Blog with Springboard

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

Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

Apply to Join jGirls+ Magazine’s Teen Staff Community! by Joelle Reiter and Dalia Heller

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jGirls+ is a online publication and community by and for Jewish non-binary and female identifying teens, led by a teen editorial board and a staff photography department.

The Ed Board, as we affectionately call it, is made up of sixteen people representing four US time zones and thirteen states. We review content from all artistic genres submitted from all over the US, and even the rest of the world. Submissions are open year-round, and we accept content on any topic. Since many (though not all!) of the pieces submitted deal with complex themes related to feminism and Judaism, through disscussing them, we are exposed to a wide range of perspectives and gain an appreciation for the diversity within the Jewish community. Just recently, we’ve published a retelling of the Purim story, an essay about how Jewish values inspire social justice, and a personal narrative about self expression through music. When reviewing a piece, we discuss everything from organizational structure to how it will appeal to our community of readers, and ultimately—through exposure to so many people’s unique artistic styles and perspectives—we become more intentional writers and artists ourselves.  

It’s empowering to have so much autonomy over the decision making process when it comes to reviewing pieces, as well as about  jGirls+ policies more broadly. In a world of hierarchies, jGirls+ is a model of equal participation and input by all members. Just recently we decided, after advocacy from members of our community, to add a plus sign to our name to better reflect our range of gender identities (we plan to adapt our name even further to better suit our demographic). While there are leadership roles within the magazine, everyone has equal opportunity to shape the direction and purpose of our organization. 

Much of our job consists of emailing contributors. It is our responsibility to tell them whether or not their piece has been accepted, communicate necessary edits, and encourage them to submit again. There is an unbridled joy in helping other teens publish their writing or art—it's incredibly rewarding to see a piece go through multiple stages of edits and then share in a contributor's excitement when we let them know that the piece is finally on the website.

There is comfort in existing in spaces like jGirls+ where everyone identifies as Jews and feminists, and understands the intersectionality of our shared identities. However, perhaps more importantly, we also have a deep appreciation for the things that make us different. It is rare to find such an inclusive community of people who can balance serious passion with fun and friendship, and all value kindness, meaningful discussion, and the power of art. 

We are currently seeking applications for both teen editors and photographers. Apply here by April 14th! And be sure to submit your art and writing to jGirls+ here.  

Feel free to reach out to us with any questions at this email:

About the Authors: 

Joelle Reiter Joelle Reiter

Hi! I’m Joelle, and I’m a homeschooled member of the class of 2022, who’s grown up in Queens, New York, and Chicago, Illinois. I’m passionate about different forms of storytelling. When I was younger, my favorite activity in the world was having my mom read aloud The Wizard of Oz series by L. Frank Baum. Currently I serve on The Steppenwolf Theatre’s Young Adult Council and I’m a member of 826Chi’s Teen Writers Studio where my writing has been published in their chapbook Let Us Keep What We Love. In addition, I’m a Goodman Theatre Cindy Bandle Young Critic and I work for the Chicago Public Library helping to plan and launch their annual ChiTeen Literary FestIval. My interests also include health sciences and social justice.

Dalia Heller Dalia Heller

I am a member of the class of 2022 at Adlai E. Stevenson High School and I live in Buffalo Grove, a suburb outside of Chicago. I play the flute in my school’s Honor Band and am a student leader in the marching band. I am also a part of my school’s National Honor Society chapter, as well as the Spanish Honor Society. I am passionate about learning about history and foreign languages (especially Spanish, Hebrew, and Yiddish) and enjoy taking visual art classes. In my free time, I love painting and drawing, switching back and forth between obsessing over The Office and Parks and Recreation, and hiking with my family in the woods near my house. I feel so fortunate to be a part of a community as inspiring and welcoming as jGirls+ Magazine, and I’m excited for my third year as an editor!

Top 5 Reasons to Attend Relief Mission to New Orleans with NCSY and JSU

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NCSY and JSU's next relief mission trip is to New Orleans, March 3-7, 2022. Apply at The cost of the trip is $599. Springboard, Chicago’s hub for Jewish teen programs, is excited to offer Access Grants to teens who are participating in a multi-day Jewish experience for the first-time! Access Grants will cover 50% of the cost of the NCSY Relief Mission up to $200, bringing down the price to $399. Please complete the form below and then apply for the access grant at

Teens on the recent NCSY/JSU Relief Mission to Houston share why YOU should join the upcoming Mission to New Orleans!

1) You’ll get a hands-on opportunity to make a difference.

“I really enjoyed putting in the work and seeing all the things we accomplished.”
--Shai Kaszynski, junior, Deerfield High School

2) You’ll work hard – but you’ll see the impact of your efforts.

“Getting to give meals to homeless people and seeing how happy it made them, [helped me] know for sure we were making a difference.”
--Daniella Volkov, junior, Walter Payton College Prep

3) You’ll learn about the Jewish values that shape the mission and spend a meaningful Shabbat with teens from across Chicagoland.

“I loved learning about parts of Jewish culture that I’d never been exposed to.”

--Simone Redensky, junior, Jones College Prep High School

4) You’ll explore local attractions – and have lots of fun – while building Jewish community.

“It was amazing to bond with other teens from Chicago while helping build the Houston community.”
--Stone Schwartz, senior, Niles North High School

5) This is more than a one-time event. You’ll learn valuable lessons that can enhance your everyday life.

“The most meaningful part of the trip was getting to learn about gratitude and how [I can] use my time [after the trip] in an impactful and meaningful way.”
--Nehama Kaszynski, junior, Deerfield High School

New Orleans Mission

Our Experience on NCSY and JSU's Relief Mission Trip to Houston By Simone Redensky and Bella Fleischer

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On January 13th, a group of teens left Chicago to go volunteer in Houston, Texas. Each person made the decision to leave their comfort zone and give their time to help a community in need. Along the way, everyone made memories, helped those in need, and learned valuable lessons. Here's a rundown of our amazing trip with NCSY and JSU!

JSU Relief Mission 1 JSU Relief Mission 2

On our first day in Houston, we went to volunteer with SBP, an organization that rebuilds homes that were destroyed from natural disasters. We painted, built window frames, and assisted the SBP volunteers. Everyone had a great time learning how to use power tools and using new skills to help a home get rebuilt. After our work with SBP, we sat in a small patch of grass by the house we were rebuilding. Rabbi Oran’s talk helped us connect with our recipient and others impacted by Hurricane Harvey. He asked us each to think about our very own homes being destroyed and told us to think about two items, only two, that we would take with us before fleeing our homes. We then went around in a circle to share, quickly realizing how incredibly impossible making such a decision was. This allowed us to better understand and envision the level of destruction and loss the people of Houston faced both during and in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey. 

JSU Relief Mission 3 JSU Relief Mission 4

After we finished our work on the house, we returned to our hotel and prepared for Shabbat. Our amazing Rabbis helped us welcome Shabbos with great food, song and prayer. The experience was a whole new level of spirituality for many of us. Throughout Shabbat we did many small activities to open our souls to Hashem. The days were filled with not only prayers but with small purposeful opportunities to rethink the meaning of life. Who would have known how uplifting a 5 minute meditation could be? This was a very emotional time for many of us and brought us closer together as a group. In those moments even though many of us had just met, we were able to share very personal and deep personal emotions and come together as a group to support and console each other. We spent Saturday playing games, relaxing, and getting closer as a group. We also are given opportunities to explore our connection with God and with our own Jewish identities.We ended Shabbat with delicious food and songs from our talented Rabbis. After Havdalah, the group went to the Kemah boardwalk where we went on plenty of rides. We ate some great pizza and then went to bed, excited for the next day's volunteering.

JSU Relief Mission 5 JSU Relief Mission 6

On Sunday, we went to the Houston Food Bank. It was our job to look at the food and make sure it was acceptable, meaning that it was not expired or damaged. We broke off into small groups that made assembly lines, some people checking dates and others wiping off products. Along with all the other volunteers, our group helped package 6,000 meals, or enough food to feed a family of six for a year. Our Rabbis talked to us about how much of an impact we can make with just a little bit of our time, and how it is our responsibility to put good into the world. After we finished our shift at the food bank, the group went to see the Houston Space Center, which was a lot of fun!

JSU Relief Mission 7 JSU Relief Mission 8

After, we went to buy food that we would put into bags for the homeless. On our last day, we went to plant food at the community garden which coincided with Tubish Vishvat. This was a great and educational experience. Everyone had a lot of fun planting different foods! We also packaged the food that we bought the previous day into small lunch bags to give to the homeless. The group went to walk around the neighborhood and look for people who were in need of help. We found a community of people living together, and got the opportunity to talk to them and give them something to eat. Going to a homeless community and being able to see how they live was a humbling experience. The process of being able to hand food to those in need and seeing the great gratitude they felt in turn filled us with a different type of gratitude. It allowed us to realize that giving back to those in need not only makes a difference to them, but also has a profound impact on us. We feel full from witnessing their gratitude and knowing that we helped make a difference, no matter how small.

Anytime you give back it reminds you how fortunate you are. You feel pride and are reconnected with your Jewish identity and the principles of tzedakah and chesed. After every mitzvah we completed it came with a meaningful and emotional discussion led by our Rabbis and trip advisors. They incorporated stories and lessons into each volunteer project that gave us a better understanding of the hardships the recipients experienced, providing a more meaningful perspective on the impact of our work. Our Rabbis provided an extremely moving ending to our trip when they took us to the site of a synagogue destroyed during Hurricane Harvey. They reminded in this holy place that nothing is forever and to always cherish moments in everyday life. They allowed us to reflect on what the trip meant to each of us before asking us to share with the group. This final moment brought us even closer together as we said our final goodbyes and shared how different yet uniquely special the trip impacted each of us. 

JSU Relief Mission 9 JSU Relief Mission 10

This trip was an incredible experience. We learned the importance of giving back to the community, of helping people in need, and of putting good into the world. We also learned about Judaism and how it was connected to volunteer work. We learned how important it was for Jews to put good into the world, and how each of them has the potential to help so many people. For anyone who wants to experience a truly life changing trip that will act as a catalyst to empower you to become a better person, a better Jew, and a better member of society, look to join any of the upcoming NCSY trips. You will not regret it!

NCSY and JSU's next relief mission trip is to New Orleans, March 3-7, 2022. Apply at The cost of the trip is $599. Springboard, Chicago’s hub for Jewish teen programs, is excited to offer Access Grants to teens who are participating in a multi-day Jewish experience for the first-time! Access Grants will cover 50% of the cost of the NCSY Relief Mission up to $200, bringing down the price to $399. Please complete the form below and then apply for the access grant at

About the Authors:

Simone Redensky

Simone is a current junior at Jones College Prep, where she plays on the varsity lacrosse team. When lacrosse is not in season, she plays on a club team. She is also on the Model UN and Mock Trial teams at school. Simone enjoys reading and spending time with her friends and she loves volunteering with Cradles to Crayons! 

Bella is a current freshman at Glenbrook North High School, where she is on JV Poms and Orchesis. Bella is a competitive Rhythmic Gymnast out this season due to injury. Bella has been an active volunteer with Maot Chitim of Greater Chicago and the JUF with her family since age 5 and is an active member of NorthShore NCSY.

TOP 5 Reasons to Sign Up for the NCSY & JSU Relief Mission to Houston

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 Houston Relief Mission 2022

Who’s excited for the Relief Mission to Houston?!?

We are! And we’re here to tell you our TOP 5 Reasons why you should be too!

#1: You're going to make meaningful change! You’ll help build homes that were destroyed by Hurricane Harvey, combat food insecurity at the Houston Food Bank and more! All while earning 15+ service hours!

#2 - You'll spend 4 incredible days in Houston and visit some of the city’s greatest attractions, including the Kemah Boardwalk!

#3: You’ll make new, lifelong friendships with Jewish teens from across the Chicagoland area. You’ll also have the opportunity to meet our incredible staff and college-age advisors!

#4: You'll live the Jewish value of tikkun olam and experience an amazing Shabbat that you won't soon forget!

#5: As if reasons 1-4 weren’t enough, you’ll also have tons of fun! 

Can’t wait for you to join us this MLK Day Weekend for the trip of a lifetime on our Relief Mission to Houston!

Learn more and register for this wonderful service opportunity at

The Impact Alexander Muss High School in Israel Had On My Life By Kate Shapiro

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Kate Shapiro and Friends

Hi! My name is Kate Shapiro and I’m a current senior at Deerfield High School in Deerfield, Illinois. During second semester of my junior year, I had the amazing opportunity to study abroad at Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI). I spent two months on a campus located in Hod Hasharon, a city located about 20 minutes outside of Tel Aviv, where I took all of my normal classes like math and English, as well as an Israel studies course. We also traveled all over the country to places like Jerusalem and the Kotel (Western Wall), Tel Aviv, the Golan Heights, and so many other beautiful and significant places. I found it incredibly enriching to learn history were it actually happened and walk in the shoes of my ancestors while simultaneously immersing myself in the local Israeli culture. Yet, what truly had the biggest impact on me was the people I was surrounded with. The community at AMHSI was one like no other and I met the most amazing people who inspired me to better myself and the world around me say after day. These people are now my family, and no matter how many miles away we live from each other, they will always be there for me. Leaving them was one of the hardest things I ever had to do.

Kate Shapiro and Friends Photo

 After my school ended, I decided to extend my stay in Israel for another two months in the summer. I felt such a strong connection to the Jewish homeland and I believed that my journey in Israel had just begun. During the hot summer months, I participated in a service trip called Roots Israel. Through Roots, I was able to volunteer in a school for refugees, paint bomb shelters in the south of Israel, and help plant trees and beautify the land. Roots gave me the opportunity to give back to the place that has given me so much the past two months. 

I will forever be grateful for being provided the opportunity to travel to Israel and further develop my Jewish identity. Being surrounded by 70 other Jewish teenagers has fostered a sense of unity and community that I have never experienced before at home. Meeting new people and learning about others has allowed me to learn more about myself as Jew, a Zionist, and a person as a whole. 

Kate Shapiro Portrait

About the Author: Kate is a senior at Deerfield High School in Illinois. Her and her family are members of Congregation BJBE. When Kate is not in Israel for the summer, she is usually at Beber Camp in Mukwonago, WI. 

Hebrew, Friends, and Fun: What I Loved About Chalutzim By Justin Rubenstein

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Justin Rubenstein

Springboard connects teens to amazing experiences in the Jewish community. We love to feature the stories of teens who patriate in these programs and events. It was so exciting to hear from Justin about his time in Chalutzim at OSRUI this summer! We'd love to feature your story too! Email if you want to write a blog post.

Q: What did you do this summer?

This summer I did Chalutzim, which is a 7 week Hebrew immersion program at OSRUI. You learn about Israel, you are surrounded by Israeli counselors, and you speak Hebrew. It is a once in a lifetime experience.

Q: Why did you decide to do Chalutzim?

Many people at OSRUI do Chalutzim in 10th grade. I wanted to be at camp and to be part of the camp community and my friends. I also wanted to learn about Israel and learn Hebrew.

Q: What are your favorite moments about this summer?

  • I made a lot of friends and was part of a  fulfilling community where we learned a lot from each other. 
  • Our pool party on the second to last day where we played songs, and all enjoyed being at camp in our last few moments of summer
  • Doing amazing cabin nights (tochnit erev) where we had meaningful bonding moments.
  • Learning a lot about Israel and Jewish history. One of my favorite moments was an evening program where we learned about Zionism and the different points of view from Israeli counselors, and where my cabin led skits about the different views of Zionism.

Q: What was it like having Israelis as your counselors?

It was a meaningful experience to learn from them. I thought it was interesting to hear about what it is like to live around mostly Jews and be surrounded by Judaism in their everyday life.

Q: What was it like learning Hebrew in this immersive experience?

I learned a lot more Hebrew. The madrichim (counselors) only speak to you in Hebrew. It was difficult at first but then I got used to it. The madrichim are very resourceful and will typically let you speak in english when necessary. You also have two hours of Hebrew a day where you learn (with break in between). Before Chalutzim, you also take a class with one of the faculty (rabbis or educators) where they introduce the basics of Hebrew.

Q: Now that you have gone to Chalutzim, what do you want to do next?

I hope to go to Israel sometime soon, hopefully this coming summer. I might want to have a career in Judaism or study Judaism in college.

Q: What would you say to someone who is thinking about doing Chalutzim next summer?

I would highly recommend it because it is the most meaningful summer of all the years you have as a camper at OSRUI. 

Justin Rubenstein

About the Author: Justin is a sophomore at Vernon Hills High School and Belongs to Congregation Or Shalom. At school he is a member of Student Council and #vhgive, and is the Director of Activism for JSA (the school’s political, debate, and activism club) Outside of School, Justin is a J2 Madricol in his synagogue, and is the Social Action Vice President of the Temple Youth Group: Jew Crew. He is also an active member of NFTY CAR. During the summer, he goes to overnight camp at OSRUI.

Why I Joined the Peer Ambassador Program by Talia Holceker

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

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

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

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

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

Challah Baking Group

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

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

Talia Holceker Photo

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Meet Our Lewis Summer Intern, Alex!

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Alex Gold Portrait

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

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

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

Alex Gold Photo

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

From Player to Coach by Jodi Marver

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

Jodi Marver

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


My Experience at Genesis: One of the Best Summers of my Life by Yanira Kaplan

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Looking for a great summer opportunity? Check out Genesis, a Brandeis University precollege program in Waltham, Massachusetts. Connect with other motivated teens from around the globe, learn with Brandeis faculty and staff and explore the Brandeis campus during a life-changing summer of learning, experiential programming with a vibrant Jewish community of friends. This summer, Genesis will offer a residential program that emphasizes Jewish culture, community and identity.  With the help of dedicated community educators and teaching assistants, you’ll explore the unique assets of Brandeis University – its world-class institutes and centers that focus on Jewish learning – while deepening your understanding of Judaism through spiritual practice, mini-courses, community-building activities, social action opportunities, guest workshops and much more.

Here firsthand from Yanira Kaplan on her incredible experience as a Genesis participant in summer 2019:

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

Genesis - fireworks

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

Genesis - in the city

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

Genesis - at the bench

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

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

Yanira Kaplan

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

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

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Leah Ryzenman

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Nourish our Neighborhoods By the Springboard Team

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Jessica Tansey Image

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

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

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

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

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Noah Lichstein and Voices

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

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

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

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

Noah Lichstein

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

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Springboard Peer Ambassadors

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#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Springboard Peer Ambassadors by Brittany Abramowicz

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Seed613

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

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

disconnect to reconnect

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


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

Cop Stop

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

My Student Mind

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

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Camp Tzedek

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Camp Tzedek

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

Teens can also make a difference.  – Kayla Kupietzky

Philanthropy is very interesting and fun! – Ethan Sugar

Philanthropy is sharing/donating your passions.  – Eva Beresin

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

The organizations all wrote a proposal.  – Louie Bloomberg

The power of education and community.  – Emily Helfand

Giving time/money can change lives. – Eva Cohen

Making a difference can feel amazing!  - Talia Holceker

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

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Jessica, Claire, and Ella's Experience on L'Taken

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Repair the World Wednesday

We were very fortunate to get to attend the L’taken social justice seminar with The Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism this past January. The Religious Action Center, or RAC for short, advocates on a variety of social justice issues from the perspective of Reform Judaism. One of the amazing programs the RAC has to offer is the L’taken social justice seminar, and it is truly a one of a kind experience. Over the course of the weekend, we attended a variety of sessions to learn about Judaism, advocacy, and social justice issues, toured our way around DC, and lobbied congress. L’taken brings together teens, rabbis, cantors and youth group staff from all across the country who all share a passion for social justice. It felt so special to be with fellow teens from various geographic locations and backgrounds while sharing the commonality of being Jewish and wanting to change the world. One of the other amazing aspects about this weekend is that real change was made. After learning from the sessions and discovering what social justice issue we wanted to focus on, we had the opportunity to put our skills to the test and share them with our congressmen and congresswomen. We even got to meet Senator Tammy Duckworth and lobby to Congressman Brad Schneider himself! 

After attending L’Taken in January, we were so excited to hear that we would be able to extend the connections we made and our advocacy work through the Reform Action Center’s Teen Justice Fellowship. In this program, we attended 5 zoom lessons led by Logan Zinman Gerber, the RAC national teen campaign organizer, where we learned about the importance of voting and what teenagers (who can’t vote yet) can do to still make an impact on the nation. We were taught how good organizing and leadership is essential to get people to take notice of the country’s problems, and how teens are truly the face of change. Understanding why people need to vote and the difference that they can make in an election is necessary in order for our democracy to stay strong. In 2018, voter turnout for 18-29 year olds went from 20 percent in 2014 to 36 percent in 2018, the largest percentage point increase for any age group (79% increase). This extreme increase is promising, but there is still such a long way to go! We are hoping that through small acts of non-partisan encouragement, today’s youth will not only be inspired to vote, but will understand the necessity of voting. 

At the end of our fellowship, we were tasked with organizing a project around the topic of teen involvement in voter registration. We decided to work together in order to create an event for teens at three congregations in our area (Temple Jeremiah, North Shore Congregation Israel, and B’nai Jehoshua Beth Elohim) that traveled to L’Taken together. The reason for this was to encourage a strong community between the teens in the area because many of us don’t know each other, but we all have a passion for social justice and Judaism as well as great ideas that can be shared. That’s what our project is truly about: an opportunity to learn. We want to teach teens in the area how they can advocate for teen voting, even if they can’t vote, as well as how to use their voices for issues they are passionate about. We want teens that come to our event to walk away with the knowledge of the importance of voting and using their voices, as well as resources that they know how to use in order to make their voices heard. 

If you are a highschooler or first time voter and would like to attend our zoom event, we would love to have you! Feel free to reach out to any of us at , , and . If you want to learn more about The Religious Action Center and their L’Taken D.C. trip, visit and .


Claire is a rising senior at Deerfield High School. She is a board member for her temple youth group, an active member of the Jewish Council on Urban Affairs, and co-founder of her local March for Our Lives chapter. At school, Claire is a member of her swim team and Mathletes team, and she is the co-president of her Girls Coding Club. In the future, Claire hopes to use her knowledge of coding with her passion for social justice to write programs that will help make the world a better place. 

Jessica is a rising junior at Deerfield High School. She is the programming chair of the BJBE teen youth group, and a teaching assistant for the temple’s Sunday school. She has been involved with the Illinois Holocaust Museum Teen Committee and her school’s genocide commemoration day committee as well. Jessica plays on the tennis team and is in the DHS band. She is very passionate about the importance of voting and educating teens on how they can make an impact on the country and world. 

Ella is a rising junior at Glenbrook North High School. She has attended L’taken and participated in different follow up seminars with the RAC both Freshman and sophomore year. Ella proudly serves as the vice president of programming for her BBYO chapter. She also is a member of the StandWithUs teen leadership council, a peer mentor at Special Gifts Theater, a member of JUF’s Voices, involved with her school’s Jewish Student Connection Club, a member of her school's speech team, and an active member of Temple Jeremiah. Ella loves all things Judaism, social action, and community service and looks forward to educating teens on how they can be civically engaged without being able to vote. 

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Camp TOV and Camp Tzedek

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JUF Teens

This #RepairTheWorldWednesday is highlighting the incredible work of Camp TOV and Camp Tzedek, a returning program and new program to the JUF Teens repertoire. Now more than ever, we need to be working to fix fundamental issues in our society and community; we can all do our part. Camp TOV and Camp Tzedek are two programs that can help you do your part in a fun and educational way! 

Camp TOV is a longstanding and central part of JUF Teens. You may be thinking Camp TOV means Camp of good, and while it does a tremendous amount of good, TOV stands for Tikkun Olam Volunteers. During Camp TOV, you will learn about different Jewish values along with a variety of local organizations. There will be hands on impact projects daily that you can participate in. Repairing the World, or Tikkun Olam, is something that can be achieved through making one dog toy, writing a letter to a senior, or helping organize a supply drive for a local organization. Every little bit counts, and through Camp TOV you will be a lot more than a little.  

Camp Tzedek, which is new to JUF Teens, is a program that is packing a whole lot of philanthropic education into a week-long camp. You will learn about social justice issues facing our community, how to read grant proposals, and ultimately allocate out over $7,000 to local organizations! Because Camp Tzedek is virtual this year, it is committed to building connections between teens from around the country, so sign up with a camp friend, family member, or get ready to make new friends who are also passionate about philanthropy.  

There are so many ways to do our part during this difficult time. Whether taking individual initiative and starting your own organization, donating to a food drive, supporting local businesses, or signing up for one of these incredible camps, opportunities to do good are out there! If you want to learn more about Camp TOV or Camp Tzedek send contact us and we can answer all your questions.  

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Write on for Israel

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For this week’s #RepairTheWorldWednesday we are featuring three Write On for Israel Fellows. The Write On for Israel program is inherently one that helps our community and it all begins with education. Israel education and advocacy are pillars of the Jewish community here in Chicago and beyond. Education is the first step toward advocacy and action, and it’s action that truly repairs the world. If you would like to learn more about the Write On for Israel program please contact Zach Sandler at or click here.

To read about Avi Shapira's Blog Post Titled "Counting Down the Days Until I Travel to Israel with my Write on Peers" Click here

To read Naomi Scholder's Blog Post Titled "You Get Out What You Put In" Click here

To read Isaac Shiner's Blog Post Titled "I wanted to Take my Love for Israel to the Next Level" Click here

three WOFI students