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Introducing Yael Handelman, a Springboard Peer Ambassador

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About the prompt: We asked each Peer Ambassador to share with us a pivotal moment in their Jewish journey, what being a Peer Ambassador means to them personally, and what value speaks to them.

Check out Yael's blog post below as she shares how her Jewish community inspired her to be a Peer Ambassador this year.

I’ve grown up my whole life in the nurturing Jewish community. Whether that be Shabbat at Anshe Emet, middle school at Chicago Jewish Day School, or summer camp at Habonim Dror Camp Tavor, the Jewish community has brought so much joy and meaning to my life. I remember my first day of camp Tavor meeting the kids and playing ice breakers such as bang, not knowing that these friendships would stick with me forever.

I wanted to be a Peer Ambassador so I could connect teens to the Jewish community and allow it to be a positive influence in their lives the way it has been in mine. I have met many of my closest friends through Jewish outlets such as camp, shul, USY, and Jewish day school. I look forward to helping teens build their own connections to other teens and the Jewish community. As a Springboard Peer Ambassador, I will have the opportunity to plan creative programming for my peers and bring the Jewish traditions I love to a larger audience. I’m so excited for this year and the chance to be a Springboard Peer Ambassador and I hope to help build enthusiasm within my peers for Jewish values and traditions. 

Yael Handelman

About the Author: Yael is a graduating senior at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School and an active member at Anshe Emet Synagogue. She is going to the University of Minnesota in the fall. She loves spending her time at gymnastics and also serves as her school's varsity volleyball team captain. Yael is excited to take on responsibility as a Springboard Peer Ambassador because of the amazing and creative opportunities it gives teens to connect to the Jewish community.

My Jewish Journey: Introducing Zoe Klein, a Springboard Peer Ambassador

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About the prompt: We asked each Peer Ambassador to share with us a pivotal moment in their Jewish journey, what being a Peer Ambassador means to them personally, and what value speaks to them. Stay tuned over the next month to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Zoe's blog post below as she shares about how her Jewish journey impacted her identity and connection to her Jewish community.

I have been going to school at my synagogue since kindergarten. Every year I would learn about Jewish values and go to services, learning Hebrew along the way in preparation for my Bat Mitzvah. However, I was never quite sure if I fit into the Jewish community. I enjoyed having discussions with other members of my grade and our teacher, but I didn’t feel the same sense of connection that I do now. 

I went through those first few years not really attaching much meaning to my Judaism, but then my friend asked me to come to OSRUI summer camp with her the summer before 5th grade. I was nervous, the idea of spending 2 weeks away was not very appealing to my 9 year old self, but I decided to go. It was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. The first moment I stepped into camp, I felt a new connection blossoming. I spent those two weeks making so many Jewish friends: celebrating Shabbat together, doing activities together, and exchanging addresses so we could stay in contact after the session was over.

Zoe Klein in Group

From that moment on, I did everything I could to replicate that community that I had at camp. I went to OSRUI for the next 4 years, looking forward to the next summer the second I went home. Once I went to high school I joined my temple youth group, Oak Park Temple Youth (OPTY), which introduced me to NFTY, the Reform Jewish Youth Movement. I went to NFTY  events where I was introduced to Springboard and the JUF as a whole. I went on Springboard trips where I met mentors and friends who introduced me to the JCC Jewish Student Connection chapter at my high school.

I have had a whole web of activities and experiences, all connecting me back to one of the most important parts of my identity. I am now a leader at Oak Park Temple and have a strong connection to my Jewish community and identity. As I am finishing up my year as a Peer Ambassador and getting ready to graduate, I am most proud of my work connecting with my community, especially my younger peers. 

Zoe Klein

About the Author: Zoe is currently a graduating senior at Oak Park River High School and belongs to Oak Park Temple. She is very active in the Jewish community and loves trying new programs and meeting new people! She also loves hanging out with her friends, eating burritos, and talking about Harry Styles. She will be a student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison next fall! 

How My Bar Mitzvah Shaped My Jewish Journey: Introducing Zachary Seaver, a Springboard Peer Ambassador

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About the prompt: We asked each Peer Ambassador to share with us a pivotal moment in their Jewish journey, what being a Peer Ambassador means to them personally, and what value speaks to them. Stay tuned over the next month to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Zachary's blog post below as he shares about his Bar Mitzvah, which was a pivotal moment in his Jewish journey.

Zachary's Bar Mitzvah

On August 30, 2019, I had my בר מצווה (Bar Mitzvah) at Congregation Or Shalom in Vernon Hills, Illinois. This was the day that I had been preparing for for over a year and had been dreaming about since my Jewish education began. My Torah portion was Re’Eh, which ironically is my older brother’s Hebrew middle name and the Torah portion we have framed on the wall in my house. This portion was about the process of decision making and how doing certain things can lead you down different paths in life. For my Bar Mitzvah, I decided to partner with Guitars over Guns, a non-profit organization that offers students from the most vulnerable communities a powerful combination of music education and mentorship with professional musicians to help them overcome hardship, find their voice and reach their potential as tomorrow’s leaders. 

Zachary with Guitars

My Bar Mitzvah party was themed around music and guitars, as that was and still is one of my biggest passions. Another theme that was mentioned more in my actual Bar Mitzvah service was equality and how I believe that everyone should be given the same, equal opportunities to be successful and have a good, happy life. In my D’Var Torah, I talked about this with my congregation and friends as it is something I firmly believe in. I also mentioned why I chose to partner with Guitars over Guns, and so much more. All in all, this experience is one of the most important ones to me that has definitely helped in a major way to shape the person I am today.

Zachary Seaver

About the Author: Zachary is a sophomore at Vernon Hills High School, who is a member of Congregation Or Shalom. He’s passionate about basketball, singing, playing guitar and more. He has been involved with NFTY and other Jewish programs for quite a while. As Peer Ambassador, he is excited to make new friends and help create fun events for people to meet each other. Zachary has also been a camper at OSRUI for 7 years now and has become very involved with his Judaism.

My Jewish Journey: Introducing Gaby Olbur, a Springboard Peer Ambassador

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About the prompt: We asked each Peer Ambassador to share with us a pivotal moment in their Jewish journey, what being a Peer Ambassador means to them personally, and what value speaks to them. Stay tuned over the next month to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Gaby's blog post below as she shares how NFTY shaped her Jewish journey in middle school and why she values curiosity as Peer Ambassador. Plus, Gaby shares her favorite recipe for "matzah crack". 

While attending Thomas Middle School, I learned about a program called NFTY from my brother, who was greatly involved in the program. NFTY is a youth group of teens grades 6-12th who come together as a community with special events and programs for those who are involved. I went to all the overnight retreats and met some amazing people! This program opened my eyes to the amazing Jewish community because people from all around the midwest were able to attend the overnighters at a jewish overnight camp called OSRUI. I got to bond with some of the best people ever and make jokes and spend 48+ hours together, going to water parks eating icees after shabbat dinner, eating donuts on Saturday mornings, and lighting the candles Saturday night before going back to the cabins and having the college kids tell you all about their lives.

Swimmers

Being a Peer Ambassador means that I get to be a leader and I love being a leader. This year I am looking forward to the 18 Under 18 celebration! I went last year to the drive-in and it was a fun experience. I would recommend going even if you don’t know any of the 18 Under 18 nominees.

One important value I follow is curiosity. Curiosity speaks to me the most because I am curious about the different Jewish events that I can be involved in and to meet new people. I want to meet new people and learn about what they like to do! I am curious about the future and what it holds for me in the jewish community! 

I wanted to share a recipe that I personally love to make on Passover and I know that everyone loves this recipe. I love this because ever since I was little I had made it and it’s one of my first memories of wanting to become a cook when I was older. It is called matzah crack! First you gather the matzah, chocolate, butter, and brown sugar. Next you heat the butter and brown sugar in a large saucepan on medium-high heat, stirring constantly. Once it boils, continue stirring for five minutes. Then you remove it from the heat. Next pour the toffee mixture over the top of the matzah and spread it evenly until it completely covers all the matzah. Put the baking sheet in the oven for 10 minutes until the top of the toffee is bubbling a darker brown. After taking the baking sheet out of the oven, sprinkle the chocolate on the hot toffee and spread it evenly across all of the toffee and matzah. After that if you want to add sea salt or any other toppings you can. Cool in the freezer or fridge until chocolate hardens, then serve! 

Gaby Olbur

About the Author: Gaby is a sophomore at Buffalo Grove High school. She enjoys swimming and water polo and hanging out with her friends. She works as a babysitter and is getting certified to become a lifeguard. She goes to BJBE in Deerfield. 

Hate Has No Home Here: Ilana Argentar's Speech at the United Against Antisemitism Rally

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Ilana Argentar, a current sophomore at Buffalo Grove High School and a Diller Teen Fellow was selected to speak at the United Against Antisemitism Rally on Sunday, April 24th 2022 in Glenview. The rally was connected to the Resolution Against the Rise in Anti-Semitic Hate and in Support of Cook County’s Jewish Population, which was unanimously passed on April 7th, 2022 by Cook County Commissioner Scott Britton.

Hi. My name is Ilana Argentar and I am a sophomore at Buffalo Grove High School. 

Thank you to the Commissioner and to all of you for being here today and standing up against hate. This is something I personally feel passionate about. 

My great grandparents faced unthinkable hate and antisemetism including pogrums and the Holocaust in the 1920’s, 30’s and 40’s. My mom and grandparents fled Poland as refugees, escaping antisemitism in the 1970’s. 

And now, as a first generation American, I am proud to be Jewish. Growing up, I have had the opportunity to proudly attend Jewish day school, Jewish camp, Jewish youth groups and Jewish clubs. I confidently wear my Star of David necklace without fear. This kind of expressive Judaism is what my family had always dreamt of. 

As I hear about the rise in acts of antisemitism around the world, nationally, and even in our own community, I wonder why this is happening again. I have read about this in history class but I would have never thought it would happen here. I wonder what my great grandparents would say if they knew that the discrimination they had to endure was resurfacing. I wonder why people continue to hate us and target our community. I wonder if I will ever feel the need to hide my Star of David necklace for my safety. This feels sad and unthinkable to me. I wonder if there will be a time when we can finally live in peace. 

We can still reverse this. It is up to me and my generation to become educated about our history. We can still stand up against hate and say no. My hope for the future is that we will continue to wear the symbols of our tradition. We can gather and pray in our synagogues without fear. And that we will always be proud Jews.

Ilana Argentar

About the Author: Ilana is a sophomore at Buffalo Grove High School. She participates in gymnastics, diving, and water polo. She is part of Jewish Student Connection at her school. Ilana spends most of her summers at her summer camp, OSRUI, in Oconomowoc, WI. She is currently part of the Diller Teen Fellows cohort 9 and is looking forward to spending three weeks in Israel this summer. 

An Interview With Avi Kaplan, One of the Country's Best Chess Players

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Springboard loves featuring inspiring teens in the Chicagoland community. We had the honor of chatting with Avi Kaplan, a freshman at Lane Tech, and one of the best chess players in the country for his age group. Avi recently placed second at a national youth chess tournament and is closing in on a 2,200 master score. He is also a chess instructor who began tutoring younger kids when he was in 7th grade with a roster of 5 students. Avi is the highest US Chess Federation rated chess player in the Chicago Public School system. 

If you also play chess and are intersted in connecting with other Jewish chess players, email Springboard@juf.org. 

9th grade chess win

9th grade chess win

Springboard: How did you get started playing? Why were you interested in chess?

Avi: I started chess back in first grade as I attended a Chicago Public School, Decatur Classical, in West Ridge and joined the chess club. I started in one of the lower groups and the chess teacher would set up puzzles. When I solved one, that’s when chess first clicked. 

I didn’t really like games with luck too much. I kind of preferred games with more skill involved. And I thought chess was the perfect game as it’s just you, versus the opponent. The better player most of the time is going to win the game. 

So as I started advancing in the clubs, I wanted to keep on improving. Then I moved to tournament level and obviously I didn’t start by playing national tournaments. I started with some Chicago Public Schools tournaments at my grade level. And I started to win pretty much every time I played. So then I started going into the advanced sections and I didn’t win every time. Some of the people I played were better and had more experience. I reviewed the games by myself and started testing out my own strategies. Since I got more interested in chess, I wanted advice from people with more experience so I started attending some chess clubs around Chicago.

Doing chess clubs and camps  gave me the needed experience to push forward. Then I learned to play online chess to get even more experience and could practice chess in the leisure of my own house. This meant I had more practice than ever for the competition days and since I got so much practice in, I started playing kids twice my age and then adults.

I’ve won a lot of tournaments. One important thing is not to let the losses get to you. Even as a chess champion you’re not going to win all the games you played. What’s important is that you bounce back after a tough loss. 

Avi with trophies

Avi with trophies

Springboard: How has chess influenced other parts of your life?

Avi: My memory and creativity come into play at school. Memory is obviously important for learning geographical locations mathematical formulas, remembering specific facts. My creativity is important as it can help me approach problems differently than other people do.

Chess has influenced my memory and my overall creativity and also my determination. It’s also made me a more courageous individual. 

Springboard: Has chess impacted your Jewish journey in any way?

Avi: Yes, preparing for my bar mitzvah --since my memorization foundation was substantial – I had a really easy time remembering my Parsha as well as memorizing other prayers and my speech. So instead of worrying about that, I could enjoy the process of studying and learning. I did miss a lot of Hebrew school because of chess, but Rabbi Dovid Kotlarsky at Chabad Lakeview taught me one-on-one all summer before my bar mitzvah so it was really great.

Avi at K-8 Championships

2014 CPS K-8 Championship

Springboard: Which Jewish values influence how you think about chess?

Avi: In Judaism you have to have a positive attitude and Jewish people throughout history have overcome a lot. In my chess career, I’ve had some unfavorable moments, but my overall positive attitude derived from Judaism helps me stay strong.

Something that influences my approach to chess is treat others how you want to be treated when it comes to being a good sport. Win, lose or draw, you always have to be respectful toward your opponent.

Springboard: What is it like being in high school and being a top tier chess player?

Avi: Being in elementary school and playing chess was easy to get through because there wasn’t that much homework. High school is a more difficult to manage as I have several hours of homework daily along with doing a couple hours of chess each day. So I try to get as much homework done during schools as I can.

Avi with mayor

Avi with the Mayor

Springboard: Do you have any influential chess players that you look up to?

Avi: Some of the best chess players I enjoy watching are Magnus Carlsen. I love reviewing some of Anatoly Karpov’s past games because he had a perfectionist mindset and the way he played and outmaneuvered his opponents was astonishing.  I’ve also had to the opportunity to train under some famous Jewish chess grandmasters including World Chess Champion Grandmaster Maxim Dlugy who run a chess school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and I trained for two years during middle school with Soviet-born Boris Avrukh, an Israeli chess grandmaster and permanent member of the Israeli National Chess Team who lives and teaches in the Chicago area. 

Springboard: What is your favorite chess move and opening?

Avi: I enjoy playing tactical and aggressive positions because it fits my fighting spirit. I try to alter my openings to get into favorable positions. 

Springboard: Our work at Springboard is all about elevating teen voices. Is there a message you would like to share with other teens your age?

Avi: In chess and in other aspects of life, try not to let your losses define you. And when you’re winning, don’t get overconfident. Just keep having fun and the moments will come.

At the end of the day if you have a strong passion for something, opportunities will come. Your moment will come. 

Jew Know What I Mean?: Are You Able to Share Your Beliefs to Other People Without Getting Hate? By Hailey McQueary

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Springboard saff love to hear stories about how teens in the community are connecting with their Jewish identities, educating others about the Jewish community and grappling with the complexities of being Jewish today. A few weeks ago Hailey shared her PSA (Public Service Announcement) school  assignment with us on Instagram. She chose to create a PSA about overcoming antisemitism. We asked her if she’d like to share her message with more people and reflect on the experience of creating this project on our blog. 

Stop Antisemitism

What is your topic? I'm excited to be talking about subject that are very important to me, Judaism and that antisemitism is still a problem today. I see antisemitism as a a certain view that people have on Jews. And people show a certain perception of hate towards Jewish people that is directed to Jewish community institutions and religious organizations.

Star

I chose to draw the Star Of David on top and wrote “this is our star” and on the bottom I drew the star that was used to mark Jews with during the holocaust, to separate them from other people. And I wrote “not this!”

Why did you choose this subject? I feel more drawn to this topic as I get older and am seeing antisemitism happen more now. I feel like I needed to speak out and share about this because I feel like people should be more educated on it and I am the only Jewish student in my school. 

I don’t want Jewish people to be only known for being in concentration camps and being hated by Hitler. I want Jewish people to be known for all the traditions and holidays that we celebrate, and all the positive things that we would love to share without getting bashed or hated on for it.

What do you hope other teens learn from your PSA? Antisemitism shouldn’t be happening. It isn’t cool to hate on someone for what they are a part of and what they love. It is frustrating that sometimes famous people make antisemitic comments. I think that everyone should keep the golden rule in mind: “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.”

My hope is that everyone finds a place that you are safe and comfortable in with your religious beliefs. I feel safe at my synagogue, Congregation Etz Chaim, and at my Jewish summer camp, OSRUI. They make me feel safe because I can be open about my religion and beliefs with other people that agree with me and make me feel comfortable and loved. Everyone should be able to feel that way.

Hailey

About the Author: Hailey is an 8th grader. She participates in builders club, teen advisory board, and JYG. This year, Hailey plans to raise awareness about ALS by speaking about it and fundraising. Hailey’s favorite place is OSRUI, her summer camp, and reading books and being with the people she loves makes her happy.

Creating a Community: Introducing Hannah Dalinka, A Springboard Peer Ambassador

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About the prompt: We asked each Peer Ambassador to share with us a pivotal moment in their Jewish journey, what being a Peer Ambassador means to them personally, and what value speaks to them. Stay tuned over the next few months to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Hannah's blog post below as she shares about how her Jewish journey has inspired her to create on ramps for other teens in the community. 

As a member of the Peer Ambassador team, I am beyond excited to get to learn, lead, and grow this year. Beyond all, however, I am so excited to try and strengthen the Jewish community in my area. Community mindedness, one of the four values that the Peer Ambassador program is centered around, speaks to me on so many different levels.

Personally, my Jewish journey started all the way back when I attended Jewish preschool, where I got to grow and play with a community of other Jewish kids and practice Jewish learning. Additionally, I have been a congregant at North Shore Congregation Israel (NSCI) since I was born, and I have been a song leader at NSCI for three years. I was fortunate enough to visit Israel in 8th grade and from that experience, I felt a whole new connection with the Jewish community there. I ultimately found my Jewish home at JCC Camp Chi where I met some of the best, most supportive people in the entire world. All of these combined experiences have helped me connect to the Jewish community.

Hannah Dalinka - Camp Chi

My Jewish identity is a big part of who I am, and I owe that to the Jewish communities that I have connected to so far in my life. One of my biggest goals for this year is to try and build that Jewish community for some of the other teens in my area. I think that Judaism can have such a strong impact on a person if they are able to find their own place in the Jewish community. There are so many different places to become involved and not everyone will fit in the same. Personally, I have found my connection to Judaism at my temple and at camp, but I was connected to those places from an early age. I want to be that connection for others and help them find their place in the Jewish community this year, because it is never too late to become connected and find your community.

Hannah Dalinka Photo

About the Author: Hannah is currently a junior at Glenbrook North High School (GBN) and she belongs to North Shore Congregation Israel (NSCI). Hannah is a member of the machonik leadership committee at NSCI and a regular song-leader there. She is also a URJ Song-leading fellow and completed the SIT program at JCC Camp Chi last summer. At GBN, Hannah is active in acapella, theatre, choir, and student government. She is also on the Speech team and volunteers for Relay for Life. Hannah loves to sing, act, hang out with friends, stargaze, and make smoothies. 



Mount Shlomo and My Jewish Journey: Introducing Sophia Rose, a Springboard Peer Ambassador

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About the prompt: We asked each Peer Ambassador to share with us a pivotal moment in their Jewish journey, what being a Peer Ambassador means to them personally, and what value speaks to them. Stay tuned over the next few months to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Sophia's blog post below as she shares about her experience this summer on URJ NFTY's Chalutzim Ba'aretz trip in Israel and how this experience gave her an opportunity to appreciate her friends and her Jewish experiences. 

This past summer I had the incredible opportunity to go to Israel through NFTY’s Chalutzim Ba'aretz program. We did everything from bargaining, eating our weight in falafel, camel riding to doing the iconic Masada hike. There was one hike in particular that I still think about everyday, Mount Shlomo.

Masada Hike

Mount Shlomo is located in the Southern end of Israel near Eilat bordering Jordan and Egypt and even Saudi Arabia is far off in the distance. Now, what does a hike have to do with my Judaism? After a long year and a half of feeling disconnected from everything including my Judaism- away from camp, shabbat at temple and holidays without family, everything felt at peace as I looked off into the mountain. Being surrounded by my friends who were also taking in this view and knowing the same feeling of finally being connected I realized how grateful I was to be Jewish.

Friends

Sitting in silence with my thoughts, I realized how lucky I am to be with my friends, both old and new and get to spend my summer in Israel and see the gorgeous and unforgettable veiws. I came back home feeling a strengthened love for my community and culture. My next wish is to get better at Hebrew! I’m so thankful for being on Springboard Ambassadors and being a part of a community that will help more people feel at home and find that place or feeling of connection within their Judaism. I will forever be grateful for my hike on Mount Shlomo.

Sophia Rose

About the Author: Sophia is a senior at Vernon Hills High school. She likes to read, go for walks and hangout with friends. She found her love of Jewish youth leadership and the community while as a camper at OSRUI and serving on board of her synagogue's youth group. Making some of her best friends and memories is what inspired her to do Springboard’s Peer Ambassador program. She hopes more people can experience all that there is to offer within the Jewish youth group community.



Shabbat is a Journey: Introducing Daniel Weisskopf, a Springboard Peer Ambassador

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About the prompt: We asked each Peer Ambassador to share with us a pivotal moment in their Jewish journey, what being a Peer Ambassador means to them personally, and what value speaks to them. Stay tuned over the next few months to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Daniel's blog post below as he shares about his experience at Camp Ramah Darom and how summer camp taught him to apprecaite Shabbat. 

All my life I have been surrounded by Judaism, from preschool to high school. To me, every second of every day is special and connected to G-d and Judaism. Rather than one pivotal moment, my life has been shaped by the mundane, the waking up and brushing my teeth, the meals shared with family friends, the songs and tunes of Kabbalat Shabbat, but camp has also been a highlight of my journey.

Camp Ramah Darom

I go to Camp Ramah Darom, a camp in Georgia that belongs to the Ramah movement, and one of my favorite parts of the camp experience is Sloach, or Slow Ruach. Every Friday night after dinner, we sing songs of joy for Shabbat. You don’t need to be a good singer, that isn’t the point, when we sing together, we sound beyond anything the individual can achieve, but my favorite time comes after dinner on Saturday night, Sloach, named as the opposite of the Ruach. Here we express both our sorrow for the end of Shabbat and the hope for the new week. The emotions expressed rarely fail to reduce everyone to the point of tears. The powerful songs of Acheinu, B’Shem Hashem, and Hamalach urge all to join in. This is a chance for us to let go of all the tension and pent-up emotion, leaving us prepared for a new week. The contrast of Ruach, Sloach, and Havdalah, in which the camp is rowdy and dances, paints a wonderful picture.

Shabbat is a chance to get away from the rest of the week, the drama, and the strife. At Shabbat, we look forward to a new chance, a new beginning. These are perhaps the most defining moments of my Jewsh journey.

Daniel Weisskopf

About the Author: Daniel is a freshman at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School. He enjoys tennis, golf, reading, and hanging out with his friends. He is a member of Moriah Congregation and enjoys learning Torah. He has gone to Jewish schools all of his life and can't wait to share the love for Judaism he has developed! 

Judaism in My Life: Introducing Dylan Cohen, A Springboard Peer Ambassador

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About the prompt: We asked each Peer Ambassador to share with us a pivotal moment in their Jewish journey, what being a Peer Ambassador means to them personally, and what value speaks to them. Stay tuned over the next few months to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Dylan's blog post below as he shares about his experience going to Israel in 8th grade and how the value of leadership is shaping his Peer Ambassador experience.

A pivotal moment in my Jewish journey was going to Israel with Ta'am Yisrael (now IsraelNow) in 8th grade. This changed the way that I looked at the Jewish religion as a whole. Going to Israel helped me understand the background of many things that we do in Judaism. After coming back, it took me a bit to understand how much it connected me with Judaism, but it truly did. There were two moments that were especially meaningful to me that still stick with me today. First, when we went to the Western Wall it was beautiful to see how many people it brought together. Everyone at the Wall was there for the same exact reason and it was inspiring to see the mutual respect of people around. The second thing was going to Masada. Just being in a place with such a rich history was very touching.

The Masada

Being a Peer Ambassador is about getting more people in the area involved with the Jewish community. It is exciting for me to help grow the Jewish community and be a bigger part of it, since I have not been very involved in the past. I am looking forward to making new connections and building on my skills with reaching out to others. What speaks to me the most, though, is the leadership skills I will learn and how the leadership experience will help improve my skills in many areas. This world always has more room for leaders as they are the people that can uplift others in the toughest of times. Throughout this year, I hope to improve my leadership skills and Peer Ambassadors will help me accomplish that. 

Dylan Cohen

About the Author: Dylan is a sophomore at Deerfield High School, where he is participating in the Sophomore Exec Board and DECA where he uses his leadership skills. In his free time, he is very involved in cross country, he runs every day. He belongs to Congregation BJBE. He is very excited to be a Peer Ambassador because he wants to get involved with more Jewish activities, while at the same time getting his friends involved as well.



My Jewish Journey: Introducing Ruth Prass, A Springboard Peer Ambassador

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I am growing up in a religious family. I was raised going to services weekly, attending both Sunday school and Hebrew school, going to a Jewish summer camp, and attending high holiday services. Every Friday before my parents and I went to services, we would do the shabbat blessings. My older sister would do the candle blessings, I would do the kiddush, and my little brother would uncover the challah that my mom had made.  Every hanukkah we opened gifts, made latkes, and lit the candles each night. As I got older, I came to realize that my Judaism was only a routine, and nothing else to me, but that has changed in the past year and a half. 

Ruth Prass Photo 1

I would say that the most pivotal moment in my Jewish journey has been attending Chalutzim at OSRUI. In this Hebrew immersion program, we spoke only Hebrew, learned about Israel as well as our connection with Israel and Judaism. Hebrew has always been a point of interest for me, so getting to learn and apply Hebrew everyday was a gift in my life. As I said, I grew up going to services every week, but I never found services at my home temple as engaging as they were at camp. Sitting with all my friends in nature, doing hand motions and singing energetic songs strengthened my connection to Judaism. The friends I made in Chalutzim are some of the people I am most grateful for in my life; we always had something in common, that we are jewish! Some of my favorite camp memories come from shabbat. After services and dinner we go to shabbat shira and sit together as a unit. Me and one of my best friends push our way to the front of the circle every time. We sing songs, do motions, and sum up our week to the rest of the camp. After shabbat shira, we go to rikkud (israeli dancing). Rikkud is one of the most chaotic situations i've ever been in. We have a ritual in chalutzim that before rikud we all scream the song “get loose get funky” and then the israeli music starts! Although it is only 20 minutes or so, everyone is laughing and dancing in their shabbat clothes and I can never stop smiling. 

Ruth Prass Photo 2

Now, my Judaism is strongly represented for my love of camp, and my ability to build connections. When I was nominated to be a Peer Ambassador, I saw it as an opportunity to be a leader, but more importantly, to build connections. I am looking forward to gaining skills in leadership and understanding my place in the world in regards to my Judaism. More specifically, I want to learn how to lead programs, have more meaningful discussions, and be more creative in planning! 

Ruth Prass Portrait

About the Author: Ruth is a sophomore at Deerfield high school where she plays soccer and basketball. She is an active member of her Israel club and Hebrew honors society. She belongs to Congregation BJBE and Congregation Beth Am. Ruth loves cooking, baking, exercising and hanging out with her friends. Through her attendance at OSRUI, her Jewish identity is strengthened through connections.



My Jew-velution: Introducing Tess Adelstein, a Springboard Peer Ambassador

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

Growing up, I was one of the few Jewish kids at my school. Everyone knew that I was the girl with the super long, confusing last name who got to miss school in September for some random holidays. The majority of my friends didn’t understand when I’d explain to them the importance of those seemingly random holidays, and why I had services every Friday at my camp. Then when I had my Bat Mitzvah in eighth grade, seeing their looks of confusion as I chanted my Torah portion was one of the highlights of that day if I’m being honest. 

The one community where I knew I wouldn’t be seen as an outsider for my religion was my camp, Camp Chi. Everyone there was Jewish and understood the importance behind our traditions. They made me feel accepted and proud of my Jewish heritage rather than ashamed for being the odd one out at my school. I continued to go to this camp every summer for what ended up being eight, going on nine years, and the connection to the people and the community created within this camp grew bigger and bigger each year. Last summer while I was there, I got the opportunity to be a counselor in training, which gave me the ability to connect with younger campers and show them the importance of both our Jewish heritage and the connections you make at camp. This experience is something I will forever be grateful for, not just because I got to spend another summer at my favorite place, but because I was able to impact a group of people and teach them the importance of tuning into their “Jewish side”. 

When I heard about Peer Ambassadors and their mission of connecting with Jewish teens to help them grow their Jewish identity, I couldn’t pass up on the opportunity to continue impacting the Jewish community in almost the same way I was at camp. Becoming in tune with my own Jewish identity has helped me become the person I am today, and to think that I can help someone else have a similar experience makes me so beyond happy and proud to be a Jewish individual. If you were to tell my elementary school self that I would become a Peer Ambassador and be as proud as I am to be a part of the Jewish community, she’d probably walk away from you in disbelief. Never would I’ve thought that I’d grow my connection to Judaism into what it is today, let alone get to a point where I can’t imagine my life without it, and I can’t wait to keep growing it as a member of Springboard Peer Ambassadors!

Tess Adelstein

About the Author: Tess is a rising Junior at Lane Tech High School, where she actively participates in many clubs, including JSC. She loves to write, listen to music, and hang out with her friends. Since Tess has been attending her overnight camp, Camp Chi, for practically half of her life, she's been able to grow her Jewish identity through practicing Jewish values and learning about Jewish culture.

Introducing Sophie DeKoven, a Springboard Peer Ambassador

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

Every summer I return to my second home: Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. At camp, I enjoy playing sports, swimming in the lake, and more than anything, hanging out with my friends. One of the most amazing aspects of camp is the unmatched community. Being a Jewish camp we celebrate Shabbat, but every Thursday evening we begin to welcome in Shabbat in a unique way: through Mishmar. Mishmar is a special time where the three oldest aidot (age groups) gather and sing their hearts out in the darkness of the sifriya (library), lit only by string lights. I remember my very first Mishmar; I was stunned by how powerful singing can be. The songs often start very quiet and peaceful, building up to the loud, table-banging dynamic including everyone’s voices and energy. My first Mishmar I didn’t know many of the words so I hummed along, but I was so moved by the passionate singing; it was such a wow moment. Regardless of how beautiful my singing may (or may not) be, I felt so welcome and comfortable in that space.

Sophie DeKoven 2

As I mentioned, community is so important to me. I go to Jones College Prep, a Chicago Public School, where the Jewish population is not so significant. Something crucial to me was finding a comfortable Jewish community to meet more teens throughout the year while I’m not at camp. I’m thrilled to be a Springboard Peer Ambassador so that I can help other teenagers who are struggling to find their place find a great community they feel comfortable in. Additionally, I’m eager to meet more Jewish teens throughout the Chicago area and connect with them on a deeper level than playing Jewish Geography, no matter how entertaining that may be. I can’t wait to bring new people to amazing events throughout the area, and become a stronger, more confident leader.

The Peer Ambassador values that speak out to me the strongest are definitely leadership and community mindedness. Throughout this year, I truly hope to become a stronger leader, and engage teens in any way I can. I also hope to be inclusive to teens that may not yet feel comfortable going to events on their own. Keeping these values in mind, I will engage many new teens throughout the area and foster a genuine relationship with them.

Sophie DeKoven

About the Author: Sophie is a senior at Jones College Prep where she is the president of Jewish Student Connection. She likes playing lacrosse, flute, and piano in her free time, as well as hanging out with friends, bringing criminal minds, and reading. She regularly volunteers at the Lakeview Pantry and as a math tutor. She enjoys attending BBYO programs and is excited to be a Peer Ambassador to introduce new teens to great Jewish programs around the Chicago area.



Where Are They Now: Featuring Lauren Tapper, Past 18 Under 18 Honoree

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog post, and I’m so excited to share what I have been up to recently. One of the biggest things in my life right now is NFTY. I am the Communications Vice President of the Chicago Area Region of NFTY (NFTY-CAR). This means I write blogs for the URJ and NFTY websites, post a lot on our Instagram page (@nftycar), and take photos and videos at events. After leaving my old school, NFTY is one of the biggest ways I stay involved with the Jewish Community. It connects me to so many old and new friends from around Chicago. We have two cool opportunities coming up: a virtual Halloween movie night on October 23rd, and va’ads. Va’ads are like smaller committees and are a way to take on some leadership at NFTY and help the board in planning events and programs for events. I’m leading the media va’ad, and if you join you can help me make Instagram graphics, write blogs, and post on Instagram. These are pretty low-commitment, but allow you to actually make an impact in NFTY and get to know some new people. Applications are due on the 23rd, and the link to sign up for our movie night and apply to va’ads are both linked on the linktree in our Instagram bio!

Lauren Tapper photo 2

This coming November I’m invited to speak on a panel at the Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco. I will be talking to the museum’s Teen Art Connect (TAC) Anti-bias Leader’s fellows about my work with Covid-TV, a blog that connects teens from around the world during the Pandemic. This panel is an incredible opportunity, and I’m so excited to connect with the teens in this fellowship and hear about their anti-bias and diversity work within the Jewish community. The goals of Covid-TV--connection, support, understanding--are just as foundational in anti-bias training. There are so many similarities between these fields, and I’m sure we will uncover even more commonalities during the panel.

Lauren Tapper photo 3

Outside of my work within the Jewish community, I’ve been pretty swamped with schoolwork. I know a lot of other people are struggling with managing their workload too, so I’ll say the thing that’s helped me most is finding a balance between school and rest. I’ve found that if I work for too long and don’t pay attention to what I need that I won’t learn as well. It’s just as important to listen to your body and your needs as it is to do your schoolwork. Caring for yourself and your mental health is so important, especially during the school year.

That is all I have for now, but thanks for reading and I hope to see some of you soon at our upcoming NFTY events or in one of the va’ads! 

Lauren Tapper photo

About the Author: Lauren is a Junior at the Lab Schools in Chicago. She is the co-founder and director of Covid-TV, an online platform connecting teens from around the world during the pandemic through emotional and social justice work. She was an 18 Under 18 Honoree in 2021 and a recipient of the Diller TIkkun Olam Awards in 2021. In her free time you can find her watching New Girl, making graphics for the NFTY Instagram page, or drinking an Iced Chai Latte.

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!



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