. And I was thinking about not knowing what others are thinking as I was writing my d’var Torah. 

My Torah portion is about Jacob leaving Beersheba and going to Haran.  There he finds his uncle Laban and stays with him. While he is there, he falls in love with Laban’s daughter Rachel. Laban realizes this quickly and decides to take full advantage. So, he makes a deal with Jacob: If Jacob works for him for seven years, he can marry Rachel. Jacob agrees. 

However, once those seven years pass and it is time for the wedding, Laban realizes his oldest daughter Leah has not yet wed and he doesn’t want her to disgrace their family if her younger sister marries before her. So, Laban tricks Jacob into marrying Leah.  

Jacob is furious. But, Laban explains the situation to Jacob and tells him if he works another seven years he can marry Rachel, too. Jacob does this because he loves Rachel. Fast forward seven years later, and now he is married to both daughters.  

While Jacob is married to both sisters, Leah has 4 children with him. Rachel, however, cannot have children. Instead, Jacob has children with Rachel’s maid Bilhah. Bilhah has 2 children. Leah sees this and worries she might have no more children, she then gives her maid, Zilpah, to Jacob. Jacob has 2 children with Zilpah.  

Soon after, however, Leah does have more children with Jacob--2 more sons and 1 daughter. Then, God remembers Rachel and gives her 1 son with Jacob.  

Eventually, Jacob and Laban get into a fight, and Jacob ends up taking Leah, Rachel, and all the children away until he and Laban finally reach a truce.  

Something that really stuck out to me in this portion is the mistreatment of women in the story. And not only the mistreatment, but how we don’t get to really get a grasp of the story from their perspective or hear their voices. This leaves us with so many unanswered questions.  

Did Rachel know what her father's plan for the wedding was? And if she did, was she ok with it? Did Leah truly want to marry Jacob? Or even did Rachel want to marry Jacob? Did they want to leave their father and their whole life behind? This whole thing between Rachel and Leah -- did it ruin their relationship, or did they always compete with each other? And what about Bilhah and Zilpah having no say in how they were treated--what are they thinking? Just think of how different the story would be If it were being told by the women. There really is so much gray area in this portion that could have all been avoided if we had simply given the women a voice and heard their perspective.  

For my Bat mitzvah project, I have been talking and working with the wrongfully convicted and trying to listen to their voices. Now, especially because of George Floyd's death, we have been hearing and talking a lot about police violence. So, I decided to talk with some of my dad's clients to hear about their experience with wrongful conviction and police violence. 

One story involves a man and a woman who had 3 kids together -- they all have become friends of our family. I have researched their case. In their specific story, a police officer started harassing both and eventually he framed both for drug possession and intent to sell. It happened a bunch of times. In one instance, they were just in their car when the officer pulled them over and looked in their car, pulled something out of his sleeve and accused both of drug trafficking.  

The couple told other police and many others that the officers had framed them. But no one did anything. The man was sent to prison and the women pleaded guilty to do probation to avoid prison. After all, they had a family and needed to protect them as well. Eventually, years later, my dad worked with them and was able to free them.  

The ending is happy, but the story is not. Even after the couple was free of their convictions no one apologized for not helping or not believing them. Everyone just went on with their lives. When they were first wrongfully convicted no one listened to what they had to say or even gave them a second glance. They were labeled as soon as they were convicted and, not only did this conviction affect them, but it also took a toll on their whole family. The kids were used to their dad being around all the time, being the one to take them to school, pick them up, and help them with their homework. That was all taken away. That was just one of the many consequences that came because no one would listen to their voices when they were telling people what happened.  

October 2, 2020, was something called Wrongful Conviction Day – a worldwide recognition of individuals who are convicted of crimes they did not commit. In honor that day, I encouraged many people to show their support by telling the wrongfully convicted that their voice is important, and we are listening. I worked with the Exoneration Project to have people send messages directly to people still in prison fighting their wrongful conviction. I wrote a message too and told them there is a community out here supporting and listening to you. 

Connecting this back to the Torah portion: No one listened to what Rachel and Leah had to say or their feelings on their situation. Jacob and Laban just assumed they wanted what Jacob and Laban wanted. And Laban treated both Rachel and Leah as an object, trading them for labor.  Even though it may have been common around then, it doesn’t make it any better and is not an excuse. I think all this proves how we lack an understanding for so many people.  

So, after hearing these stories I encourage you to listen to others' stories and don't make judgements if you don’t fully understand their perspective. Most importantly have and show empathy.  

About the Author: Olive is a current 7th grader and had her Bat Mitzvah this year. She loves to eat hamentashen cookies during Purim! Olive and her family belong to Oak Park Temple and  she is part of the Oak Park Temple Youth group (OPTY). Olive loves to spend her summers at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI). 


Shavuot Learning from Mischa

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Mischa

First of all, thank you to everyone for being here with me. One of the benefits of having my Bat Mitzvah over zoom, is that friends and family members from all over the country and all over the world, are able to join us today. So, thank you.

For me, becoming a Bat Mitzvah is a time to look at the past, present, and future. Today is a day to look back at my life, look at everything I’ve accomplished, and all the challenges I’ve faced, and acknowledge that I’m entering a new phase in my life, as I take on more responsibility. I’ve been told by many, many people that becoming a Bat Mitzvah is not just a few hours in one day. Not even just one special day. They say it is a process. I feel like I have been preparing for today for my whole life. Although I may not have had tutoring at the age of four, or been writing this speech at the age of seven, I did start developing my Jewish identity at those ages. The values and identity that I have developed throughout my childhood, at my school, Nettelhorst, my summer camp, OSRUI, my youth group, NFTY, and my Hebrew school, Moadon, will stay with me as I grow.

I'd like to tell you about some of the core values that I’ve learned are most important to me, and that have helped me really know who I am as I become a young adult. The first core value I’d like to talk about is learning and teaching. For as long as I can remember I have loved learning, and hoped to become a teacher.

Over the years, when I’ve had days off of school, I would sometimes go to Moadon to be a teacher’s assistant with the younger children, and I always enjoyed it. Now, as a NFTY ambassador, I am learning even more about how to be a leader and a teacher. I am also able to share what I’ve learned with my peers. It feels good to help others and contribute to their learning. My time with NFTY and Moadon have solidified learning and teaching as one of my values.

A key value my family has taught me is kindness. They show me that no matter what, they love me, and that has taught me compassion. I am now able to draw on that experience in my friendships, as well as with strangers. Sometimes it is hard, and sometimes I mess up. But kindness is also about being kind to myself. So even if I mess up, I have to be kind to myself and say “Hey, everyone messes up sometimes. It’s ok, and you learn from your mistakes”.

A more light hearted-but equally important-value that I’ve learned is fun. At OSRUI, everything feels like a fun adventure. A big part of this is loosening up and letting go to allow fun to happen. Applying this to everyday life, and making fun a priority, is really important to me. This value in action, means making intentional choices to foster and create fun in my life. Examples from this COVID time period, which is full of challenges, include planning outdoor get togethers with local friends and family, organizing fun zoom calls with my camp friends (which by the way, we are overdue for!), and spending extra time in nature at our house in Indiana.

A fourth core value I’ve identified in my life is equality and respect. In school, we recently read a short story called “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonneget. It is a story about equality but not in the sense that any of us strive for. In the story, people who are considered physically beautiful have to wear a mask, which by the way, is ridiculous because everybody is beautiful. People who are especially smart have their thoughts interrupted every 20 seconds, and people who are exceptionally strong have to wear a weighted necklace or backpack to offset their physical strength. Of course, this kind of equality is not what I hope for in this world. What I hope for is an equality that gives everyone safety, justice, opportunity, and respect, regardless of race, gender, size, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, and countless other identities and characteristics. In many ways, I can contribute to this goal. I can treat everyone I come in contact with, equally and with respect. These values of teaching, kindness, fun, and equality and respect are so important to me, and I will take them with me moving forward.

If becoming a Bat Mitzvah is all about the process, why did we ask you to put a couple hours aside so that you could come listen to me lead this service, and read from the Torah? The whole point of today is to share everything I’ve learned leading up to my Bat Mitzvah. In addition to strengthening the core values I’ve discussed already, I’m very proud that I’ve improved my Hebrew reading so much. For me, it is so important because half of my relatives speak, read and write Hebrew, and now I feel like I can be a bigger part of that. Now that I’ve shared about my learning process leading up to today, I want to talk about the Torah portion I recently chanted.

My Torah portion comes right after the 10 commandments. It shows us more concrete examples of how the 10 commandments play a role in daily life. There are so many examples of lessons and values in my portion that were important when the Torah was written, and are still relevant today. The following are some of the examples I want to share with you. “You shall not follow a multitude to do evil”. This means if many people - even people you know and trust and love - are doing something you know is wrong, you should not follow them. Although it is difficult, being the upstander is such an important role in society, and one that I aim to fulfill.

Another example I want to share is “If you meet your enemy’s ox or the enemy’s ass going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again”. This means that your responsibility to the environment and to your community, matters more than any interpersonal conflicts you may have. What I’ve understood from this verse is that we may need to put our personal conflicts aside when they are at odds with the needs of the larger community or environment.

The part of my portion that I want to focus on today with you is this: “And a stranger shall not oppress; for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Egypt”. We all know what it is like to be the stranger. We’ve all been the odd one out before. So why do some treat people who are different in cruel or prejudiced ways? I am in a club at school called FOR club which stands for Friends of Rachel. Rachel Joy Scott was the first one killed at Columbine High School on April 20th, 1999 during the school shooting. About a decade after Rachel's death, her father found an essay of hers in which she had written "I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.” This quote is so inspiring to me. For my Bat Mitzvah project, I have combined these ideas of offering compassion to others and contributing to the chain reaction of kindness. I am making supply kits for people without homes. These kits will help them through the winter by providing needed supplies for life without a house. When I sent out an email to everyone asking you to participate in my project, I added a page on how to host this project in your own community, because I want to make a difference bigger than my own efforts. I see this as another opportunity to be part of a chain reaction.

I have witnessed a small chain reaction like this even in my own home. For example, I invite Romy to hang out in my room and read with me. She would then feel inspired to be kind to Emmett, so she builds Lego with him. Then Emmett would want to do something kind to Sy, like read him a book. Then Sy would make the whole family laugh, with a knock-knock joke about a banana crying. And the cycle continues.

Rachel’s idea about a kindness chain reaction, and the verse from my Torah portion about treating others with respect and equality, inspire me to treat everyone-friends and strangers-with more compassion.

I want to finish by thanking everybody who helped me get to this moment. First off, I want to thank you all for being here. Thank you to my Nettelhorst friends for being so loving and supportive.

You guys make school fun. To my camp friends, the thought of going to camp with you again gives me hope through the pandemic. Nana, Papa, Lisa, Matt, Eric, Allie, Anouk and Cleo. Although I am very lucky that we were able to have our family dinners at some points through the pandemic, I look forward to being able to do it without wearing masks. Saba, Savta, Mayrav, Renee, Yaniv, Michal, Eitan, Mili, Jonah and Elan. I can’t wait for the day when we are all vaccinated and can have our Shabbat family dinners again. To all my relatives, I love you. I want to thank Savta for being such a big part of planning my Bat Mitzvah. I know that you worked very hard, and it means so much to me. Mayrav, Renee, Mama, and Romy, thank you for working on my Bat Mitzvah photo montage. I’m so excited to watch it after havdalah! Ronit, you were the best tutor I could ask for. You were so supportive and you made me believe that I could accomplish everything you were teaching me. Romy, Emmett, and Sy, you never fail to make me laugh. All of your jokes really help me with the stress of remote learning and all of the crazy things going on in my life. Mama and Aba, you have supported me from the beginning. You helped me so much in getting to this point. Thank you for having my back during this process. I love you both to the Moon and back. Shabbat Shalom everybody!

About the Author: Mischa is a current 7th grader who had her Bat Mitzvah this year. Mischa loves to eat latkes during Chanukah! She belongs to Temple Beth Israel in Skokie with her family. Mischa is an active member in NFTY Chicago Area Region (NFTY-CAR), and spends her summers at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI). 


Shavuot Learning from Abby

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Mazel Tov Abby

My Torah portion, Chayei Sarah, focuses on, amidst other things, Isaac’s servant (Eliezer) looking for a future wife for Isaac. Eliezer goes up to the well and decides that he is going to look for the kindest woman to be Isaac’s wife. He asks Rebekkah to give water to him and his camels. She says yes and keeps giving him and his camels water until they are full. This kindness is one of the themes in the portion. Rebekkah embodies this because in the portion, she gets enough water from the well for Eliezer AND his camels. Camels drink a lot of water, up to 25 gallons at a time, and she keeps refilling her jug until all the camels are hydrated. Also, she gets water for Eliezer, which is a kind thing in itself. 

Rebekkah is a very good role model for everyone. She is very kind and caring, which are amazing traits to have. She connects to everyday life because with everything going on right now, a little act of kindness (it doesn’t have to be as monumental as hers), can change someone’s day. Rebekkah is also a very selfless person, because, in Genesis 27:5-13 Rebekkah says she will bear any curse that is inflicted upon Jacob (her son) because of her decisions. This shows that she is selfless because she could have just said “if there is a curse, too bad, you will bear it,” but instead she said she would bear any curse.

My Haftarah portion, I (1st)  Kings Chapter I, is about King David picking who will succeed him on the throne. He talks to Bathsheba and she reminds him that he promised her son, Solomon, could succeed him. He remembers this and publicly announces that Solomon will succeed him on the throne. One theme in this chapter is respect for elders. Bathsheba is respectful to King David in that she politely reminds him that he promised Solomon could be the next king, instead of bursting in and yelling at him. This is important because you should always respect your elders, and Bathsheba shows that good things can come out of doing so.

My Torah and Haftarah portions are connected because, in both of them, a type of kindness is shown (respect for elders and simply kindness) and this kindness ends up benefiting the people who do it in a good way. Rebekkah gets to marry Isaac because she is kind, and Bathsheba gets to have her son be king because she is kind. I think we can learn from both of these stories and characters to apply kindness in every part of our daily lives, because we never know what unseen good can come out of it.

About the Author: Abby is a current 7th grader who had her Bat Mitzvah this year. Her favorite Jewish food is matzah ball soup. She belongs to Emanuel Congregation, is an active member in NFTY Chicago Area Region (CAR), and spends her summers at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI). 

Chicago Celebrates the Jewish Teen Community

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On Sunday, April 25th, the Chicago Jewish community came together for the 2021 Celebration of Chicago’s Jewish Teen Community. This annual event is the only one of its kind, bringing together Jewish teens of all ages and backgrounds, professionals, volunteers, clergy, Jewish teen stakeholders and community members. The celebration publicly recognized the 18 Under 18 Honorees, the Jewish teen community, and the youth professionals, clergy, educators and families who make it all possible. The event kicked off with Shout Outs submitted by people from across the community sharing milestones and accomplishments from the past year.

The celebration was led by talented and hilarious teen MCs, Sophia Fine, Noah Shapiro, and Jacob Zucker, who reflected that despite the unexpected twists and turns of the past year, one constant was the incredible support, creative programming and meaningful friendships that took place in the context of Jewish teen programming. This point was underscored in the Year In Review Video, featuring teens and professionals sharing highlights and memories from the last year. 

During the program each of the 18 honorees shared how they are making a difference in the community and how being named an 18 Under 18 honoree enabled them to bring attention to an issue that they were passionate about. In his welcome, Lonnie Nasatir, the President of JUF shared that these teens do not represent the leads of tomorrow because they are already leaders today. Check out: 18 Under 18 honoree speeches 1  and 18 under 18 honoree speeches 2 and the Recognition Book to learn more about the honorees and their Impact Projects.

Event attendees enjoyed a performance by the comedy troupe, Shalom Collaboration, a live performance by the teen band, Six On Friday, and a video from Tik Tok star Michael Winner. Finally, we had a chance to celebrate this year’s LEAD Award for teen serving professionals and volunteers. The LEAD Award is special because nominations and the review process are teen led. View the LEAD Award Video to learn more about this year’s LEAD Award Nominees: Isaac Freedman, Maia Volk, Kevin and Allisa Horwitz, Alana Ben Zeev, Mady Frischer, Zoe Russek and the LEAD Award winner Jessie Morris. 

The event was hosted by Springboard and JUF. Springboard was created to empower teens to find and create meaningful Jewish experiences, elevate teen voices in the Chicago area, and connect teens and their families to fantastic experiences. The Community Celebration provided a change to celebrate the teens, professionals, and organizations that make our community so amazing.

Special thanks to JTAC, the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago, a teen board with representatives from different youth groups and organizations, who helped plan the event and were instrumental in selecting the honorees and the LEAD Award winner.  

Where are they now: Featuring Sophie Frankenthal, Past 18 Under 18 Honoree

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Sophie Frankenthal photo 1

I owe my passion for volunteerism primarily to my upbringing in a home which upheld a paradigm of love and kindness at all times and which taught me that to be a Jew is to give and to care- that my community is intrinsic to my identity. During my time in high-school I was provided with the tools and opportunities to become involved in my immediate community in a variety of facets, from working with individuals with special needs to volunteering in the local old age home, and while these experiences were absolutely invaluable, I feel that they were just the starting roots of my journey. Through introducing me to 17 exceptional teens who were actively working to make tremendous differences in their communities and beyond, my experience as an 18-under-18 honoree back in 2019 inspired me to venture beyond my own 4 corners and to expand my impact not only to the greater Jewish community, but to humanity at large.

This newly-inspired drive stayed with me throughout the duration of my gap-year in Israel and it ensured that an integral part of my experience included an active involvement in the betterment of the land and the needs of its people. In addition to my school-organized weekly volunteer excursion to the hospital, I was privileged to be part of Kedma’s Volunteer Cohort, which provided me with a diverse range of opportunities such as providing warm drinks for the homeless, harvesting produce for the hungry, and spreading joy to young orphaned immigrants- experiences whose impact spanned across the population.

Today, I am proud to say that the inspiration which I gained from my fellow 18-under-18 honorees is still alive and well, and that because of it, my passion for volunteerism has grown even further- enabling me to give back to the general population in addition to the Jewish community. I am currently a pre-med student at Stern College for Women (YU), although I am studying sociology (a bit confusing, I know). Sociology has infused me with a newfound appreciation for different cultures, and it has inspired me to pursue a field in global health. Due to COVID, I have been attending classes remotely from my home in Chicago, and while at first this had me extremely frustrated and somewhat disappointed, I can now confidently say that a lot of great opportunities have emerged from it. My presence in Chicago has allowed me to become involved in a wonderful organization called RefugeeOne, through which I am now tutoring a young Syrian refugee in a variety of academic subjects as well as acting as a mentor and friend to her. This experience has been truly remarkable as it is my first real volunteer experience beyond the Jewish population and it has provided me with a better understanding and appreciation for a culture other than my own. Additionally, my university has introduced me to a similar and equally rewarding opportunity through an initiative called START Science in which YU and Stern students educate under-privileged public school students in STEM through interactive science modules. Right now we teach the students over ZOOM, but I am looking forward to being able to work with the students in-person soon!

Being in Chicago also means that I have another year to give back to the community and home to which I owe so much of my personal growth and development. I am now working as a staff member at Lev- the respite center for individuals with special needs where I had volunteered throughout most of high-school, and to be back there in a stronger capacity has been incredibly meaningful. Additionally, in the past few months, numerous organizations in the orthodox community have joined together to open a community vaccine clinic and I am proud to say that I have had the privilege of volunteering weekly in a semi-medical capacity. The clinic has successfully vaccinated thousands of individuals of all faiths, cultures, and nationalities and to be a part of that has been an absolutely beautiful and heartwarming experience. 

Although I have come so far, I am still only at the beginning of my ‘giving’ journey, and I know that there is so much more that I can and will do. I am so grateful to everyone who has encouraged me on this path, and I am excited to see what opportunities the future may hold. I wish a heartfelt Mazal Tov to this year’s 18-under-18 cohort and I hope that this well-deserved honor inspires and enables you to pursue even greater things from here on out!

Sophie Frankenthal photo 2

Biography:

Sophie Frankenthal is currently a sophomore at Yeshiva University’s Stern College for Women where she is studying pre-medical sciences and majoring in sociology. She works at a community respite center for children with special needs and is a volunteer tutor with RefugeeOne. Additionally, Sophie just received her EMT certification and she hopes to volunteer on an ambulance with Magen David Adom in Israel this summer!



Where are they now: Featuring Abby Tzinberg, Past 18 Under 18 Honoree

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

Abby Tzinberg Photo

I was an 18 Under 18 Honoree in the first cohort when I was just a freshman in high school, so now, four years later a lot has happened! In my sophomore year, I participated in the Research Training Internship’s fourth cohort. The Research Training Interhsip an internship created in collaboration with DePaul University and the JUF for Jewish teenage girls where the cohort conducts a research project about a topic in the Jewish community. We studied disordered eating and its impact within Jewish spaces, you can find our research here.

I have also continued my participation in several of the programs I was a part of when I was an honoree. I served on my synagogue, B’Nei J’ehoshua Beth Elohim (BJBE)’s youth group board for three additional years, with two spent as the social action vice president and one as a co-president. I also continued my work as a staff member for NFTY’s Camp CAR program, although my final year was cut short due to Covid-19. I have also continued my work as a religious school teacher at BJBE.

I am currently on a gap year between high school and college where I will be attending Drexel University. This year I have been fortunate enough to be a part of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA)’s College-Aged Fellowship where we undergo community organizing and social justice training. I also worked with JCUA on the campaign to pass the Fair Tax Amendment. I am incredibly grateful for all of the work I have been able to do in the past four years and look forward to what the future holds!

Where are they now: Featuring Josh Pogonitz, Past 18 Under 18 Honoree

(Jewish Journey, Health and Wellness) Permanent link

Josh Pogonitz

Hi! My name is Josh Pogonitz. I am 18 years-old and I live in Skokie, IL. The high school I went to is Ida Crown Jewish Academy. Currently, I am taking a gap year in Israel at a yeshiva located in Jerusalem called “Yeshivat Torah Vi’Avodah.” This upcoming Summer, I plan on working at a Jewish overnight camp called Moshava, Wild Rose, where I was a camper for four summers. In the Fall, I plan on attending Loyola University Chicago.

Throughout my life, I have struggled with anxiety, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), and depression. During my sophomore and junior years, I struggled with self harm and suicidal ideation. I attended treatment programs. This journey is when for the first time in a long time, I rediscovered happiness and life worth living. This is also when I grew very passionate about mental health awareness. 

Before I went to those treatment programs, I never spoke publicly about my mental health. The reason why I started afterwards is because once I found hope and joy again, I wanted to help others find their hope and joy. Two of my struggles are feeling like an exception to therapy helping and feeling like I was a terrible person. I was so certain that the only way to feel happiness would be if I was just a better and good enough person. I felt this way for many years and so when I was able to view things differently, once I was able to fight my thoughts from imprisoning me for the first times in a long time, I thought that if I could share my experiences and what I’ve learned, then it could help people who are also struggling and who feel so certain that nobody can help them. 

During my senior year of high school last year, I was nominated to be a JUF 18 Under 18 honoree. Springboard allowed me to continue pursuing mental health awareness as I did so for my impact project. I would like to thank Springboard for the incredible experiences I had. It was such a learning opportunity and gave me a foundation that I can forever use during my further journey in mental health awareness.

This past December 2020, after speaking at mental health organization No Shame On U’s annual event in November 2019, I wrote an article for the organization’s annual report. The article included my personal mental health experiences, my experience of speaking at the annual event, and about my 18 Under 18 project itself. This past January, I spoke on Zoom with the head of No Shame On U, Miriam Ament, to the eighth grade class of Hillel Torah North Suburban Day School. I spoke about my own personal struggles and lessons I’ve learned along the way. 

As I wrote before, this year I am taking a gap year at a yeshiva in Israel. It has been a year filled with many valuable, meaningful, important, and unforgettable experiences despite COVID. I have been able to continue learning Torah, learning about my mind and emotions, and see, as well as experience the land. Going on this gap year is really one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. 

One of the many incredible experiences I’ve had was during my Passover break, I went on a program in which I volunteered on a kibbutz and army base. For the first time in my life, I was able to experience two places I always wondered what they were like. Volunteering and living at both places for a few days each were beyond cool and nothing I had ever done before. It was also a way for me to give back to Israel for my time here this year.  

Lastly, one of the many meaningful realizations that I have been able to continue to strengthen this year is as follows. My goal for combatting my mental illnesses is to manage them, not to cure them. When I started making progress during my junior year, I used to worry that when I had a setback, all of my progress would disappear. I have learned that there may be times of anxiety and depression while at the same time, that doesn’t take away from any of the progress being made. In the big picture, there can be anxiety and also happiness. During my gap year, I have struggled. And at the same time, I am having many meaningful, happy, exciting, fun, and inspiring experiences. In fact, I have even discovered new things I never knew I loved. I was able to graduate high school last year, I have been able to live away from home for eight months, I can meet with my therapist weekly, and still do what I love and live my life. 

Once again, I’d like to thank Springboard for giving me the honor and opportunity to be an 18 Under 18 Honoree. This journey is just the beginning as I hope to continue pursuing mental health awareness however I can at Loyola University Chicago and the future beyond.

Biography

Josh is currently taking a gap year at a yeshiva in Israel. For high school, he attended Ida Crown Jewish Academy. He played basketball there for three years and ran cross country for four years. During November of Josh’s senior year, he gave a speech at mental health organization No Shame On U’s annual event. This was the first time he spoke publicly about his struggles and experiences of mental illnesses. This Summer, Josh plans on working at Camp Moshava, Wild Rose and then plans to attend Loyola University Chicago in the Fall.  

Where are they now: Featuring Max Marino, Past 18 Under 18 Honoree

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

 Max Marino Photo

Hello! My name is Max Marino and I was a JUF 18 under 18 Honoree in 2018. Currently, I am a sophomore at Tulane University majoring in Political Economy with a minor in Public Policy in the Murphy Institute.

Since graduating Highland Park High School in 2019, I have enjoyed taking classes while exploring the city of New Orleans and becoming an active member of Tulane's student body. On campus, I am very involved in Hillel as a member of the Tulane Jewish Leader's program and as a song leader for shabbat services my freshman year. Additionally, I am a tour guide and orientation leader, a chair for the Tulane High School Model United Nations conference, and a member of social Greek life.

Professionally, I have had the honor to serve as a Congressional intern for Congressman Brad Schneider (IL-10) in his district office over the previous nine months. My main role in the office was to track the progression of the COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccination effort in the district. Additionally, I worked on data management and constituent outreach for the office and advocated for court reform to the legislative team. I am forever thankful for the opportunity to have been involved in the Chicagoland Jewish teen community.

The leadership skills I learned as a fellow and Junior Counselor in the Diller Teen Fellowship, the advocacy skills I learned in Write On for Israel, and the professional skills I learned as a Voices Alumni board member I still use today and have made me successful in my endeavors on and off campus.

Additionally, I continue to maintain the relationships I made in these programs and have made lifelong friends through them. I would like to give special thanks to Sam Rodin, Shiran Posner, Stephanie Goldfarb, and Hallie Shapiro for being invaluable role models during my high school career.

My advice for high schoolers today would be to take advantage of the many amazing programs that JUF and Springboard have to offer. I can confidently say that I would not be the person I am without the experiences I had through these programs. Congratulations to the 2021 JUF 18 under 18 Honorees and I look forward to seeing the amazing work you all will continue to do!

Yom Ha’atzmaut with Hannah Adams and Josh Glucksman

(Holidays) Permanent link

Yom Ha'atzmaut is a day of celebration. We celebrate Israel, its freedom, independence, and beauty. While for those of us in Chicago, Israel is 6,208 miles away, it's still close to our hearts everyday and especially today! This year to celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut, we decided to reach out to some of our friends in Israel to share with our community some of their favorite places in Israel! Check out videos from Josh Glucksman, and Hannah Adams who are both currently in Israel on gap year programs! If these programs, or others are of interest to you, let us know and we can help you learn more! 

Stop the Stigma By Hannah Dalinka

(Health and Wellness) Permanent link

Hannah Dalinka

One night, I was at my close friend’s Bar Mitzvah party (before COVID) when I heard the DJ yell, “Dance like you’re having a seizure!” The DJ probably meant that we should all dance “crazy”, but I was mortified, to say the least. This was not the first time I heard someone tell a joke about a seizure, but this was the first time it really hit me hard. I have a personal connection with epilepsy and this DJ had just joked about a serious neurological disorder in front of probably 200 people. I did not know what to do. I came home crying because of how upset I felt. My parents and I then contacted the DJ company. The people there were very apologetic and explained that they just did not realize how bad what they said was. I knew, from then on, that I needed to do something to end the stigma and “jokes” surrounding seizures and epilepsy.

In 2015, we noticed that one of my relatives started having, what we called, “space outs''. They would stare into space and their eyes would go blank. This family member was soon diagnosed with epilepsy. They had non-convulsive seizures, which do not involve the typical symptoms of a seizure that are portrayed in the media. Luckily, my relative was put on medication and has been seizure free for a very long time now. Unfortunately, my relative still does not feel comfortable discussing their condition because of all of the stigma surrounding epilepsy. They did not want people thinking they were uncontrollable or weird.

Epilepsy is a very common neurological disorder, in fact, as it states on the Epilepsy Foundation’s website, “More people live with epilepsy than with autism spectrum disorders, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis and cerebral palsy - combined.” In addition to this, 1 in 26 people in the United States will be diagnosed with epilepsy at some point in their lifetime. This number probably shocks you. This is because epilepsy is often considered a hidden disorder. Sometimes, with treatment and medication, seizures can be minimized or controlled. This disorder, therefore, is not as normalized as other, visible disorders. However, it does not make epilepsy any less real. 

I decided for my mitzvah project to not only raise money for the Epilepsy Foundation, but to also educate others on epilepsy to try and break the stigma. I realized, from the experience with the DJ, that some people just genuinely do not know how horrible it is to make fun of seizures and use that word in a joking way. I created posters and gave out booklets with tons of information about epilepsy. I also gave people some surprising statistics on the number of people living with epilepsy and just how many people are affected by it. I urged people to call others out when they make jokes about someone else looking like they’re having a seizure. I talked about how it is not okay to make fun of seizures, just as it’s not okay to make fun of someone with cancer or with Alzheimer’s. All of these are unchosen, unwanted, and serious and should never be joked about or made fun of. I felt that the more people I could spread the word to, the more epilepsy would be normalized and hopefully, I would be doing my part to break the stigma. 

I will admit though, it is hard to call other people out when they use “seizure” in a joke. I have been able to call out people before but just the other day, I was on zoom with friends and one of them was showing us a tik tok where the screen was flashing lots of different colors. One of the girls said, “Stop! Are you trying to give me a seizure?” She laughed and was clearly joking. To be honest, I was not able to call her out on it. This was a newer friend and we were in front of other people and I couldn’t pull her aside and talk to her on zoom. These things are hard. Also, this was not the first friend who has said things like that. I have heard both kids and adults, some who were even at my Bat Mitzvah, make fun of seizures. 

I feel guilty, still, about not being able to call my friend out, but that only encourages me to keep going in my efforts for breaking down the stigma surrounding seizures and epilepsy. People should not feel like they should need to hide the fact that they have epilepsy in fear of what others will say about them. I genuinely believe that a majority of people who make fun of seizures do not understand that it is a serious medical disorder and one that can not be controlled by someone’s free will. I will continue to educate others to make everyone more aware of seizures and epilepsy so that they will not use those words jokingly or to make fun of others. 

Thank you so much for hearing my story. I urge you to become more familiar with epilepsy and seizures. Learn about it, and educate others. Also, try to call people out when they talk about seizures in a joking manner. I know it is hard, but it is necessary in helping to make people living with epilepsy more comfortable. I will close with this: There were about 200 people at the Bar Mitzvah when the DJ joked about seizures. Using the fact that at least 1 in 26 people will be diagnosed with epilepsy in the US, I can conclude that 7 people had epilepsy or will have epilepsy in the future who heard that comment. That is not to mention people like me, who have family members, friends, or other loved ones who they know who struggle with epilepsy. The stigma needs to stop, and it will not stop unless we work together to educate ourselves and others. I also invite you to check out the Epilepsy Foundation’s website: https://www.epilepsy.com/. This is a great resource to use for finding tons of information about seizure disorders and epilepsy.

Hannah is a Sophomore at Glenbrook North High School where she is involved in theatre, student government, Relay for Life, and speech team. Additionally she is the President of Varsity Spartan Choir, the Vice President of Ladies First (GBN Show Choir), and volunteers as an ARC Tutor. Outside of school, Hannah is a songleader and on the Mahonick Leadership Board at North Shore Congregation Israel. She is also currently in the URJ Songleading Fellowship Program. Hannah is proud to attend JCC Camp Chi and is currently the Vice President of Chi Town Connection.

Where are they now featuring Abbey Finn, past 18 Under 18 Honoree

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

From 18 Under 18 honoree to college student:  What I’ve been up to the past three years

When I was in high school, being involved in the Jewish community was a definitive part of my life. It was sparked by my love for USY (United Synagogue Youth), and led to a multitude of other experiences such as Diller Teen Fellows, the Maimonides Scholars Program, and Springboard school break trips to New York and Los Angeles. Being an 18 Under 18 honoree in 2018 was an amazing experience, and I’m so happy that I’ve been able to serve on the reviewing committee for two years since then to see the incredible work that teens are doing in the community today.

I’m currently a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying special education. Starting college in a pandemic has had its ups and downs, but I love it here. I’m part of Epsilon Delta, an education fraternity, and Alpha Epsilon Phi, a Jewish sorority. I’m also active in Chabad and Hillel, and I love the Jewish community here on campus. I’m passionate about my future as a special educator, and I have a job working with U of I students with disabilities. I participate in the Best Buddies program here as well. I’m also a part of the Student Education Association, where we work with teachers across the nation to advocate for an equitable education for every student.

I have many different interests and passions, but the one arguably closest to my heart is interfaith work. I joined the Children of Abraham Coalition (COAC) my freshman year of high school. COAC is an organization dedicated to educating about Islam, Christianity, and Judaism, while creating dialogue and hosting events that advocate for peace. In a world where there is so much religious hatred, I find this work to be incredibly important. I served on the board of directors for COAC throughout high school, and with the virtual nature of meetings and programming, I’ve been able to remain on the board in college. I helped create an initiative called Peace Camp three years ago where we bring middle schoolers to a mosque, a synagogue, and a church, and teach them how to stand up to faith-based hatred in their schools. Since the start of the program, we’ve reached over 80 middle schoolers, and have spread our mission to high schoolers through zoom peace camp events. On campus, I’m working with Bend the Arc Champaign-Urbana, the Muslim and Jewish Student Alliance, and a student organization called Interfaith in Action to fight against racism, antisemitism, and Islamaphobia. I’m proud of the work that I’ve been a part of, and where I am now in my life since my own 18 Under 18 experience three years ago. I’m so excited to see where my future takes me and I’m so proud of all of this year's 18 Under 18 honorees!

Abbey Finn Photo

Abbey Finn is a freshman at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where she is studying special education. She is on the board of directors for the Children of Abraham Coalition, and does interfaith work on campus. Additionally, she is a part of Alpha Epsilon Phi, and serves on the Diversity and Inclusion committee. Over the summer, you can find her at JCC Camp Chi. She loves the Jewish community both at home and at her college town!

How to Ensure Never Again

(Holidays) Permanent link

Never Again. The phrase graces hundreds of Instagram stories and posts come Yom HaShoah each year. The phrase people shake their heads and mutter after another anti semitically charged shooting. Never again we say. But how? How do we ensure that something like the atrocities of the Holocaust never occurs again? And to that loaded question, I answer, remembrance. 

Memory is not a foreign concept for us. The instance of a Jewish grandparent sitting down with their grandchildren recalling a story from long ago is quite frequent. Our religion is founded on the concept of collective memory and remembrance. The memory of a covenant between Abraham and God. The memory of our exodus from Egypt and the spiritual awakening at Mount Sinai. Our memories are the nourishment that has lasted us through centuries of persecution. They define us. They save us. 

As the number of survivors still with us dwindles and we are tasked with teaching the next generation leaders about the atrocities of the Holocaust without their first-hand accounts, we must teach them not to remember the destruction but to remember what was destroyed and to revitalize and commemorate the culture and lives lost. Teach them to say 6,000,001 lives lost as each one of those numbers was a dreamer, an artist, an athlete, a writer, a scholar, and someone’s child. To preserve our ancestor’s legacies, our religion, and above all, democracy, we must never forget. To ensure never again, we must never forget. 

Forgetfulness

Further readings: 

Ross, L., n.d. The Importance of Remembering | My Jewish Learning. [online] My Jewish Learning. [Accessed 5 April 2021].

Tomlin, C., 2021. Why It’s Still Important to Remember the Holocaust – The Arc. [online] Tyndale.com. [Accessed 5 April 2021].

Hannah Goldwin

Hannah Goldwin is a Junior at Walter Payton College Prep and plays tennis as well as dabbles in ultimate frisbee and basketball. She leads clubs devoted to Alzheimer’s awareness, Jewish Community, and the discussion of a top notch educational show, the Bachelor. She watches football religiously and recently graduated from the Diller Teen Fellowship.

My Jewish Journey by Kayla Chandler

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During my sophomore year of high school, I was faced with a problem. I wanted to be more involved in the social justice world, but specifically through a lens where I could see the Jewish values I had learned so much about at my Jewish day school come into play. 

I had no idea where to start my journey, but I was able to find a group of Jewish teens in the Chicago area with a similar goal as mine. We wanted to do better for our city wide community, and in the process, also better our own community, starting with ourselves. Through social media posts increasing our outreach, canvassing for projects, phone banking to raise awareness, and more, we each grew to be familiar with collaboration, patience, and community. Learning to handle disagreements and misunderstandings as a group helped us grow as leaders and individuals, but also created a family-like atmosphere of determined people in the process. 

Since then, I have wanted to stay active within the Jewish activism community. As I learned more about organizations and programs, I noticed that there were not many spaces where Jewish youth could come together and share their modern day experiences, pleasures, or hardships. Being a part of Peer Ambassadors excited me as it is a space where teens can come together and create the spaces that are currently missing for youth like themselves. It allows your creativity to flourish and connects you with others to build communication skills.

In the future, I hope to continue my participation in the Jewish community and learn as much as I can about others and their identities.

Kayla is a lover of makeup, cooking, music, and running. She is currently participating in the Peer Ambassador program, and is excited to learn more about Judaism from youth around Chicago!


Where are they now featuring Josh Glucksman, past 18 Under 18 Honoree

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

Two years ago, the beginning of my junior year, I was nominated as an 18 Under 18 honoree. My work in the Jewish world had just recently begun, when I picked up my phone and started to create and share fun videos about the amazing Jewish youth experiences I was starting to attend. I was fairly good at it and ended up making some friends and engaging previously disengaged Reform Jews in the process.

I got more involved in a youth group called NFTY, and was elected President of the Chicago chapter my senior year. Here is when I started learning about Israel, Palestine, and the Z-word, Zionism. I had a very limited understanding of what this “Holy” desert in the middle of the east was really about, so I started to talk to some of my Rabbis and educators, and got really involved in what I consider one of today's most nuanced global issues.

As I was continuing my work in my own community, and as my senior year was nearing its melancholy, virtual end, I had a big decision to make post-high school. COVID sure made that decision easier, and it landed me in Jerusalem a few months ago on a gap year program called Aardvark Israel! Since I have gotten here, my entire outlook on Judaism has fundamentally changed (for the better)! I have a renewed passion and drive to learn about the historical, religious, linguistic, and spiritual roots of the Jewish people, and there is no place better to do it here than in the most complicated, disputed, and holy place on Earth. 

While my time here has challenged my beliefs unlike anything else, I wouldn't have done it any other way. I hope to come home after this year and pour all of the energy and passion in my life right back into my community, starting with teaching Hebrew at URJ OSRUI this summer! 

Josh Glucksman

HEY! Look over here! These author blogs are always so dry so let me make this as readable as possible. My name is Josh. I am from “Chicago” (the suburbs). I am currently living in Israel on a gap year before college. I spend my time learning, fighting for a liveable planet, and trying to live the happiest life I can. You can contact me at jzglux@gmail.com for any questions about what I say or write!

From Player to Coach by Jodi Marver

(Program Experiences, Community Spotlight) Permanent link

Looking back on my high school years, the one big event that impacted my life in such a positive manner was participating in the Maccabi games. Back in 2008, I remember one of my high school basketball teammates telling me to join and I am so glad I did! My experience with Maccabi gave me the opportunity to play basketball at a high level, travel to a new city, participate in fun events at night, but most importantly, make lifelong friends. It was such a highlight of my summer to do Maccabi and really helped shape me into the person I am today. After graduating college, I knew going back to Maccabi as a coach was something I really wanted to do because it was a program that had such a great impact on my life. Now, I get to see the huge smile on these girls' faces as they get to participate in all the amazing events that Maccabi brings to kids. More so, I get to coach alongside my best friend Lena Munzer who I met at the Maccabi games back in 2008. Maccabi is bigger than sports, it’s about finding a connection to other kids who are similar to you from all over the world. This is a great way for young adults to feel a part of their Jewish background while also gaining new experiences. My memories from Maccabi as a player and coach have been some of the best memories of my life!

Jodi Marver

Jodi Marver is Chicago’s 16U Maccabi Girls Basketball Coach. Outside of Maccabi she is the Head Varsity Girls Basketball Coach and Physical Education Teacher at Willows Academy. Jodi went to Knox College where she studied Elementary Education and was an elementary school teacher for 4 years before transitioning to secondary education. Jodi is thrilled to continue to give back to the Maccabi community that has given so much to her when she was younger.

 

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Jake Draluck

(Social Action) Permanent link

Creating positivity in the Middle of a Pandemic by Jake Draluck

Prior to the pandemic, probably like most of you, I was keeping up an intense schedule which will sound familiar: classes, sports, clubs, friends and a ton of homework. Then the pandemic hit in March 2020, my school abruptly closed its doors, and I was unexpectedly stuck at home with tons of free time and nothing particularly relevant to do. With the TV on all the time in my kitchen, I heard Governor Pritzker mandate that face coverings be worn in all public places, and I began to wonder how everyone in the Chicago area would be able to get masks when, back in May, they had become so difficult to find at any price?

As I researched this topic, I confirmed that Illinois’ mask order did not provide any funding for people who could not afford or obtain masks on their own. Because my Dad is a doctor and we had access to masks early on, I contacted some of the local food pantries to see if I could be helpful in getting masks to their clients. In my conversations with these organizations, I learned that not only was the lack of access to masks causing anxiety for pantry clients, but that pandemic-related unemployment had created a large demand for other basic hygiene products—items like deodorant, razors, toothpaste, and other necessities were often overlooked by donors, even though these essential items had become impossibly expensive for those who had lost their jobs. 

When I learned that hygiene products, including masks, cannot be purchased with SNAP Cards or through any other government assistance programs, and that so few people are aware of this problem, I created a nonprofit organization called We Got You to try to become part of the solution. So far We Got You has donated over 6500 hygiene products, hygiene kits and laundry kits to people in our Chicago area community who have been struggling to afford them, and we have partnered with several social impact organizations to help us get these items distributed to those in need. 

Please visit us at www.wegotyoualways.org to learn more about our mission to see how you can help! If you like our message and are looking for an easy way to be involved, please consider hosting a hygiene product drive at your school or synagogue or youth group—we would be happy to pick up any donations that you have, and we accept any size items—from travel size to full size. If you know how to make masks, please consider donating homemade masks to us for distribution with our other supplies!

If you have your own idea for a project, I know it’s easy to get overwhelmed and not know where to start. When in doubt, my advice is to start small, start local, and work your way up from there. Any amount of positive change you can make in the world will help someone, somewhere, and is worth making!

Jake Draluck

Jake is a junior at Phillips Exeter Academy in New Hampshire, where he is a member of the Boys Crew Team, Exeter Jewish Community (EJC), Investment Club, Economics Club, and Exeter Student Service Organization, among other clubs, and serves as a Proctor for the Exeter Film Department. In Chicago, Jake is a rowing instructor at the Alliance Rowing Club of Chicago, and is a Diller Teen Fellow (2018-2019 Cohort). He is also the founder and President of Deadstock Chicago, a sneaker and streetwear resale company.  

March Madness by Alex Newman

(Community Spotlight) Permanent link

Whether I’ve been the one competing or watching from my couch, sports have always been a huge part of my life. The first sport I played was soccer when I was 3. After that it was t-ball, then baseball, then basketball, then flag football, and now Ultimate Frisbee and Track and Field. I started playing Ultimate Frisbee for Walter Payton when I was in 8th grade, switching to Lane’s team once I became a Lane student, and I’ve heard all of the jokes. I’ll be the first to admit that it’s an incredibly niche sport, but I still love it. I’ve also been on the Girls’ Track and Field team for two years, which has been just as awesome of an experience. When Covid winds down, the thing I’m most excited for is definitely going back to practices, meets, tournaments, and just seeing my teammates again.  

I also love watching sports just as much as playing them. I love Chicago teams, especially the Bears, and I play fantasy football and hockey with my friends. The one area of sports that I’ve never fully jumped into was college basketball, until now. Since we’ve started working on this bracket tournament I’ve definitely been doing my research and, while I can’t make any bold predictions right now, I’m certainly rooting for Illinois. As I’m writing this, they have the No. 2 seed but, after their wins against Michigan last week and Ohio State as their last regular season game, the No. 1 spot is definitely in view. Plus, a lot of my friends and old teammates go to Illinois, so I’m emotionally invested as well. 

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.



A Celebration of Jewish Teen Community

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18 Under 18 Announcement

Springboard is proud to be able to recognize the incredible work of Jewish teen leaders in our community. The 18 Under 18 award is one that elevates the work of a selected group of teens who have demonstrated innovation, passion, and resiliency in the face of the unknown. This year we had a record-breaking number of nominations, which speaks to the quality teen leadership in our community, which we are lucky to benefit from. 18 Under 18 Honorees are teens who are leveraging Jewish values to inform their leadership and making a difference through formal and informal leadership roles both inside and outside the Jewish community. This year's 18 Under 18 Honorees exemplify what a teen leader can accomplish, and we are honored to be able to support, recognize, and work with them. 

As part of the 18 Under 18 award, all honorees complete an Impact Project. An Impact Project can take many different forms, however they will all elevate our community, as well as address hot topics that the honorees select themselves based off their passions. This years’ Honorees are focusing on a number of different areas: Addressing resource inequality, inclusion and diversity, racial equality, mental and physical health advocacy, environmentalism, Israel education, and Holocaust education.  

One way we celebrate these incredible teens in by hosting a Drive In Community Celebration which YOU are invited to! At the Community Celebration you will have the opportunity to learn more about the Honorees Impact projects and how they are elevating community. There will be goodie bags, live entertainment, and more! Click here to register and we can’t wait to see you from a safe distance on April 25th!  


#MarchMadness with Hannah Goldwin

(Community Spotlight) Permanent link

I am a highly superstitious person for no reason at all. No tangible wish I’ve made on an eyelash has come fantastically true and changed the course of my life. Running to the nearest wall to knock on wood or not doing so has not altered my entire life- that I know of. Yet each year as I submit my March Madness bracket in a variety of pools I will read each potential match-up and winner to myself out loud and then kiss my fingers and press submit. Unlike my other superstitions, I can give you the exact root of this tradition. 

In middle school, I was given the wonderfully transformative opportunity to submit a bracket in the faculty competition. I was up against basketball fanatic security guards, maintenance staff, and my own teachers. While the bracket was submitted under my mother’s name, it was my baby. I did hours of research just like expecting parents. Statistics rolled off my tongue after watching as many hours of ESPN as my homework schedule allowed. Yet when it came down to the deadline, I felt unprepared. I had sporadically watched March Madness over the years and the thought of a 16 seed beating a 1 seed was completely impossible in my mind (Spoiler: it happened). I chose to speak my predictions into existence and read the bracket out loud to myself. I then decided there was no time like the present, kissed my hand, and clicked submit. After around 3 weeks of stress and constant distraction by that day’s games, it came down to the championship. I wasn’t ready for the roller coaster to be over. Each day as many of us sat in class secretly watching scores while writing essays and doing work, I felt a sense of community. You could see slight flashes of disappointment across the room when the score updated in favor of the huge underdog and the tapping of sneakers against the tiled floor when games came down to the wire. There was always a bracket discussion going on in the hallway whether it be an argument or statistical analysis. But the end was looming and I was sitting just off the podium in 5th place- out of 80 brackets if I may add. Fast forward a stressful three hours where I was brought to the verge of tears multiple times and my predicted winner came out victorious, The UNC Tarheels. The point values of our competition were perplexing to me so I was completely baffled as to how this would affect the final standings. I fell asleep that night satisfied. And the next morning I raced to check my email as if it was Instagram. Though it may sound cliché, my heart was thumping in my chest so hard my entire body shook with each beat. I opened the PDF at the top of my inbox and found my name highlighted in yellow with 3rd place next to it. My heart swelled with pride. The sense of accomplishment and fulfillment I felt in that moment has been almost unmatched since. I collected my prize money later that day and carried the envelope home as if it was my most expensive possession- which it may have been. My read-aloud and kissing had worked. It hasn’t worked every time since but I’m surely not willing to give it up yet. 

March Madness

Hannah Goldwin is a Junior at Walter Payton College Prep and plays tennis as well as dabbles in ultimate frisbee and basketball. She leads clubs devoted to Alzheimer’s awareness, Jewish Community, and the discussion of a top notch educational show, the Bachelor. She watches football religiously and recently graduated from the Diller Teen Fellowship.

My Experience at Genesis - One of the Best Summers of my Life

(Community Spotlight) Permanent link

On July 2nd, 2019, I was getting ready to leave for the airport, and I was TERRIFIED. In just a few hours, I would be in Boston, where I would be living with a bunch of kids whom I had never met. About a month later, I was crying because I never wanted to leave.

The Genesis program is truly a unique and amazing experience. I met people from all around the world! Everyone had a different Jewish background and story, and I made friends with some amazing people. The best part? I got to live with all of them! Staying on a college campus was such a new and fun experience for me. I got to live with a roommate, eat at the dining hall with my friends, and chill out around campus, just like a college student! We weren’t on campus the whole time, though. On the fourth of July, we went to see fireworks, and one time, we got to spend the day shopping around Boston. Going on these trips with all of my friends was so much fun (even the Walgreens trips!). One of the best parts of Genesis was the Shabbat ceremonies, because being together and celebrating as a community was so special.

I can’t talk about Genesis without talking about the classes. Genesis gave me the opportunity to take courses that I don’t think I ever would have taken otherwise. The first course that I took was Culinary Arts and Anthropology, with cookbook author Jeffery Yoskovitz. Even though I had little to no cooking experience, I had so much fun. Over the course of two weeks, we learned about all different kinds of Jewish foods and their history. We had discussions about what makes Jewish food Jewish and how these foods play a role in Jewish culture. Getting to have these discussions with people from different Jewish backgrounds was so interesting. Of course, we got to cook a lot of these foods too! Being able to sit down and talk about food in a school-like environment and then immediately go into the kitchen to cook made it such an immersive learning experience. We made everything from sufganiyot to cheese (from scratch). We even had a contest one day to see who could make the best dish using only the leftover food from the kitchen. Making a whole dish all by myself was definitely out of my comfort zone, but this ended up being one of my favorite days. 

During the last two weeks, I took the Global Religions course, which was both incredibly interesting and meaningful. Coming from 10 years of Jewish day school, I knew tons about Judaism, but I never learned that much about other religions, so I was looking forward to this class. Each day, we had engaging discussions and lectures about a new religion. It felt just like taking a religious studies class at a college! The field trips really made this course special. Even though the course was only two weeks long, we visited so many places of worship, like an AME Church and a Hindu temple. We even participated in a Buddhist meditation! These trips gave us a first-hand experience of different religious services and allowed us to talk to people who practice these religions. One of my favorite parts of these trips was looking at the architecture. Each place we visited was beautiful and unique. I loved looking at all of the details around and inside the buildings and learning about their meanings and history. To finish the course, each of us created a family tree with explanations of our Jewish origins, giving us a better understanding of how diverse Judaism truly is.

If you are considering applying for Genesis, I highly encourage you to do so. I could not recommend the program enough, and it was one of the best summers of my life.

Yanira is a junior and a full IB student at Beacon Academy. She attended Brandeis’ Genesis program in 2019, graduated from Diller Teen Fellows last year, and is currently a part of RTI (research training internship). She frequently reads Torah at her synagogue and is currently continuing to learn Hebrew outside of school.

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Ethan Comrov

(Social Action) Permanent link

Ethan Comrov

Eliminating Anti-Semitism; One Relationship At A Time

Growing up in a Jewish Community meant always being surrounded by a familiar tradition and practice. I went to a Jewish middle school during the week and attended synagogue on Shabbat. I would go through the motions of my everyday life nonchalantly, uninterested in the outside world which always seemed so foreign and irrelevant to me. It was not until I had experienced my first few encounters with anti-semtism that I would turn to the rest of the world and wonder: How come I, as a Jewish person, receive so much hate? 

I struggled to answer this question throughout eighth grade and the beginning of high school. It bothered me that Jewish people around the world were constantly being persecuted and attacked yet, the world seemed to just stand by and observe without taking action. I wanted to defend myself and my religion but I did not know how. 

Luckily, in my sophomore year of high school, my school launched a program called Student to Student. Inspired by a similar program in St. Louis, Student to Student aimed to educate and inform non-Jewish teenagers about Judaism. By having Jewish teenagers interact with other teenagers who shared little knowledge about Judaism, a relationship was formed that served to fight anti-semitism by simply connecting with the other teens.

I joined the program as soon as I had heard about it and after my first few presentations at public schools in Naperville and Catholic schools in Mount Prospect, I felt confident about my ability to defend myself and my religion. I encountered difficult questions that challenged my knowledge and I saw teenagers of a different faith interacting with me as they listened to what I had to share. 

After almost two full years of presenting to students at various different schools, I realized that I had entered a completely different world than the one in which I had grown up in. Student to Student had taught me that combating anti-semtism does not just occur in a classroom, rather it is a daily mission that can be fought anywhere in the world. As a Jewish teenager living in the United States, it is my responsibility to present myself to society as a mature and educated person. My character is a representation of the Jewish people and it is my responsibility to be a good influence and example on behalf of our nation.

The most important lesson that I have learned from my time educating, inspiring, and informing others is that ignorance is the root of anti-semitism especially in society today. If one does not know anything about a different person their minds instantly form preconceived notions about them based on their looks, background, and personality. When it comes to anti-semitism, most poeple are uneducated and lack understanding of how Judaism is observed. This is the fundamental basis of modern anti-semtism. I have interacted with over a thousand students by now and whenever I present to a different group, I can see the understanding build up in their minds. I can see them start to rethink certain ideas that might have encompassed before about Jewish people. The relationship that is created between me and another teen is crucial in preventing the spread of anti-semitism. 

In my time with Student to Student I have engaged with many students and educators and I have allowed my ability to connect and teach people to flow beyond the classroom and into my daily life. Whether it is participating in sports events or attending a concert, my influence and my reach goes further than anything that I could have envisioned. The relationships that I have formed over the years with countless individuals shows me that there is a way to fight anti-semtism. There is a way to stop the hate. As a Jewish teen, it is my responsibility to advocate for myself and my religion as every relationship that I form has the potential to change the mindset and perspective of countless others. We can stop the hate. It only takes one voice to make a difference in this world.

Ethan Comrov is a junior at Ida Crown Jewish Academy. He plays basketball and soccer and runs cross country. He is also a board member of his schools Israel Advocacy Club as well as being an adamant participant of Chicago’s Student to Student organization. Ethan is currently the Vice-President of Education for Midwest NCSY. Ethan is passionate about Israel advocacy and education.



Pandemic Purim Fun in 2021 by Leah Seidman

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Of all of the Jewish holidays, I think Purim might be the hardest to celebrate during a pandemic. This year, there will be no Purim carnivals, costume contests, or large megillah readings. Instead, most people will be celebrating with their immediate family if they are quarantining at home.

To help you celebrate, I have compiled a list of some fun Purim activities to do with your family as well as a list of ways to learn about Persian Jews.

Learn About Persian Jews!

  • Learn about the music of the Jews of Shiraz and listen to the Shirazi melody for the Ashrei

  • Hear about ancient Persian Jewish history from Dr. Henry Abramson, an expert in Jewish history.

  • Explore Diarna’s map of Jewish landmarks in Iran.

  • Read about Judeo-Persian from Encyclopaedia Iranica. For Hebrew speakers, the Mother Tongue Project has a variety of interviews in Judeo-Persian and Hebrew.

  • Try some delicious Jewish Persian food from OneTable!

Celebrate at home!

  • Make some fancy mocktails from the New York Times!

  • Choose one of many Purim playlists on Spotify and have a dance party!

  • Go to the Jewish Women’s Archive to learn about some awesome Jewish women!

  • Make some traditional Purim foods! Experiment with different hamantaschen recipes or try other Purim recipes from Jews across the world! Websites like Aish.com, Jewish Journal, and The Forward have a ton of recipes!

  • Have everyone wear costumes and make a Purim Parade in your house!

  • Attend services at a synagogue in a different city or a different country!

     Leah Seidman is a senior at Highland Park High School and a 2021 18 Under 18 Honoree. She is a board member at large on the BEANS USY Board and an alumna of Diller Chicago Cohort 6 and RTI Cohort 4. Leah loves teaching other teens about Jewish texts, history, and culture and hopes to be a professional Jewish educator.




#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Leah Ryzenman and the StandWithUs Kenneth Leventhal High School Internship

(Program Experiences) Permanent link

Leah Ryzenman

For most of my life, I felt disconnected from my Jewish identity. Everything changed when I visited Israel with my summer camp in 2018. From experiencing a thriving country that welcomed me from the second I landed, to embracing a rich culture thousands of years old, I knew I was home. My newfound connection to my homeland empowered me to want to do more, so I applied for the StandWithUs Kenneth Leventhal High School Internship on the recommendation of a former Intern and was over the moon thrilled when I was accepted!

As the Intern at my school, I learned how to channel my passion into developing engaging programming that educated my community about Israel. The program connected me to like-minded teens from places around the United States and Canada and I met incredible students who were actually changing how their communities thought about and interacted with Israel. But most importantly, I was actually making a difference in my community.

With the help of the StandWithUs Senior Midwest High School Coordinator Adam Blue, I created and implemented many programs with the goal to reframe the conversations about Israel as only a place of conflict, to Israel as a place of impact and with the goal of connecting US and Israeli students.

One program that I am particularly proud of was for my school's Key Club which encourages acts of kindness in community service. Since Columbus is a sister city with Kfar Saba, I had hundreds of my peers fashion beaded bracelets for kindergartners in Kfar Saba. My public school community is not the most informed about Israel, and this program was an excellent way to remind students in my own school that when we learn about countries across the world and the different issues or conflicts they may face, we should still also remember that there are individuals on the ground. People who we can make a connection with and can empathize with and support.

Later, I led an initiative involving the middle and high school students in my school to create a mural modeled after the “Path to Peace” (you can learn more here) in Israel's Gaza-bordered community of Moshav Netiv HaAsara. Every participant decorated their own square as they learned about peaceful co-existence. I then assembled it into a mosaic. It was so meaningful to see different students with their own designs and inspiration work together towards this mural, just as the peacework often requires a multitude of individual voices working towards a common goal, but perhaps doing their own work with unique variations.

I am excited to continue my work professionally at StandWithUs as the StandWithUs Midwest High School Assistant, working with teens in the region and mentoring them in impactful Israel education.

I highly recommend getting involved in StandWithUs to everyone, Jewish and non-Jewish. And if you give it your all, it truly changes your life.

If you have not yet been nominated for the StandWithUs Kenneth Leventhal High School Internship, you can be nominated by a teacher or youth group advisor using this link: www.standwithus.com/nomination. I am available anytime to chat, whether about the internship experience or how to help you get nominated: midwestassistant@standwithus.org

Leah Ryzenman is a Freshman at Northwestern University. She was the 2019-20 StandWithUs Kenneth Leventhal High School Intern at New Albany High School.

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Sam Gordon

(Social Action) Permanent link

Sam Gordon

In today’s day and age, it is so easy to feel overwhelmed with all of the problems surrounding you. When I first joined social media, I felt like every day something new had gone wrong somewhere in the world. I had no idea where to start. One day, I saw a post from a climate organizer I followed with some tips on how to get involved. Step one was to reach out to anyone and everyone about working with them. Shortly after seeing her post, I came face to face with the perfect opportunity to put this theory to the test.

While I attended Camp Tov this summer, a speaker from The Jewish Council on Urban Affairs (JCUA) spoke to us about our role as Jews in combating white supremacy. I took a deep breath and emailed the speaker, Mara, to ask her if there were any opportunities to work with JCUA, and it totally paid off. Every day, I am so grateful that I gathered the courage to email Mara. Taking part in Jewish organizing has been one of the most fulfilling opportunities I’ve ever had. While working with JCUA, I know that everyone around me is similarly fueled by a love of learning and the desire to repair the damage done to the world around us. Unlike my past experiences with activism, I never feel like I have to compromise any part of my identity while I work.

During one of the campaigns I worked on this fall, Fair Tax, I felt called to take part because of how closely its message aligned with Jewish literature. For example, Torah teaches that you should leave portions of your field unsown so that your neighbor or the stranger can come and eat. With this message in mind, all of us knew that it was our role, as Jewish people, to make sure that those around us were taken care of, even if meant sacrificing some of our time or resources. Because of my few months working with Jewish organizers, I want to encourage all Jewish youth feeling a little overwhelmed to reach out to any Jewish organizations they love, I guarantee they will not regret it. 

My Never Ending Journey by Lena Bromberg

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

My Jewish Journey does not start with me. It begins with my ancestors who left Spain during the Spanish Inquisition who wanted to practice Judaism safely. Instead of denouncing their culture and assimilating, my family fled Spain to preserve their Jewish identity. My relatives continue fleeing their various homelands in order to uphold their Jewish traditions. 

The Jewish traditions that they worked so hard to maintain have been passed down from all those generations and countries to me. My Jewish Journey is the Journey of my ancestors. My part of the Journey is to continue their traditions and pass them along. I can not let go of these traditions that my relatives fought to maintain. 

My part of the Journey is to continue to pass along these traditions and keep them alive. Even though life in 2020 is very different from life during the Spanish Inquisition, I need to uphold and pass along these traditions that my family has been living by. 

While I think it is crucial to maintain my family’s history, which includes their traditions, it is also important I live my life how I want. I can not be restricted by the guidelines that my ancestors implemented for my family. As I previously mentioned, 2020 is very different from the Spanish Inquisition, thus some traditions may be no longer relevant or I may not be able to maintain them anymore. I have the ability to adapt these historic traditions into modern times and pass along these adaptations. My Jewish Journey does end with me either. 

Lena is a senior at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School, where she plays volleyball and is editor of the yearbook. She has participated in several Springboard programs, most recently as a Peer Ambassador.

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Leo Necheles and Holocaust Remembrance Day

(Holidays) Permanent link

Never forget: Holocaust Remembrance Day needs to be a bigger deal

Leo Necheles

Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. Today is a day to look back and make sure this world never forgets the horrors that took place in Nazi Germany. Today is a day in which the United Nations urges humanity to honor the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust and educate each other so such a tragedy may never happen again. Yet, on this day, no one seems to remember.

As I have scrolled through social media, our modern-day platform for activism and awareness, it’s been scary to see the scarce amount of posts regarding Holocaust Remembrance Day. Even scarier—I haven’t seen a single post from a non-Jewish person. 

I immediately went to text my non-Jewish friends, asking if they happened to know what day today was. To my dismay, I received answers such as “Wednesday,” or “the 27th,” with an abundance of confusion. Even my Jewish friends seemed clueless about the importance of today. We wonder why so many people are becoming unaware of our horrific past, yet the answer sits right in front of us. We aren’t providing them with enough opportunity to become aware.

America has so many other relevant holidays that successfully highlight and force us to remember our pasts, both festive and reflective of past tragedies. Even Groundhog Day appears to be more recognized than Holocaust Remembrance Day. Why is it that a day acknowledging one of this world’s most poignant events is less recognized than a day where an animal mindlessly pokes its head outside to give us false hope about the weather? Why is it that just three weeks after neo-Nazi flags were flown in our nation’s Capitol, we aren’t seeing our very own nation come together and pledge to “never forget”? Why is it that just three weeks after blatant anti-semitism was explicitly on display in one of our nation’s most sacred buildings, there has yet to be an outroar from society at-large?

The answers to these questions lay in the foundations of our culture and our education system. Not once in school today has a teacher mentioned the Holocaust. Not once have I received an email from anyone today acknowledging this global holiday and shout for remembrance. Not once have I had a friend even understand the significance of today without a friendly reminder.

Even in Illinois, where Holocaust education is required in public schools, it seems to lack on the one day where it should be the most prevalent. What’s the point of requiring Holocaust education if it’s not even present on a day the United Nations urgers it to be discussed?

Holocaust Remembrance Day needs to be a pillar of our nation, a holiday that every citizen grows up knowing and discussing. If we hope to fight hate, we must first show where hate has existed in our past. There is no reason that our lives shouldn’t be flooded with discussions about the Holocaust on this monumental day. These conversations can start on social media, but must move past the simple urges from our phones. We must move past the easy repost from social media and take further steps by discussing the Holocaust with our peers. Today must be a reminder, waking people up from their ignorance of anti-semitism in the past and present. 

We tell people to never forget, yet it appears that humanity is in fact forgetting. As the last of the Holocaust survivors are sadly dying out, remembering is becoming more important than ever. In a poll of 102 countries and territories done by the Anti-Defamation League, it was discovered that 35% of people in the polls had never heard of the Holocaust. We must urge not only ourselves to remember, but also the rest of society. Today must be a day where the entire world can come together—a day where we can honor those we lost, remember the horrors people faced, and envision a future where history is not repeated. Make sure you know what today is, and make sure others know what today is. This time, let’s truly never forget.

Introducing this years' Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago

(Community Spotlight) Permanent link

Springboard is pleased to introduce this years’ Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC). This group of incredible teens are connected to numerous organizations within our community. They represent the voices and missions of Youth Groups, cohort programs, volunteer opportunities and so much more. We would like to take a moment to share with you a little more about each of these talented teens: Abby Cyrluk, Blake Finkel, Ella Rubenstein, Ilana Friedel, Kathrine McKeag, Kaylee Zavduk, Klara Walny, Maya Comrov, Noah Shapiro, Ronit Lunken, and Sophia Rose. They have all grown and been shaped by their Jewish communities in different ways. We asked each member of JTAC to share a personal mission statement, to provide a window for us, into their lives, values, and what is most important to them.

logos for teens

Klara Walny:  

Hi, my name is Klara Walny. My Jewish youth groups have shaped who I am today and are helping me grow for tomorrow. I simply would not be who I am without Young Judaea, CTeen, Voices, and JTAC. All these groups have taught me something very important, that I should be proud to be Jewish. 

Young Judaea taught me about pluralism and how to accept everyone no matter their beliefs or backgrounds. While CTeen taught me there are millions of Jewish teens around the world, that I should value my Judaism, and I should be proud to be a Jew. Voices on the other hand, taught me about philanthropy, the importance of giving tzedakah and not just blindly giving money without research and consideration. Last, but not least, JTAC taught me that there are a ton of Jewish teens in the Chicagoland area and that there is a Jewish youth group for your interests and/or beliefs. 

Personally, all these youth groups have also helped shape my friends. My closest friends come from time at Camp Young Judaea Midwest and from my fellow board members in CTeen. They have made me laugh, always keep me on my toes, and are always there for me when I have a bad day. I could not ask for better friends, they are so smart and have good hearts. I try to be there for them as much as they are for me. 

Abby Cyrluk: 

My name is Abby Cyrluk and I want to share with you the things that have made me into the person I am today. To start, I was lucky to attend Bernard Zell Anshe Emet Day School for 10 years of my life. Bernard Zell is a Jewish day school where I received all my Jewish education. The Jewish community at Bernard Zell is so strong. No matter what I was doing, there was always a teacher or classmate there to help me and support me. Bernard Zell shaped me into the young adult I am today, not just in the Jewish community, but in general. Bernard Zell made me understand the importance of having a strong community and that is something I will carry with me through life. 

The second thing that has shaped me into who I am is Chippewa Ranch Camp. I have been going to sleepaway camp at Chippewa since I was 8 years old. During my time at camp, I have gained friendships that will last a lifetime. At camp, I can feel how I'm a part of a community that is bigger than me. Camp is like my second home and I will forever be thankful for all the experiences and friendship camp has given me.   

Throughout my life, I want to be able to create and become a part of more strong communities like Bernard Zell and Chippewa Ranch Camp. I want to be able to help communities and generally make each community I become a part of a better place. I have learned being a part of communities and being able to learn and gain help from others in those communities, is ultimately the best way to grow as a person.  

Ella Rubenstein: 

My name is Ella Rubinstein. I enjoy spending time with my friends and family, baking, pursuing social justice, helping my community, engaging in meaningful and thoughtful conversations, and connecting with my Jewish heritage. I love BBYO because it has allowed me to discover my inner leadership skills to lead on what I am passionate about.  

I hope to always be seeking justice and helping others in my life. My parents instilled wonderful values in me, and one being that I really care about doing what is right no matter what. Doing the right thing isn’t always the easiest path, but it is the way to be a more honest person. 

I aspire to lead those around me with enthusiasm, as well as a desire to be a positive person in society. I feel I am a hard worker with a friendly personality which enables me to make change while also exhibiting a kind spirit.  

Blake Finkel: 

My name is Blake Finkel and I want to share with you a little bit about who I am. Camp Chi has made me the person I am today, teaching me the importance of community, respect, and kindness. I believe that the connections I have made through camp have supported me throughout high school and will continue to support me throughout life.  
 
As an individual, I strive to contribute to the communities I am a part of. I believe the relationships we create with others helps to build a better and more compassionate community. By building these relationships, we can turn to each other for help and support. The Jewish community is one of the most compassionate and supportive communities and has helped me to grow as an individual and as a leader. From helping at my synagogue to serving on regional board for BBYO, I believe that contributing to these communities creates stronger bonds and a larger impact on others. To strengthen my school community, I have participated in peer tutoring and hold a leadership role in the Freshman Mentor Program, which helps welcome the new class into our school each year.  

I hope to continue to value the importance of community throughout life. Sustaining and emphasizing the values of kindness and respect are crucial in preventing hate and hostility. I believe it is our duty to lead future generations on the right path, building and preserving a strong community for them to inherit.  

Kathrine McKeag: 

I'm Katherine McKeag and I'd love for you to get to know me a bit better. I participate in a wide variety of Jewish organizations; primarily NFTY. NFTY programming gives me an opportunity to engage in Judaism with my peers. It also gives me opportunities to meet diverse individuals from around the country and grow as a person.  

Being involved in NFTY has allowed me to continue building on my core value; kindness. I believe that everyone deserves to be welcomed into any environment with as much support as possible. NFTY has provided me an outlet to use my philosophy. At every in-person event, I would constantly come back with dozens of new contacts, who I could then encourage to come back to NFTY.  

NFTY not only provides a space for me to meet others but gives me an opportunity to work on myself. Throughout my life I have struggled with mental health, NFTY gave me a safe place to grow and gain support from. I have always enjoyed close-knit, loving communities and that is exactly what NFTY, and most other Jewish youth engagement programs are. 

Maya Comrov: 

Hi, my name is Maya Comrov. I am 18 years old and live in Buffalo Grove, IL. I am a senior at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School in Deerfield. In my free time, I like to run with my dad and take walks with my family. I am actively involved with my school through various clubs, musical theater, choir, and sports. Besides JTAC, a few other organizations I am involved in are NCSY, Camp Gan Israel of Northbrook, Voices, Student to Student, and Chai Lifeline. I have also been a counselor for Camp Gan Israel of Northbrook for years.  

I wake up every day grateful to be alive and inherently committed to enhancing the lives of others through kindness. I love meeting new people, making them smile, and forming meaningful relationships. Through the organizations I have been involved in, I have developed leadership skills, flexibility, and appreciation for community. Serving as a board member on the North Shore chapter of NCSY, I have been given opportunities to brainstorm events for teens from 6th to 12th graders. With my work on Voices, I have learned how to fundraise and donate thoughtfully. Student to Student, Chai Lifeline, and Camp Gan Israel have allowed me to gain a better understanding of who I am and what I’m capable of achieving while also doing chesed. These organizations have allowed me to push myself into becoming more sensitive, empathic, and proactive. 

Ronit Lunken: 

Hi my name is Ronit Lunken and I would like to tell you all about me. I have always had a strong connection to my Judaism. Although I live far from major Jewish populations, I have learned so much from my Judaism, especially from Young Judaea (YJ). Young Judaea teaches me so much about inclusion, tikkun olam, and leadership. I have been involved in the YJ youth movement for almost ten years, including the past two years which I have been on the board. In this position I have learned how to be a better leader by making connections, listening, helping others, and being compassionate. I have utilized these values many times, and they have helped me grow as a leader. I make an effort to reach out to every individual and make sure everyone feels heard and valued.  

Tikkun olam, repairing the world, is one of my most valued Jewish teachings. It has greatly shaped who I am as a person, and it affects how I live and make decisions. I volunteer every week at my local animal shelter and in my Jewish community whenever I get the chance. I strive to one day be zero-waste. I am constantly making decisions to better myself and minimize my impact on the environment. I know that I have an impact on the world, though volunteering and leadership, and I want to make a positive one. 



#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Talah Goldfarb

(Social Action) Permanent link

Superman

My name is Talah and I would like to tell you a story about my best friend, Superman Sammy. When I was six years old, Sammy was diagnosed with Leukemia. The hospital was extremely overwhelming for me and it was hard to visit at such a young age. Instead, I mostly visited Sammy at the Ronald McDonald house where we played in the playroom. One time, we even spent the day having a behind the scenes tour at the Milwaukee Zoo. Sadly, Sammy passed away when we were  just eight years old in 2013. 

The summer before Sammy passed away, I went to my first summer at camp OSRUI. Sammy and I would have gone to camp together probably until we couldn’t any more. We would have developed our Jewish identities alongside one another, but instead I shape mine in honor of him as well as mindfully think of ways to incorporate his memory and my Jewish identity in my everyday life. Sammy and I have birthdays a couple days apart and when it came time for my Bat Mitzvah, I knew that reading Torah and celebrating in honor of him was a meaningful way for me to integrate his memory into a celebration we would have shared. 

In memory of Sammy, I am fundraising for the 2021 Students of the Year program for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. With my team, I hope to raise at least $20,000 during this seven week competition amongst high schoolers around the country. Through fundraising for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society, there is increasing hope that these cancer diagnoses no longer become fatal.

Every three minutes, somebody in the United States is diagnosed with a blood cancer. Whether that cancer is Leukemia, Lymphoma, or Myeloma, every patient who receives a cancer diagnosis knows that his or her life is forever changed. Since 2017, LLS has helped advance fifty-eight of the sixty-eight blood cancer treatment options approved by the FDA and can continue to advance these treatments through donations made by you. 

To donate to my campaign please visit: bit.ly/talahlls.

Talah Goldfarb

Talah is a freshman at Highland Park High school where she plays field hockey and is an active member in both Rotary Interact and her school’s Medical Education club.  She spends her summers developing her Jewish identity and cultivating a passion for Tikkun Olam at camp OSRUI. Talah’s love for volunteering and making the world a better place started when she was a leader for her middle school’s service club and when she participated in a SaLT Student Travel trip to Orlando serving at the Give Kids the World Village.

Where Are They Now: Meet Isaac Freedman

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

When I was included as one of 18 Under 18 honorees in 2018, I underestimated the transition it marked. Yes, I was thrilled to be recognized on a community-wide level for the work that I was immensely proud of doing. I was filled with gratitude for my role models and teachers who enabled my work and helped me find my place in the world of Jewish music.

At the time however, I did not realize that place was about to change as I moved ahead to the next stages of my life.  My excitement to begin the next chapter of my life at Northwestern blinded me from the reality that my platform to contribute to and participate in Jewish life was about to change drastically. I left behind the luxury of a regular songleading gig in a building full of supportive childhood mentors actively providing me opportunities to function as a leader. Now, it was up to me to decide how, when, and how often I was to be involved.

Isaac Freedman at work

This challenge would have been far more difficult if it were not for the 18 Under 18 program. First, it instilled the confidence in my leadership skills that I needed. Because of the recognition I received, I knew my place in the community as a leader, even when it did not necessarily feel that way. In addition, the program introduced me to 17 other peers facing a similar dilemma and a host of adult leadership with the resources to resolve my uneasy transition into over 18 life. Finally, 18 Under 18 provided me with a point of reflection. It functions as a constant reminder of the importance of this community in my life and provides the concrete reasons why I chose to invest my time in high school and why I choose to continue to invest my time now. For my cohort of 18 Under 18, we each spoke on the Jewish value that keeps us involved. In 2018, I said:

 “The one primary motivation for me to be a Jewish leader is Tradition. I firmly believe that I have a responsibility to carry out and pass on the great traditions that accompany our faith… My true goal is to inspire and light that same flame that was once lit for me that encourages our youth to recognize their responsibility to carry on tradition.” 

While much about my life today feels different than it was in high school, I am proud that these words still hold true. Judaism survives on the basis of tradition and ​L’dor V’dor (from generation to generation). ​I am so glad that because of the connections I made through 18 Under 18 I was able to find new and larger platforms to continue my work to achieve this goal. I am excited to continue supporting the work that our teens do to elevate and carry-on tradition. In this work, I have already been so impressed with the potential of the next generation. Now, as an 18 Under 18 nominator, I know my role in carrying on tradition is fulfilled and the program is sure to instill that same lesson in each subsequent cohort.  

Isaac Freedman portrait

Isaac Freedman is an undergraduate student at Northwestern University where he is pursuing degrees in both Biology and Human Culture, Health, & Disease. As he moves ahead on his path to a career in medicine, Isaac has continued to be involved in the world of Jewish music. In 2018, Isaac was recognized as one of 18 Under 18 for his contributions to the North Shore Congregation Israel and greater community as a music and hebrew teacher, among other roles. Isaac now volunteers his time with NFTY-CAR to develop and support the songleading cohort. He has taught annually with Alan Goodis for Chicago’s Nashir Songleading Institute and joins Cantor Rosalie Will as a mentor for 2021’s cohort of URJ Songleading fellows

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Mental Health Tips to Start 2021 by Ellen Geis, Engagement Coordinator, No Shame On U

(Health and Wellness) Permanent link

Alright everyone we made it! The year that somehow went by so slow, and so fast, is finally coming to a close. I’m sure many are sighing with relief at the symbolic turning of a calendar from 2020 to 2021, but many are probably still filled with unease at an uncertain future ahead as we continue to adapt to a new normal and pick up the pieces of our lives and world post-2020. 

For that reason No Shame On U is partnering with Springboard to provide you with some quick tips to set you up for 2021 on a mentally strong note. No Shame On U is a Jewish mental health non-profit dedicated to eliminating the stigma associated with mental health conditions and raising awareness.. This year has been unlike any we have ever encountered in the mental health community, with depression, anxiety, and loneliness skyrocketing in reaction to the pandemic and societal unrest. If you’re feeling a little rattled coming out of this year, it’s ok. 

Here are some tips to start 2021 with mental strength and resiliency*:

  1. Wherever you’re at, it’s ok.

If you’re depressed, it’s ok. If you’re anxious, it’s ok. If you’ve barely done anything this year but survive, it’s ok. One of the best things you can do for your mental health is to accept that wherever you are at, it’s ok. Feeling guilty or ashamed for what you are feeling will only perpetuate it more. One of my favorite phrases for when I’m having a bad day is “that’s just where I’m at today.” This takes the pressure off of how I “should be” so I don’t feel guilty and then even more depressed. In a year like this remember however you are feeling heading into the new year is perfectly ok, and “that’s just where you’re at today.”

  1. Cultivate a Healthy Lifestyle

You know the drill. Eat healthier, exercise, get more sleep, drink water, etc. There’s a reason experts continuously recommend these things, it’s because they really do make a difference. If it feels overwhelming though and like you’ll never be that perfect healthy person, then make it easier on yourself. You don’t have to be perfect, just make one small change at a time that feels fun! If lifting weights feels boring to you, then turn on some music and have a dance party. If eating healthier feels like you’ll have to give up your favorite foods, then look up recipes for healthier versions of those foods. Whatever you choose to do, just make healthy lifestyle changes one step at a time so your brain doesn’t get overwhelmed by too much change at once.

  1. Cultivate an attitude of gratitude.

I know, everyone is talking about gratitude right now, but again that’s because it really does help! Taking a moment every day to reflect on what you’re grateful for cultivates a mindset that focuses on what you do have, instead of dwelling on what is wrong. The more you cultivate this attitude of gratitude the more you’ll notice the good in life, and the bad will affect you less and less. One of my favorite practices is everytime I catch myself complaining I say three things I’m grateful for about what I was complaining about. Try it out for yourself! You’ll be amazed at how your mood and perspective can shift!

  1. Bonus Video! 5 Proven Ways to Build Mental Toughness and Resilience:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OpwC5ztY-3c

This is a great animated video with additional tips and explanations for how to build mental strength, especially during a year like this one.

There are a million more tips out there for cultivating mental strength and resiliency, but these are the ones that have been most impactful and effective at getting me through 2020. I hope they’re able to help you start 2021 mentally strong. And remember, you don’t have to change everything all at once. For strong, consistent habits and mindset changes that support your mental health, the best thing you can do is take it one small step at time.

Happy New Year!

*This article is not a replacement for therapy or medication. If you are having thoughts of suicide please don’t hesitate to reach out for help. 

National Suicide Prevention 24/7 Hotline: 1-800-273-8255 

24/7 Crisis Text Hotline: Text “HOME” to 741741

Ellen Geis

Ellen Geis is the Engagement Coordinator at No Shame On U and a certified Health and Life Coach. Ellen understands first hand what it takes to survive and overcome mental illness and believes strongly in people’s ability to heal themselves and transform their lives. She is passionate about creating interactive community programming that supports peoples’ holistic well-being, and is deeply inspired by the intersection of spirituality and mental health.

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