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How Baking Challah Changed Shabbat for Me By Ellie Prober

(Holidays, Jewish Journey) Permanent link

Although I have always been Jewish, I think I'm the type of person that many would consider "Jew-ish." While I observed major Jewish holidays, Shabbat never seemed feasible or valuable in my life. Everything was too hectic in high school to sit down for a spiritual meal with family. If you found me in the kitchen while I was in high school, you would see me eat something quickly before running out of the house for dance, marching band practice, or whatever other activity I needed to attend.

However, I've recently discovered a new love for Shabbat, or at least some components of it. As a college student, a day of rest sounds like a dream come true. After a long week of lectures, writing papers, and reading books, I love ending my week with the beauty and sweetness of Shabbat.

This year, I was lucky enough to avoid Friday classes. Instead of going to lectures on Fridays, I woke up to prepare fresh challah. There are so many fantastic challah recipes online, and I love experimenting with them to find new favorites or making changes to improve the ones I already love. I love the feeling of kneading the dough by hand, pressing my stress and negativity from the week out of my system and turning it into a delicious bread full of love. After kneading the dough and letting it rise, I embraced the imagination that comes with braiding. There are so many creative ways to braid challah, and I embraced the challenge of learning new ones. I tried out a circular braid for the first time during this past Rosh Hashanah, and I've experimented with YouTube tutorials for braids with greater than three strands.

After baking the challah comes the best part – eating it. While the pandemic prevented me from sharing an in-person meal with friends, I enjoyed offering some bread to my friends (Jews and non-Jews alike) and walking around my University to bring them a delicious treat. The joy of sharing my creation with friends, coupled with the enjoyment on their faces, was my favorite way to end the week. While my Shabbat dinner was generally followed by mountains of homework, the short period of rest and relief that I got while baking challah, giving some to friends, and eating a meal without distractions makes it worthwhile. Through the craziness of the pandemic and college life, I find solace and relaxation in the practice of baking challah, and I feel like I have reconnected to some of my love for Jewish practice. And, of course, the challah French toast that I make the following morning is just as delicious as the Shabbos challah.

Ellie Prober

About the Author: Ellie Prober is a junior at the University of Virginia (UVA), studying women, gender, and sexuality studies (WGS) and government, with a minor in French. Ellie is passionate about feminism, justice, and creating a better world for everyone. At UVA, Ellie is involved with the color guard, the Cavalier Daily newspaper, and Gamma Phi Beta. After completing her undergraduate career, she wants to continue her studies by attending graduate school for a master's degree in public policy. This summer, Ellie was a Lewis Summer Intern in the JUF Legacies and Endowments department. 

A Letter To My High School Self By Madi Lebovitz

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

Dear Madi,

It's me, we made it to twenty one! Be proud of how far we've come, and let me tell you this: you are in for the ride of a lifetime pal. There are going to be a lot of times when you really just want to get off the ride, because it's scary and no one seems to be able to tell you when you will reach the end. But the thing about life is that it demands to be experienced, and no matter how comfortable it feels to stand still and watch from the parking lot, true joy is borne of risk. Whatever pain you are hiding from is inextricably combined with equally powerful love and compassion and genuine connection. I guess what I'm trying to say is, just get on, and feel it. There isn't a final destination really, the point of the ride is the excitement of the unknown. That feeling in the pit of your stomach right before a drop is not something to fear.

Just go with it.

Madi Lebovitz

About the Author: Madi Lebovitz is an incoming senior at UIUC studying political science with a concentration on law and power, a minor in legal studies, and a certificate of Biohumanities. Madi has recently become more connected to her Jewish identity and heritage, and plans to move to Israel upon graduating in May 2022. She is still figuring things out.

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.

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

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

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!

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!

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!

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.

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

Naomi Altman's Jewish Journey

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

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

Naomi Altman

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



Becoming Part of A Jewish Community By Alex Newman

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

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



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

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Isaac Shiner

Write On Fellow

Ida Crown Jewish Academy

Isaac Shiner

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

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

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

You Get Out What You Put In By Naomi Scholder

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Noami Scholder

Write On Fellow

Rochelle Zell Jewish High School

Naomi Scholder

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

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

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

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

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

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

Bicycle

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

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

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

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

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

My Hebrew Story by Blake Finkel

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Blake Finkel

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

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

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

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

My Journey to International Sh’licha

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Kelly Fagel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

My Hebrew Story - by Stephanie Kallish

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

Steph Kallish

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

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

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

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

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