Springboard Social Media Intern, Avery Hessel, interviewed some of our 18 Under 18 Honorees to hear a little bit about why they were selected, what leadership means to them, and what advice they would give for those looking to get more involved in their communities.
Rachel Aranyi contributes to both her secular and her Jewish community. Rachel is a Chicago Diller Teen Fellow and a member of Congregation Beth Judea. She also participates with AIPAC and BBYO. Rachel is a legislative intern for State Representative Carol Sente and has been for over two years. She is the co-founder and president of the Stevenson High School Lean In Women's Leadership and Feminism Club. Her club fosters an inclusive environment through advertising campaigns and enlisting insightful speakers such as the Dean of Northwestern's Law school and Illinois's Lt. Governor Evelyn Sanguinetti. Rachel was selected for participation in Stevenson's Student Leadership Academy. Rachel is a member of Stevenson High School's Student Leadership Advisory Committee. She earned membership into the National Honor Society. She regularly volunteers in service activities such as being a class leader for Stevenson's annual Give-A-Thon, and raising money for physically challenged adults as a Project Dance group leader. Rachel is a three-sport varsity letter winner for field hockey, fencing and soccer. Rachel is the Women's Midwest Regional Epee Fencing Champion (2016, 2017) and the Illinois High School Epee Champion (2017). She is a 2017/2018 Captain of the Stevenson Fencing Team. She is a member of her school's Ethics Bowl Team which recently won regionals.
Syd Bakal is a Junior at Barrington High School. They are currently the Social Vice President on their youth group board at Beth Tikvah Congregation. Syd is constantly looking for ways to exercise their passion for music, as well as equality. Syd co-led a song leading program at their temple, founded their school’s Gay Straight Alliance, participated in theater, and joined the youth committee for Illinois Safe Schools Alliance. One awesome thing that Syd is working on is organizing their school’s Speak Out program, a unique program where people of different backgrounds present speeches to create awareness and inclusivity. Syd sings, dances, and plays guitar and ukulele. When speaking about their connection to the Jewish community they have found as a teen, Syd says that going to their Temple is their lifeboat. “It’s my safe space in which I am bonding with other Jews," they say. They live in a community with few Jews and feels a special bond with other Jews in non-Jewish communities, as it makes all of their experiences more unique.
Syd describes themselves as very community-focused, having been a part of so many great communities from NFTY CAR to The Jewish Council on Urban Affair’s Or Tzedek program. Building a community is the most important part of being a leader to Syd. Syd feels that Jewish teens are sometimes afraid of a Judaism that won’t accept them for who they are. “Judaism is a religion that welcomes interpretation. We have been struggling and reinterpreting since the beginning. We are community bound by complexity and nuance. There is enough room for anyone and everyone who wants a place to think, pray, and find community."
Emma Milner-Gorvine is a passionate senior at Evanston Township High School. She is involved in cross-country, group promoting women in STEM, Student Ambassadors, and her school’s Gay Straight Alliance. Emma is also President of her youth group and a Madricha at her synagogue, Beth Emet the Free Synagogue. Lastly, Emma is very involved politically and involved in interning at a mayoral campaign, organizing phone banking at the Democratic Party office, and participating in a Rosh Chodesh Jewish Feminist group. She has felt connected to Judaism from a young age. She wants to give back what the community has given to her. To her, the Jewish community is a unique community with amazing friends and values.
Emma describes herself as very outgoing and spontaneous. “Sometimes I don’t plan until the day of,” she says. She is better at stepping forward, doing, and saying. She gets more anxious if a speech is planned rather than not. To anyone looking to get involved with Judaism, she says you should start at your local synagogue, youth group, Hebrew course, or look into Israeli culture. “Don’t be nervous to create something yourself,” she says.
Kalman Strauss is a high school freshman in the city of Chicago. He plays violin and mandolin and sings at Shabbat services as part of Mishkan Chicago’s Davening Team, which he says, "tries to create a spiritual and meaningful atmosphere for people's prayer." At Mishkan, he has also performed Kol Nidre on Yom Kippur, composed music for services, and even recorded a CD. He loves being a part of Mishkan Chicago, a community which he says is "spiritual, musical, intellectual, thoughtful, and truly inclusive--basically a model of how I strive to be." In addition, Kalman studies Talmud with Svara, a "traditionally radical Yeshiva" based here in Chicago, which he says has been "nothing short of life changing." He is also a participant in Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation, a JUF program where teens learn about professional philanthropy and grant-making through a Jewish lens. In addition to his work with the Jewish community, Kalman has a passion for nature and for teaching others to appreciate and protect small natural wonders, such as moss and birds, and he volunteers extensively in this area. Kalman would describe himself as someone who tries to move and connect people, especially through music. He states, "Music is one of the most universal of all languages, so it is a great way to connect people to their feelings and to one another, whatever their backgrounds." To those looking to get more involved in the Jewish community, he would suggest casting a wide net. "The Jewish community and heritage is very diverse and rich," he says, "so don't get discouraged if you don't like one aspect. Just keep searching and experimenting." He says he has been especially inspired by several Jewish women in the community, noting his gratitude for Rabbi Lizzi Heydemann of Mishkan Chicago, Stephanie Goldfarb of JUF's Voices Program, and Rabbi Benay Lappe of Svara.
Not only does Lillie Murphy have an outgoing and exciting personality on the outside, but she has the passion on the inside to match. Almost every opportunity in the Jewish community that Lillie has been presented with, she has said yes to. Whether it is going to Camp Chi, where she has now been going for six summers, or being involved with the JCC through their Chi Town Connection Board and Project Teen Seed 613 program, she loves getting to meet new people and jump right into the excitement. Lillie is also heavily involved with USY, where she sits on her chapter board as the Membership Kadima Vice President at West Suburban Temple Har Zion. Her role there ranges from working with the 6th-8th graders to planning the regional convention. It wasn’t until USY that Lillie truly felt connected to the Jewish community and found her own fit. After she met other Jews in Chicago and stared making friends and deep connections, she felt more connected to the community as a whole. She knew then that getting involved in even more activities and making more friends would make her feel even more at home. One thing Lillie really enjoys is helping others, which is why she joined the Gesher Committee in USY, a committee designed to help new members make connections and feel welcomed. This desire to help others is also why she signed up to be a Madricha at her synagogue, where she individually aids younger kids with their assignments and classroom responsibilities. As previously mentioned, her latest endeavor is the JCC’s Project Teen Seed 613, a program for high school girls to create a non-profit, learn about business and Judaism, and sharpen their entrepreneurial skills.
Lillie feels that being a leader is important because “I am able to guide people who are uncomfortable, shy, or young to a place where they feel happy, included, and comfortable.” If she could give her peers advice, she would tell them to branch out and try extremely new things. When Lillie went to camp for the first time, she was terrified, but if she hadn’t have gone then she never would be where she is, in the community and in her life, today.