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Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

Learning and Making a Difference with Tikkun Chicago! By Ellie Agulnek

(Community Spotlight) Permanent link

Tikkun Chicago is not your typical Hebrew High experience.  You can take classes in a variety of topics that best fit your interests and schedule, like Hebrew, Jewish text, teen philanthropy, arts and more.  Last trimester I took a class called Tikkun B’Ir where we volunteered around Chicago.  

I loved volunteering with Tikkun Chicago! I really appreciated that through the class I was able to volunteer at a variety of places that help people in all sorts of ways. We also learned why we were volunteering and what kind of impact we would be making.  My favorite organizations were JUF's Uptown Cafe and Cradles to Crayons - they were different experiences, but through them I provided people in need with food and clothes for their children. I earned community service hours and enjoyed the work I was doing with friends.  

This upcoming trimester there will be classes on Climate Justice, Living in a Universal Society, Cooking and Hebrew. Classes are open to Jewish teens in the Chicago area, so sign up with friends from camp or school! 

Learn more and register for Winter Trimester at https://tinyurl.com/TikkunChicagoWinter2022

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

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

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.

My Jewish Identity: Introducing Simone Redensky, 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 Simone's blog post below as she shares how JCC Camp Chi shaped her Jewish journey. 

Attending Camp Chi, a Jewish camp in Wisconsin, was a pivotal moment in my Jewish journey. It was one of my first exposures to Jewish culture and religion. I did not grow up in a religious family, but we celebrated Shabbat and a few other holidays. We had a lot of Jewish family friends, but they were also not very religious. My mom sent me to Camp Chi because she had gone there herself, and I fell in love with it. Camp Chi was my first real Jewish experience, where I learned prayers, traditions and history. I have been going for 5 years, and plan on being a counselor next summer. I love the community I was so quickly accepted into. I made many friends and learned so much about my own culture.

Simone on PNW

Simone on PNW, a wilderness adventure program that Camp Chi does!

Since then, I have become more involved in the Jewish community. I am part of a Jewish club at school and a member of BBYO. I am so grateful that I went to Camp Chi and that I met so many wonderful people there. It was a very meaningful part of my journey in discovering my Jewish identity, and it led me to become a Springboard Ambassador. Being an ambassador means helping others on that same journey I went through, and hopefully showing them some of the amazing parts of Jewish culture. It means connecting people with programs that they can fall in love with and become a part of. I am looking forward to connecting other teens with programs and people that can make them feel welcomed in the Jewish community. 

Simone Redensky

About the Author: Simone is a current junior at Jones College Prep, where she plays on the varsity lacrosse team. She enjoys reading, shopping and spending time with her friends. She began to discover her Jewish identity when she attended Camp Chi, and has since become more involved with Jewish organizations and programs. 

#RepairTheWorld with Yanira Kaplan: Stop Sex Trafficking Now's Winter Drive

(Social Action) Permanent link

Hi! I am thrilled to be able to talk about my not-for-profit organization, Stop Sex Trafficking Now (SSTN) and share about SSTN’s winter drive!

Stop Sex Trafficking Now

Sex trafficking, a subset of human trafficking, is a billion-dollar industry. Millions of people are trafficked each year, and on average, teen girls in the U.S. are forced into the sex trade at 12-14 years of age. I became interested in the topic of sex trafficking in 2019. As I began reading more about the topic, I noticed that despite the severity of this issue, there seems to be little conversation and resources about it that is teen and young adult-friendly. Knowing education is essential for action, I decided to create Stop Sex Trafficking Now (SSTN). SSTN is dedicated to educating teens and young adults on the issue of sex trafficking and supporting programs involving outreach to survivors.

It is so important that we, as teens and young adults, educate ourselves on dire issues such as sex trafficking. My goal is to bring this issue to attention and hopefully inspire some of you to find ways you can fight against sex trafficking.

Speaking of which… SSTN is conducting a winter drive throughout the month of December to collect funds and goods for the STOP-IT Initiative Against Human Trafficking! STOP-IT is a local organization that offers direct services and support to sex and labor trafficking survivors and their children. We are accepting monetary donations made through SSTN's online fundraiser or goods that have been specifically requested by STOP-IT that can be purchased through SSTN's Amazon Wishlist. For more information and the donation links, please check out our winter drive information page. Thank you so much for reading and considering a donation to support Chicago-area survivors of sex trafficking!

Yanira Kaplan

About the Author: Yanira is a senior and a full IB student at Beacon Academy. She participated in Diller Teen Fellows in 2019 and RTI (Research Training Internship) in 2020. She is currently a junior counselor for this year’s RTI cohort. In 2020, she created Stop Sex Trafficking Now, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to educating teens and young adults on the issue of sex trafficking and supporting programs in their outreach to survivors.



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

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

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

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

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.



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

(Program Experiences, Community Spotlight) Permanent link

 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  https://midwest.ncsy.org/reliefmissions/.

Happy Eighth Night of Chanukah: How NFTY Brings Light to My Life by Molly Schless

(Community Spotlight) Permanent link

Chanukah is a time for making the world brighter. Each night of Chanukah we’ll be featuring stories from teens serving on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) sharing how adding their Jewish experiences add light to our community. JTAC members are representatives of Chicago’s amazing teen programs. For the eight night, we will hear from Molly about her experience with NFTY.

My name is Molly Schless, and I am on the regional board for an organization called NFTY. NFTY stands for the North American Federation of Temple Youth. It is a place for Jewish teens to stay connected to their religion whilst having fun with their peers.

Molly Schless

What has kept me involved in NFTY is how welcoming the environment is. From my first program in 6th grade, I could just tell how inclusive and inviting everyone was. There is such a diverse group of participants within NFTY that it is easy to find your people and quickly feel at home. For me, NFTY is a second home and a place where I can truly be myself.

My favorite event ever was the spring weekend retreat that I went to in 8th grade. My sister was very involved in NFTY at the time, so she told me stories about all the events that she went to, but this was my first high school event ever. I loved every second of it, from small things like a conversation I had with a new friend, to getting to participate in programs that were planned and led by teens. At the end of every spring retreat, every senior gets to talk about their experience in NFTY and what they will take from it since this would be their last event. I remember watching all the seniors, my sister included, with such joy in their eyes while they talked about NFTY like they could go on forever. Their words really stuck with me, and they inspire me to be the leader I am today. This event was the start of 3 years filled with amazing memories and even more amazing people. 

Menorah Lighting - Molly Schless

About the Author: Molly Schless is a junior at Buffalo Grove High School. She enjoys singing in many of her school’s music programs such as vocal jazz, acapella, and choir. Molly also loves to read, cuddle with her pets, and spend time with her friends. 


Happy Seventh Night of Chanukah: How No Shame On U Brings Light to My Life by Toren Strauss

(Community Spotlight) Permanent link

Chanukah is a time for making the world brighter. Each night of Chanukah we’ll be featuring stories from teens serving on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) sharing how adding their Jewish experiences add light to our community. JTAC members are representatives of Chicago’s amazing teen programs. For the sixth night, we will hear from Toren about his experience with No Shame On U.

My name is Toren Strauss and this year I am representing No Shame On U on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC). Founded in November 2014, No Shame on U is a non-profit organization dedicated to eliminating the stigma associated with mental health conditions and raising awareness in the Jewish community and beyond. The goal is for the people who need help to seek it, for family members and friends to know how to provide proper support and to save lives.

Menorah Lighting - Toren Strauss

As a teen I understand that struggling with your mental health is incredibly challenging, and to not be able to be open about it without fear of being isolated or cut out is even more challenging. It not only is an important cause to me because of my experiences, but mental health stigma has also affected my friends and highlights how many people the stigma affects. My favorite NSOU event that I have taken part of is the Virtual Yoga with a special focus on mental well-being and mindfulness every Tuesday led by Mary Zimmerman. I enjoy giving myself 30 minutes to relax and I can feel the physical, emotional, and therapeutic benefits directly after and throughout the rest of the week. Being in the present allows me to reflect on my week and recently myself for the upcoming challenges of the week. The yoga sessions have allowed me to even practice it on my own time. Before I play sports or do any work or homework, I always start with some mindfulness exercises to help me get started. I am an extremely busy person and the relaxation and stretching for just 30 minutes a day makes all the difference. 

Toren Strauss

About the Author: Toren is a sophomore at North Shore Country Day School; prior to high school, he attended Chicago Jewish Day School for 10 years! In his free time, Toren is active and enjoys golf, basketball, baseball, and skiing with his friends and family. He also loves to read fantasy books. Toren is a member of Am Yisrael Conservative Congregation, and he enjoys eating Jewish foods - his favorite is matzo ball soup. 


Happy Sixth Night of Chanukah: How NFTY Brings Light to My Life by Justin Rubenstein

(Community Spotlight) Permanent link

Chanukah is a time for making the world brighter. Each night of Chanukah we’ll be featuring stories from teens serving on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) sharing how adding their Jewish experiences add light to our community. JTAC members are representatives of Chicago’s amazing teen programs. For the sixth night, we will hear from Justin about his experience with NFTY.

My name is Justin Rubenstein and I represent NFTY on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC).  

Throughout the year,  NFTY-CAR (Chicago Area Region) runs a ton of programs and events, both in person and virtual, in Chicagoland.  

These events are based on social action, Israel, Jewish culture & prayer, song leading, and fun. NFTY is open for primarily 9-12 graders with a 6-8 grade program. NFTY also is led by a group of teens who are elected to be on the regional board. There are also Va'adot which are committees of people focused on a specific aspect of NFTY. For example, I am on the Social Action & Programming  Va’ad, but there are also many more, including song leading, Israel, 678, and social media.

Justin Rubenstein Menorah Lighting

I first came to NFTY in 7th Grade where I wanted to see camp friends, meet new people, and be part of the Jewish community. My favorite event in NFTY was the NFTY 678 Kallah I went to when I was in 7th Grade at OSRUI. I had a lot of fun staying overnight and going to a waterpark and enjoying the community. Another event I really liked was the Kolbo, our final event of the year and the first event on Zoom right as the pandemic was starting. This was my first high school event, and I had a lot of fun being welcomed into the full Jewish community and enjoying being with other people since we were all stuck at home. NFTY is a community I love and cherish so much, and I hope you consider coming to a NFTY event because it is a great way to get involved in the Jewish Community. 

Justin Rubenstien Photo

About the Author: Justin is a sophomore at Vernon Hills High 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). Justin is actively involved in his synagogue, Congregation Or Shalom and their youth group ‘Jew Crew’. He loves NFTY and spending summers at OSRUI. 


Happy Fifth Night of Chanukah: How BBYO Brings Light to My Life by Tamar Agam

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Chanukah is a time for making the world brighter. Each night of Chanukah we’ll be featuring stories from teens serving on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) sharing how adding their Jewish experiences add light to our community. JTAC members are representatives of Chicago’s amazing teen programs. For the fifth night, we will hear from Tamar about her experience with BBYO.

Hello! My name is Tamar Agam, and I am representing BBYO on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) this year. I have been a member for about five years now, and in that time, I have held several leadership positions. Through these experiences, I have been able to gain invaluable leadership skills and confidence. I have also been lucky enough to make some amazing friends from not just across the country, but the world. BBYO is an international youth movement and is dedicated to bringing more meaningful Jewish experiences to more Jewish teens. It has reached 60 countries, with 40 regions and 700 chapters worldwide.

Menorah Lighting - Tamar Agam 

BBYO has a rich history, and many traditions special to the organization; something that creates a close community. Split into BBG (female identifying), AZA (male identifying), and BBYO (co-ed) chapters, this organization has several unique opportunities to all teens who identify themselves to be Jewish. Not only is this the largest pluralistic Jewish youth movement, but it also has a large variety of leadership, summer, and regional experiences to inspire all its members. It is entirely teen led, and every chapter is unique.  

This year, I have been looking forward to passing down my legacy onto the younger members of my chapter and watching them grow into amazing leaders. To me, BBYO is so much more than just a youth movement; it is a home. I have enjoyed every second I’ve spent dedicated to this organization, and I am incredibly thankful for all the experiences I have been able to gain! 

Tamar Agam

About the Author: Tamar is a senior at Plainfield North High School, where she is involved in several activities including National Honors Society, French club, Marching Band, and the Jewish Student Club (JSC). She has been a member of BBYO for almost five years and loves to learn traditional Jewish stories and lessons. 


Happy Fourth Night of Chanukah: How USY Brings Light to My Life by Allison Finn

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Chanukah is a time for making the world brighter. Each night of Chanukah we’ll be featuring stories from teens serving on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) sharing how adding their Jewish experiences add light to our community. JTAC members are representatives of Chicago’s amazing teen programs. For the fourth night, we will hear from Allison about her experience with USY. 

My name is Allison Finn, and I represent USY on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC). USY (United Synagogue Youth) is the Conservative Movement’s youth group. USY is for high-school-aged Jewish teens all over North America and centers around leadership, inclusivity, Tikkun Olam, Israel, and more.  

Crazy Dots

I got involved in USY in 3rd grade when I was able to participate in Kadinkers and Kadima programming (now known as Gesher and Chaverim). This is programming geared towards elementary and middle school-aged kids. Since this time, I’ve been able to develop my love for USY that has been rooted in me for so many years. Once I was able to transition to USY and High School, I began to grow my leadership in the organization. I have been honored to serve on my chapters board (BJUSY) as the Israel Affairs VP, Executive VP, and President (my current role). I even got the chance to serve on the Chicago Region (CHUSY) general board, planning a weekend convention for middle schoolers.  

Regionally, my favorite program that I have attended was the spring convention (Kinnus) in 2019. During this weekend I was able to make deeper connections with friends, learn more about Judaism, and grow as a human. I have also loved attending and leading various chapter events including going Ice skating in the city, Yom Ha'atzmaut celebrations, and an Interfaith ‘Feed My Starving Children’ program.  

Additionally, I will be attending International Convention in Washington D.C. in December. At International Convention I will be participating in social action projects around the city, connecting with Jewish Teens from all around North America, and growing my love for Judaism. USY has inspired me to step out of my comfort zone, provided a space to truly be myself, and helped deepen my connection and love for Judaism and Israel. 

Allison Finn

About the Author: Allison is a junior at Buffalo Grove High School. In addition to USY, she is also currently a part of Diller Teen Fellows, Shalom Corps, serves as a Jewish Student Connection (JSC) Leader, and has attended Camp Chi for the last 7 years. She loves to be a leader in the Jewish community and is excited to be a part of JTAC this year! 


Happy Third Night of Chanukah: How NCSY Brings Light to My Life by David Gaffen

(Community Spotlight) Permanent link

Chanukah is a time for making the world brighter. Each night of Chanukah we’ll be featuring stories from teens serving on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) sharing how adding their Jewish experiences add light to our community. JTAC members are representatives of Chicago’s amazing teen programs. For the third night, we will hear from David about his experience with NCSY.

My name is David Gaffen, and I am representing NCSY on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) this year. Undoubtedly, NCSY has played a major role in my life and the lives of countless Jewish teens around the world.  

My involvement began eight years ago when I was invited to my first ever Shabbaton in St. Louis, MO. I have been involved with NCSY ever since and have loved every minute of it! Throughout the years, I have crossed paths with inspiring Jewish leaders who have been an integral part of my Jewish journey. All in all, I have learned a ton about myself and Judaism through meaningful programming. Since my first Shabbaton when I was in 5th grade, I have made it a priority to attend each one that NCSY offers throughout the year: it’s the perfect opportunity to meet new friends, reconnect with old ones, and have fun. 

My absolute favorite program I have attend is the ‘Conclave’ Shabbaton. Jewish teens from across the Midwest come together and spend Shabbat together; it gives us the chance to learn, grow, and be inspired by one another. The opportunity to connect with rabbis and advisors and spend Shabbat together is the best. It has allowed me to take a step back, redefine myself as a Jewish teen, and grow during my Jewish journey. 

As an NCSY board member, I help plan events and programming for the Chicagoland community. My favorite part of being on board is getting to be creative with planning programming for other teens. NCSY has been a crucial part of the development in my Jewish Identity. I have been able to grow with my peers and really understand who I am as a Jew in this secular world! 

David Gaffen

About the Author: David is a senior at Ida Crown Jewish Academy. He is actively involved with NCSY and holds a leadership position on their regional board. David enjoys Jewish learning and being involved in the community! 


Happy Second Night of Chanukah: How Student to Student Brings Light to My Life by Laura Bellows

(Community Spotlight) Permanent link

Chanukah is a time for making the world brighter. Each night of Chanukah we’ll be featuring stories from teens serving on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) sharing how adding their Jewish experiences add light to our community. JTAC members are representatives of Chicago’s amazing teen programs. For the second night, we will hear from Laura about her experience with Student to Student.

My name is Laura Bellows, and I am representing Student to Student on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) this year. Student to Student fosters meaningful conversations with non-Jewish students for them to better understand Judaism and the Jewish people. I became increasingly interested in this work when my eighth-grade teacher posed the following question to our class: “If you were given all the money in the world, how would you stop antisemitism?”  

The impetus for his question was the recent bombings and threats against Jewish organizations at the time that made us all fearful. I realized then I was passionate about helping to find a way to end antisemitism through education and advocacy. As a sophomore, I joined the Student to Student program. A program that embodied everything I needed to succeed in accomplishing my goal to end anti-Semitism. This program takes us to schools throughout Illinois and neighboring states to explain our lives as Jews. Our goal was to find common ground with teens of other faiths and cultures, while sharing our common dreams. In this way, anti-Semitic views are challenged. 

As a part of this program there are informative sessions. At one of these sessions, my fellow presenters and I had the privilege to listen to Dr. Malka Simkovitch, who talked to us about historical anti-Semitism and interfaith dialogue. She was very informative and taught me a lot. At this session, Dr. Deborah Lipstadt who is an historian, author, and professor at Emory University spoke as well. She is an author on combatting Holocaust denial, and she spoke a lot about how to discuss the events of the Holocaust and antisemitism. Both speakers gave me transformative advice to be a better leader for Student to Student! 

Laura Bellows

About the Author: Laura is a senior at Ida Crown Jewish Academy. If not on the basketball court or soccer field, she is actively involved in the Chicagoland Jewish community. She enjoys spending time with family and friends and participating in Student to Student among other extracurriculars. 


Happy Chanukah: How Young Judaea Brings Light to My Life by Klara Walny

(Community Spotlight) Permanent link

Chanukah is a time for making the world brighter. Each night of Chanukah we’ll be featuring stories from teens serving on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) sharing how adding their Jewish experiences add light to our community. JTAC members are representatives of Chicago’s amazing teen programs. For the first night we will hear from Klara about her experience with Young Judaea.    

My name is Klara Walny and one of the organizations I represent this year on the Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) is Young Judaea Midwest.  

Young Judaea (YJ) is the oldest Zionist youth movement in the United States. YJ is based on Zionism, social action, pluralism, peer leadership, and Jewish identity – all of which are incredibly important to me. I have been involved with YJ for nine years and I have loved every second of it. After my first summer at Camp YJ Midwest, I could not get enough. I spent this past summer at Tel Yehuda (a Young Judaea camp in Upstate New York), and I am looking forward to traveling across Israel for an entire month next summer. Some of my best friends and closest connections have come from my involvement with YJ throughout the years. Especially during COVID-19, my YJ family was there to support and comfort me during such a difficult time.  

Klara Walny Group

One of my favorite YJ programs I have participated in over the years was called “Tikkun groups”, “Tikkun” being short for Tikkun Olam (repairing the world). My Tikkun group worked on projects specifically combating anti-Semitism. In completing this project successfully, we first educated ourselves on anti-Semitism in the United States and then brainstormed different ways to educate individuals on Judaism and Jewish history. Ultimately, we decided to present on the Holocaust and stress the importance of Holocaust education. 

My group met with representatives on Capitol Hill from the RJC (Republican Jewish Coalition), AJC (American Jewish Committee), ADL (Anti-Defamation League). Additionally, we met with Jewish representatives: Wasserman-Shultz and Zeldin. These conversations provided us with the ability to push for the change we want to see in the world. Personally, this experience showed me that I, as a Jewish teen, can make a difference in not only my community but in my country. Young Judaea has been vital in the development of my Jewish identity; I have been able to grow continuously and begin to understand who I am as an individual.  

Klara Walny

About the Author: Klara is a junior at Glenbrook North High School. When she's not running laps around the school during cross country practice, you might find her writing stories for the school's newspaper or lifeguarding at her local pool. Klara is involved with Chabad of Wilmette and is a JCUA Or Tzedek intern.

Camp’s Little Moments: Introducing Alexa Turner, 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 Alexa's blog post below as she shares about her experience at JCC Camp Chi and how important it is to her to be a great role model for others

This past summer at JCC Camp Chi was my SIT (Staff in Training) Summer, and it was my first summer where I was able to see the staff side of camp.  Throughout my summers at camp, my number one priority was having a good time. This is pretty normal for a camper though, as the reason most people come to camp is for great memories and new friends. But, this summer was when I realized there is so much more to camp and it was a pivotal moment in my Jewish Journey. 

Alexa Turner Group

For 3 weeks of my summer, I was put into different cabins to help out and learn how to be a staff member. My first week with a cabin, I was with Tsofim, or 6th grade. As this was my first week with a cabin, it was my first week ever seeing camp from another perspective. That week was a super influential week to me. There was one girl in particular that made me realize the importance of listening and being there for my campers. She struggled a lot with mental health issues, just as I have in the past. I was able to relate to her and help her through what I thought were just small things. One time, she really needed a bandaid, and she started crying to me that no one was paying attention to her. I found one for her, and told her if she ever needed anything she could come to me. I think this really stuck with her, and on the day she had to go home, she hugged me sobbing and told me I was the best SIT ever. This made me cry as well. It was my first true experience understanding the impact counselors can have on campers. Seeing camp from the other side, I realized how important it is to be there for your campers and give them the best summer possible, so they can have a home away from home through camp. This guided my Jewish journey because I could see first-hand the impact I can have on others through patience, love, and the little moments.  

As a Peer Ambassador, I cannot wait to keep helping others and my community through what I learned as a SIT. Being a Peer Ambassador is important to me because I am able to connect others with programs that can also impact their Jewish journey. I cannot wait to give that little push to others, and see the reward of watching them grow into amazing Jewish leaders in our community. Community mindedness is a super important value to me because it creates connectedness in times where people may feel disconnected. By knowing what is needed in our community, we can create a community of understanding, passion, and little (or large) acts of good. 

Alexa Turner

About the Author: Alexa is a junior at Highland Park High School, where she participates in the school soccer team, and uses her love of editing to help with the school news. She is a passionate member of the Camp Chi family, which helped form her Jewish identity and find her passion for bringing together and bettering her community. She uses her passion in Jewish programs such as Chi Town Connection (CTC) and JSC General Board. 

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

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

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

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

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.



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

(Program Experiences) Permanent link

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. 

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

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

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.



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