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Springboard Blog

#RepairTheWorldWednesday with Ruth Prass

(Social Action, Social Action) Permanent link
Ruth Prass

Happy National Alopecia Awareness Month 2021! In 2015 (4th grade) I was diagnosed with celiac, hyperthyroid, enlarged thyroid, a major iron deficiency, and Alopecia. Alopecia Areata is an autoimmune condition that affects 2% of the world’s population; It causes unexpected and uncontrollable hair loss on the body. It differs from person to person, with hair loss varying from the size of a dime, quarter, or larger patches on the scalp. Every fall, I would lose two large patches on each side of my head, leaving roughly ½ of my scalp bald. In 2018 however, I went completely bald, including losing all the other hair on my body (eyelashes, eyebrows, etc.) This is called Alopecia Universalis, meaning total hairlessness on the body. When I lost my hair, I felt like I lost myself in the process; It felt almost dehumanizing to look so different and feel the part too. 

My hair, eyebrows, and eyelashes began to grow back 9 months after they fell out. I remember the first time I didn’t wear a hat to school in April of my 7th grade year; It was an uncomfortable push that I gave myself, but through that, I began to build confidence. I soon realized that it didn’t matter if I had hair or not because I was the same person I was before I went bald. While the experience was so difficult for me, it truly led me to be more confident, comfortable with myself, and learn how to surround myself with people who support me, not tear me down. 

In 2020, I spoke up formally/publicly about my experience on Instagram and other platforms for the first time. It took a lot of courage and made me remember a time that was both a physical and mental challenge for me. With that being said, I am so beyond happy that I did. This is the 2nd year I’ve spoken up about my experience, in hope of letting others know that it is ok to be different and that it is nothing to be ashamed of. I have also been working on fundraisers for Children With Hair Loss (CWHL), a nonprofit organization that makes free wigs for kids with medically related hair loss. When I began to embrace my diseases rather than hide them, I took a step back and realized how much this difficult process shaped my being for the better. Happy National Alopecia Awareness Month Everybody! Contact me with questions or ways to help! 

Ruth Prass

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. She loves spending her summers at camp at OSRUI.

Use your voice to demand climate action by Eliana Bernat

(Social Action, Social Action) Permanent link

Skimming the latest headlines, the devastating effects of climate change seem endless. Record-breaking heat in the U.S. Northwest and Canada; deadly flooding in Germany; extreme droughts in much of the U.S. West; fires raging across Turkey. It’s painfully clear that the climate crisis is no longer a problem solely for the future— its effects are already here and are impacting marginalized communities the worst. 

Reading these stories, I feel a sense of fear for the people affected and my future. But as much as climate change is a most horrific crisis, addressing it is the opportunity of a generation to transform society for the better. Especially as the world is also recovering from the economic impacts of COVID-19, we have the chance to put millions of people to work in dignified jobs that also help the planet. Green jobs like upgrading our infrastructure to be resilient to climate disasters, building clean and affordable public transit, expanding renewable energy, retrofitting buildings to be energy efficient, and restoring ecosystems could all help communities who have been historically excluded from economic opportunity. Not only would all of these solutions reduce our emissions and lessen climate change, but they would create the just and equitable future us youth deserve. 

Green New Deal


Through Congress’ upcoming infrastructure package, we have the chance to make this dream a reality. As young people, our voices hold power on this issue especially, and our Members of Congress need to hear from us. You can join the Illinois Green New Deal Coalition and Clean Power Lake County in urging your legislators to demand that Congress include bold climate action in their infrastructure package by going to bit.ly/ILGreenNewDeal.

Eliana Bernat

About the Author: Eliana Bernat belongs to Or Shalom and is an incoming senior at Vernon Hills High School. She is part of her school’s environmental club, participated in JUF’s Research Training Internship (RTI) last year, and this summer was an intern with Clean Power Lake County (CPLC).

How Baking Challah Changed Shabbat for Me By Ellie Prober

(Holidays, Jewish Journey) Permanent link

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

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

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

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

Ellie Prober

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

A Letter To My High School Self By Madi Lebovitz

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

Dear Madi,

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

Just go with it.

Madi Lebovitz

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

Why I Joined the Peer Ambassador Program by Talia Holceker

(Program Experiences) Permanent link

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 NaomiLooper@juf.org.

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

(Program Experiences) Permanent link

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.

JCUA-Event

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. 

The Intersectionality of Judaism and Queerness By Meitav Aaron

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

As I’ve grown to understand the complexities of my relationship to Judaism and Queerness (anyone who does not identify as both cisgender and heterosexual), I realized that my Queerness and Judaism were not separate identities encapsulated in one body but one identity that is constantly informing and influencing the other.

My journey to self-understanding and self-love has brought me to the junction of my Queer Jewishness, where both Queerness and Judaism are roped together into one ever-growing and shifting identity.

Queerness has taught, or in many ways reminded, my Judaism about the power of authenticity and finding my own way of connecting to my Jewish identity. Queerness and Queer culture teach us that authenticity is freedom, especially in the context of a world of binaries, and that while finding community in others is important and vital, so to is the need to develop our own relationship to ourselves and how we manifest Queerness.

Judaism in many ways also teaches the power of remaining authentically ourselves, but I often felt that the emphasis on connecting to Judaism growing up was placed on aligning myself with pre-existing modes of Jewish expression and identity. Queerness has taught me that my Judaism and the way I decide to embody and connect to my Jewish identity is at my liberty to choose. I can build my own authentic path towards a strong and enriching Jewish life that feels special and important to me without the need to constantly justify it or validate it. Queer Judaism in part is unconfined authenticity, the freedom to connect to and express my Jewish identity in any way that feels most meaningful to me. And that is a freedom I will continue to use to shape my ever-growing relationship to Judaism and Jewish communal life.

Meitav Aaron Photo

About the Author: Meitav Aaron is a rising Junior at the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Baltimore, Maryland where he is majoring in Painting and Humanistic Studies with a minor in Curatorial Studies. During the school year, Meitav works as an assistant preschool teacher in a Hebrew Immersion program as well as a Sunday school teacher and Hebrew tutor for a local synagogue in Baltimore. He is also the president of MICA’s Jewish student organization “Kehilat MICA” where he works to build and nourish Jewish communal life on MICA’s campus. He has a passion for the arts, Judaism, and Queer Judaism and is looking to start a career in Jewish communal work and engagement that includes the arts and building Queer Jewish community.

The Impact Of My Gratitude Journal by Annie Epstein

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

In May, I received a college care package from my synagogue, Congregation Rodeph Sholom in Manhattan, filled with Shabbat essentials. As I rifled through the box of candles and recipes, I came across a small blue notebook titled “Shabbat Gratitude Journal.” Since coming back to college during the pandemic, my friends and I used Shabbat as a time to safely come together, reflect on our week of zoom classes, and share a meal together. I really enjoyed those moments that added structure and fun to a seemingly never-ending week, but until receiving that notebook, I failed to apply the same energy during the rest of the week.

Shortly after receiving the package, I headed home for a much-needed short break after a difficult quarter of school. At home, I was struggling to maintain a positive attitude because I was lonely and my friends were still together in my college town. I felt inspired by that tiny notebook and decided to start writing down things, feelings, and events from each day that I was grateful for. I started to pay attention to the little things that I usually overlooked–bagels, walks in summer, hugs from friends that I haven’t seen since the pandemic began–and found that even the most mundane days were filled with things that I enjoy.

This gratitude practice drastically changed my mindset. I was definitely skeptical when I began, but after a month of journaling, I have three pages filled with all of these little things that I appreciated from each day this summer. I haven’t missed a day because I’m so excited to write down all of the things that made me happy so I can look back on them when I’m feeling down.

Because of gratitude journaling, I’ve learned to make the most of the bad days and realize just how much there is to appreciate in our lives. I highly recommend this practice to anyone who wants to bring the energy of Shabbat with them throughout the week. It all starts with a small notebook.

Annie Epstein

Bio: Annie Epstein is a rising junior from New York City at Northwestern University majoring in Journalism with minors in Psychology and Jewish Studies. During Summer 2021, she is a Lewis Summer Intern and Brand & Marketing Fellow for UpStart. On campus, Annie is involved with Hillel, Challah for Hunger, and Her Campus. After graduating, Annie hopes to pursue a career combining her passion for journalism and marketing with her love for Judaism.

Question Connection and the Diller Tikkun Olam Award

(Celebrate Our Community) Permanent link

Hannah Frazer

My name is Hannah Frazer, I am 19 years old and I am from Highland Park, Illinois. It is such an honor to have my work with Question Connection be featured on Springboard with JUF! Question Connection is a conversation starter card game designed to facilitate conversations, build community, and promote empathy. 

The game addresses feelings of loneliness, and mitigates the isolating effects of social media and bullying many young people experience in their time throughout school. Simply put: the game gets kids talking to one another. In an increasingly polarized world, the tool facilitates a safe and encouraging environment in which people recognize their similarities, ultimately fostering deeper connections, understanding, and empathy. As a high schooler, I recognized that simple ice breaker activities weren’t effective; I wanted to use my experience growing up in the age of social media to get kids engaged. I believe that everything good starts with a conversation, and that a lot of the isolation we felt could be resolved if we had an easy way to begin to talk. With my AP Psychology teacher, I developed an educational device that was transportable and easy to use. Creating a card deck with content that young people could relate to (for example, “My favorite emoji is…” or “If school didn’t exist, I would spend all my time…”), as well as translating the deck into 5 different languages, invites multiple cultures and perspectives to engage all different kinds of voices in the conversation. 

Question Connection is proudly used to facilitate conversations amongst members of the Harvard Women’s Empowerment organization, as well as at local Boys and Girls Clubs, and the JEP youth service tutoring program in LA. Students use the game in Highland Park High School’s orientation program, Giant Buddies, and Drop In Center. The game was introduced as a conversation starter activity in a local Anti Defamation League Certification training program. 

I am thrilled to announce that, through my work with Question Connection, I have been selected as a finalist for the 2021 Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award! Becoming a Diller Awardee not only gives me an incredible opportunity to further my non-profit and give back to my own community, but it also provides me with a cohort of 14 other incredibly hard working teens who are equally passionate about the ways they’re going about repairing the world. I love that I now have a phenomenal network to collaborate with! I would love to encourage everyone who has an idea to help someone or to solve a problem, no matter how big or small, to step out of your comfort zone and go for it! 

Question Connection Games is always actively looking for new schools, extracurricular programs, and organizations with which to partner. If you know anyone who might be interested in becoming a Question Connection Ambassador, please let me know! To find out more about the game, visit questionconnectiongame.com.



What the Diller Tikkun Olam Award Means to Me

(Celebrate Our Community) Permanent link

Winning the Diller Teen Tikkun Olam Award has been an amazing experience that is opening up so many doors for me. Each year, the Diller Foundation awards 15 young Jewish leaders from around the country with $36,000 grants to further their education or projects that practice the Jewish value of Tikkun Olam, or Repairing the World. Recently, I was named one of the 2021 winners for my project Covid-TV, which is a platform connecting teens from over 10 countries around the world during the pandemic. 

At the first meeting with the rest of the recipients, the foundation told us we were not just winning an award, but being welcomed into a family. I have found that family is the exact correct word to describe the foundation. By the end of the first zoom call, I immediately felt connected to the other winners over a shared love of Judaism and working to help others. The workers at the foundation are kind, welcoming, and value social justice and taking action when they see wrong in the world. The Diller Foundation is an incredible community, and at the risk of sounding cliché, I can really say that I’m inspired by the other teens and their projects that are changing the world. From 3D printing PPE for healthcare workers to fighting for musical education in schools, I am so impressed by the other winners and grateful to be in their community and a part of the Diller Family. 

I also feel that besides receiving funding to continue and expand my project, winning the Tikkun Olam award is a responsibility to continue living by my Jewish Values and working to help others. Reading and sharing the stories of other teens and their experiences during the pandemic helped me feel not so alone during a time of social isolation. I hope that the community created by Covid-TV helped other teens through the pandemic, and will continue to help them in the transition back to a maskless world without Covid-19. As Covid-TV grows, and as I grow, I have to remember to continue leading with my Jewish faith and values of Chesed (kindness), Tikkun Olam (repairing the world), and Kehilla (community) behind me. 

I feel so lucky and grateful to be given this opportunity, and to be so welcomed into the foundation. It really is an amazing community, and I am eternally grateful for all the support I have received from the Jewish community to teach me the value of doing good for others and to get me to where I am today.

Lauren Tapper

Bio: Lauren Tapper is a rising Junior at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools in Chicago. She Co-founded Covid-TV, an online platform connecting teens during the pandemic and igniting them in social justice projects to help struggling communities in the face of Covid-19. In her free time, she loves participating on her school’s Model UN team, walking her dog on the Chicago Lake path, and is an avid smoothie drinker. 

You Will Be Found: Finding the Funds For College

(Celebrate Our Community) Permanent link

Upon applying for colleges, my eyes widened at the prices I saw outlining the cost of attendance. “How on earth am I going to survive with this much debt?” I wondered to myself. Just the application fees alone cost my family and I over $300 (and that was just for six schools). I knew that I needed to search for scholarships, but it felt as though they were impossible to find. “Oh! There’s one!” I would exclaim. “Oh… never mind. I’m not from Idaho.” Every opportunity had some odd specification to it, and I was afraid I wouldn’t find any help.

As time went on, I found a few here and there for around $1,000-$2,000 each and submitted my materials. I had nearly given up when I stumbled across the “You Will Be Found” essay contest held by Gotham Writers, Broadway Education Alliance, and Dear Evan Hansen the Broadway Musical. As a theatre major, the Broadway component immediately spoke to me, but my interest spiked when I read the prompt: "describe how you have managed to ensure those around you were a little less alone in recent months." I knew immediately that I had the perfect story to submit.

The full story I wrote about my “Grampuncle”, Alan and our relationship can be found HERE. It was an emotional story to write. I procrastinated for a good few weeks focusing on smaller scholarships and finishing senior year, but eventually, I sat down and just wrote. I wrote for a good 30 minutes, tears hitting my keyboard, and then I had to take a break. An hour turned into a day, into a few days, but I finally came back to the document the week before submissions closed and powered through. 

About two months went by and I heard nothing from any scholarships. Over the course of the weeks following, I received a few rejections as well. At this point I had almost completely given up the idea of the You Will Be Found contest. However, on June 17th, the morning of my high school graduation, I woke up to a voicemail from the Associate Producer of Dear Evan Hansen on Broadway. I was in shock. “Just give me a call back when you get a chance,” the message said. I leaped out of bed and immediately called her back still in my pajamas and with sleepy bags under my eyes. 

I knew what the call was going to be about the second I heard the voicemail, but I was still in an immense amount of shock when she informed me that out of over 4,000 submissions, my story was chosen and I had won $10,000 for school. I thanked her endlessly over the phone through tears of joy and we had a conversation about theatre and my story that brought me so much happiness. She then wished me well at graduation and we said “talk soon”. 

Words can not describe the joy and validation I felt when my story, OUR story (Alan and I, that is) had been chosen. I couldn’t help but think that somehow, somewhere Alan was looking out for m

-Max

You can follow along with Max’s next adventures and stories by following them on Instagram @maxwellssilverman

Maxwell Silverman

Bio: Maxwell Silverman recently graduated from Lane Tech High School in Chicago, IL and will be pursuing a B.F.A. in Musical Theatre from the Boston Conservatory at Berklee in the Fall of 2021. They have been previously recognized by Springboard as one of the 2021 18 Under 18 Honorees, and is the Co-Founder and former Executive Director of Teens Be Heard (teensbeheard.org). With a love for dance, art, and activism, Max is passionate about storytelling and making change.


Meet Kobe, Our Engagement Specialist

 Permanent link

Kobe

I am thrilled to begin my role as an Engagement Specialist with Springboard at JUF! I value one-on-one connections, working collaboratively, and supporting students and families in any way I can. 

As a college student, I was an active member of my University's Hillel. I served on our student leadership team for two years. Through this experience, I connected with Jewish leaders in the community and from different college campuses through statewide initiatives. My work at Hillel inspired a love for service, Jewish learning, and identity exploration. In the past, I have taught at a few Reform congregations and in the public school system. Some hobbies of mine include recipe testing, yoga, and drinking coffee/tea! One of the things I’ll be doing with Springboard is meeting with teens and parents. As things open up I’d love to meet you for coffee or tea, get to know you and help you discover amazing ways to connect to the Chicago community.

I love being a part of the community in Chicago, and I am looking forward to beginning my career at the Jewish United Fund.

Meet Our Lewis Summer Intern, Alex!

(Program Experiences, Community Spotlight) Permanent link

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! 

Shavuot Learning from Talia P.

(Holidays) Permanent link

Talia P

The Torah portion being read today, Emor, is a very important section that could also be thought of as the first Jewish calendar. It’s the first time in the Torah where all of the holidays and their dates are discussed together.  Emor starts off with god telling the Israelites that each week they should work for six days and observe Shabbat on the seventh. God then says to the Israelites that the fifteenth day of the first month they should celebrate Passover by not eating leavened bread for 7 days. Shavuot happens after Passover, and commemorates god giving the ten commandments to the Jewish people. The next holiday we hear about is Rosh Hashanah, which is observed with complete rest and seven loud blasts of the shofar. After Rosh Hashanah is Yom Kippur during which you should reflect on your choices and atone. Five days after Yom Kippur comes the week-long feast of booths, or sukkot.  Sukkot is the holiday that we’re currently celebrating. This is the only holiday where we‘re commanded to rejoice, and it’s usually celebrated in a Sukkah as a reminder of our Jewish ancestor’s journeys. God gives us the fixed and appointed times for all of these holidays, but, God leaves it up to us to make them holy by observing and celebrating them. Take note here. It’s not God that makes our holidays sacred… we do!

Let me ask you a question. One we’ve probably all heard! If a tree falls in the forest, and nobody hears it, does it even make a sound? Let me ask you this: If  God has a date for a holiday, but we don’t celebrate it or make it holy, does this holiday ever really happen? I think this is why it’s key that we work to make important moments special… Otherwise, what’s the point in experiencing them? Let’s take the current holiday, or Sukkot as an example. In my family, it’s a  tradition that we always put up a sukkah in our backyard, and at least in pre-pandemic times, we would always invite family and friends to spend time with us in it. This is what makes the holiday special for our family… It’s hard to imagine sukkot coming around without us observing the holiday like this— it's one of our fixed and most cherished traditions. And to put it back in Torah’s terms, by observing this holiday, we’re making it holy!

This idea of us being the ones responsible for making experiences special can really be applied to anything and everything in our lives. Consider our current pandemic situation...Many of us have had a hard time distinguishing the days from each other as we’re spending all of them at home, yet we’ve learned that the time doesn’t pass unless we do something to make each day different or special.  From waking up early to see the sunrise to going on long bike rides or having socially distanced visits with friends and family, I’ve prioritized making every day a little different. While we’re stuck in these uncertain times, we all have the ability to make these days count; let’s use it!!

So what about that tree. If I were to ask you this question right now, you’d probably say, logically that yes, that tree did make a sound--even if nobody heard it. But, the Torah answers this question a little bit differently. If there’s a set date for a holiday, yet nobody celebrates or makes it sacred, this holiday does not technically happen. 

What, then, can we take from this? Yes, of course to celebrate our jewish holidays, but we don’t need to only apply it to Judaism!! We can really apply it to any and every important event that we experience. So, next time you encounter a moment, think about what you’ll do to make it special.

About the Author: Talia is a currently an 8th grader who had her Bat Mitzvah this year. Her favorite food during Chanukah are latkes! Talia and her family belong to North Shore Congretion Israel in Glencoe.

Shavuot Learning from Jack

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Last spring, just as Jack and his family were preparing for his Bar Mitzvah, the world began to shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While the shift from in-person to virtual gatherings was dissapointing for many, Jack discovered that celebrating his Bar Mitzvah at home surrounded by his parents and sister, was, surprisingly, the perfect way for him to mark this milestone. Fourteen months after his Bar Mitzvah, Naomi Looper, Springboard Teen Engagement Manager, interviewed Jack about his experience of being one of the first teens to have a virtual Bar Mitzvah last spring.

Naomi: What was it like when you first found out you couldn't gather in person, and instead your Bar Mitzvah was going to need to be virtual?

Jack: At first we didn’t know what was going to happen. Pre-COVID I had suggested that I might want a smaller Bar Mitzvah because I did not want all of the frills that come with a big party and a lot of guests. When the virtual idea was presented as a possibility due to COVID, it actually felt so right. On the day of my Bar Mitzvah, I felt so comfortable. It was the right environment for me because I was able to relax and wear comfortable clothesI was able to be comfortable with my family. It was nice to have my parents there to support me since they have been supporting me throughout the entire process. 

Naomi: What did your family do to celebrate after the ceremony? 

Jack: After the main service, we went on a different Zoom with my extended family. We did an awkward horah dance and everyone sang with excitement over Zoom. After that, my mom asked me what I wanted to eat to celebrate and I asked for cinniman rolls. It was nice to have a low key celebration, relaxing with my family in the kitchen and enjoying the sweet cinnman rolls. 

Naomi: How did you feel that night? Was there a sense of relief and accomplishment? 

Jack: That night, I was really happy with how everything turned out. After the celebrations with my family, I logged onto my computer and chatted with my friends. They all told me what a great job I did! When I went to bed, I was satisifed with the entire day and expereience. 

Naomi: If you could go back in time and talk to yourself just as you were starting the Bar Mitzvah prep experience, what advice would you give to younger Jack?

Jack: When I first started preparing for my Bar Mitzvah, I was really stressed about having to memorize my Torah portion. I did not realize that there was a melody with the portion.  I would tell myself that the melody will help you learn the protion. At the start of preparing for my Bar Mitzvah, I was also not thrilled about practicing. So, I would tell a younger me to practice more and consistently. I would also tell myself that it will all be okay. I was really stressed about the whole celebration part since I don't like attention on myself. If I could go back in time, I would tell myself it will go well and practice goes a long way. 

Naomi: Now that you are about to start high school, how do you want to stay involved with Judaism? 

Jack: I want to stay involved with my Jewish community since that is what I love the most. My congregation, Temple Jeremiah, is the element of Judaism that means the most to me. I also had a lot of fun last year at the NFTY retreat, so I want to do more things like that. The history in Judaism also excites me, so I want to keep learning about that.

About the Author: Jack is a current 8th grader who had his Bar Mitzvah in March 2020. Some of his favorite Jewish foods are gefilte fish and matzah ball soup. Jack and his family belong to Temple Jeremiah in Northfield. 

Shavuot Learning from Danielle

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Danielle

Good afternoon. My Torah portion this week is Ki Teitzei from the book of Deuteronomy. This excerpt teaches how we should treat those who are less fortunate than us. It shows we should give things we do not need to those who do need them, demonstrating empathy, a trait valued in Judaism. We as Jews must help the less fortunate because when we were in the land of Egypt, we were the ones in need and should not allow others to go through similar experiences. This text also states that everyone is in charge of their actions, establishing personal accountability, another trait valued in the Torah.

The teachings of this passage relate to modern life as it is comparable to the rationing of supplies at the start of this pandemic. Many people hoarded necessities with the belief that they would be unable to leave their homes for many weeks. This mindset did not demonstrate empathy, as many were left without supplies such as toilet paper, wipes, and hand sanitizer. Hospitals didn’t even have enough supplies to protect patients and staff. This incident displays the importance of compassion. If people had thought of others during this time, many more would have had what they needed when the pandemic hit.

A mitzvah is a sacred obligation, and when preparing to become a Bat Mitzvah, I took this guideline seriously. For my project, I asked friends and family to help me collect toys that I plan to give to Lurie Children’s Hospital when it is safe to do so. Many kids in hospitals are unhappy and don't have anything enjoyable to do, but with the many toys everyone so generously donated, we will help make their stay so much more pleasant. This mitzvah followed the theme of empathy so flawlessly, as so many people used the money they could have kept for themselves, but chose to give it to children in need.

As a part of my preparation for this service, I participated in the Circle of Life program. This project is a way to remember those who died in the Holocaust before they were even able to celebrate their B’nei Mitzvot. I chose to honor Simcha Apel, a young Jewish girl who had been hidden from the Gestapo with her family for many years before they found and killed her and many of her family. Despite how terrible this story is, it still follows the theme of showing empathy to everyone around you, no matter what the risk could be. The Polish people that had hidden Simcha and her family for those many years would have been killed if the Gestapo knew what they had done. Even with the extreme risk those people faced, they still chose to help the people in need. This was a true act of kindness and though it didn’t end up working out in the end, the Apel’s were able to spend many years together that they wouldn't have been able to otherwise.

I would like to thank everyone who helped me come to this point in my Bat Mitzvah journey, especially whilst being in a global pandemic. I’m sorry that we cannot be physically together today however, I appreciate all of you being here virtually. It is astounding how well we as a community can adapt to any situation. Thank you to everyone who allowed this to happen today, as I would not be standing here without many hardworking, committed people. Thank you Rabbi for studying with me, Cantor for helping me with many prayers, Charla for teaching me my Torah and Haftarah portions, and my brother Jacob for tutoring me. I would also like to thank all of my temple teachers for everything they taught me. Finally, I would like to thank my mom and dad for supporting me along the way. I am so grateful to have all of you present today, watching as I become a Bat Mitzvah.

About the Author: Danielle is a current 7th grader who had her Bat Mitzvah this year. She loves to eat latkes at Chanukah! Danielle and her family belong to Temple Chai in Long Grove. 

Shavuot Learning from Talia

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Talia

In the Haftarah for the second day of Sukkot, King Solomon holds a big feast for all the men of Israel as they dedicate the Beit Hamikdash. First, the priests of Israel carried up the Ark. Next, the priests and Levites brought the tent of meeting. While they were doing this, King Solomon and the rest of the Israelites were bringing lots of sacrifices to the Ark. King Solomon announced:

“The LORD has chosen to abide in a thick cloud: I have now built for You A stately House, A place where You May dwell forever.”

With all of Israel standing, the King explained that his father David had intended to build the Temple, but God had chosen David just to lead the people. God had said that David was not the right person to build the temple; instead, God said that Solomon should build the temple and he did.

When I read this part of the Haftarah, I wondered: why couldn’t David build the Beit Hamikdash? After all, he was a great king and a strong warrior. David was a King chosen by God, whereas Solomon just happened to be his son. David even wrote the Psalms! David was the one who conquered Jerusalem, which is even called the City of David!! So, if all that is true, then why couldn’t he be the person to build the Beit Hamikdash?!

To learn more about this question, I looked to see what others have said. I found a verse in the book of Chronicles, (I Chronicles 22:6-8)

“You have shed blood abundantly, and have made great wars; you shall not build a house in My name, because you have shed much blood on the earth in My sight.”

In this verse God tells David that he cannot build the Beit Hamikdash because he “has blood on his hands”. Why does he have blood on his hands and what does that mean?

David was not a peaceful man. He killed a lot of people. For example, David sent Uriah, the husband of a woman he wanted to marry, to war to kill him! He also killed righteous non-Jews in his wars, Jews during the war between David and King Saul, Jews in unnecessary wars of conquest, and the Kohanim (the priests) in Nov. David was not the right person because he was a warrior with “blood on his hands”. Instead, God asked King Solomon, King David’s son, who was a peaceful man, to build the Beit Hamikdash.

Today is Sukkot. How do King David and the temple relate to Sukkot? First of all, the Beit Hamikdash was dedicated on Sukkot. Secondly, in the birkat hamazon on Sukkot there is a line: Sukkat David HaNofalet. This means “the fallen Sukkah of David." David did not have a Sukkah so what is that symbolizing? I think it symbolizes the temple. But, as I have been saying King Solomon is the one who built the temple. I think that this line is giving credit to King David because he made all the plans for the temple. This teaches us that God does not forget the things that we do. Even though David did not build the Temple, God still remembers everything he did along the way. And every time we do something we need to remember that God notices all the little things we do to contribute to it.

About the Author: Talia is a current 7th grader who had her Bat Mitzvah this year. She loves chicken soup with matza balls! Talia and her family belong to Anshe Emet Synagogue, Anshe B'nai Israel Synagogue, and Chabad Lakeview. Talia loves to go to Camp Chi and Camp Gan Israel in Lakeview in the summer!

Shavuot Learning from Ryder

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Ryder

In my Torah portion, Acharei Mot, after the two sons of Aaron died, the Israelites are taught how to be sorry for their mistakes, how to be better and be forgiven by others, themselves and God. Aaron brings two goats to his Israelite community as a sacrifice offering. One goat is to be killed to honor the Eternal God and the other goat is for purifying the Israelites sins. As Aaron puts his hands on the goat marked the sins, Aaron says all the transgressions and sins that the Israelites committed. Then he sends the goat out into the wild. You might think why would Aaron send the second goat alone? I think Aaron sent out the goat because when he whispers all his sins into the goat, the sins are transferred to the goat and are no longer on Aaron or the Israelites. Have you ever heard the word scapegoat? This is the origin of that word. In the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a scapegoat is defined by a goat upon whose head is symbolically placed the sins of the people after which he is sent into the wilderness in the biblical ceremony for Yorn Kippur or one that bears the blame for others. This ritual is also known as a purgation ritual. Purgation is the act of purifying something or someone. Obviously in this situation Aaron is not cleaning something but rather Aaron is wiping his slate clean from all his wrongdoings.

This practice might sound very familiar to you. Let me explain. During Yom Kippur, the Jewish Day of Atonement, we do purgation rituals by not eating for the day, also known as fasting. This is a time for us all to think about our sins and all our wrongdoings. On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, AND the secular New Year, we make resolutions to do better in the future. These are times we are trying to move past our sins and be better for the future. But doing an act of purgation doesn't have to be that complicated like fasting on Yom Kippur. Everyone makes mistakes and hurts people all the time. We can't all fast every time we make a mistake. An easier way to release our sins is to SAY sorry, BE sorry AND do better in the future.

There have been times when I have said unkind things to my siblings. For example, when we are in the car I can sometimes be annoying to Presley and Casey by talking about things they aren't interested in. Doesn't everyone want to hear about Magic the Gathering? The latest Super Mario Games? Or exponential functions? Well,... I guess not. I know it bothers them when I talk about things they don't like because they ask me to stop but sometimes, I don't listen. I have said sorry to them, but that isn't enough. I have to DO better. When you know better, you do better. In the future, I am going to be thinking about how I have acted in the past and show them that I really am sorry. I will do this by taking the time to acknowledge their opinions and talk about things they are interested in, so they won't be annoyed.

Part of the reason people say and be sorry is to heal themselves, others, and the world. One part of becoming a Bar mitzvah is doing Tikkun Olam. That is Hebrew for, "repairing or healing the world". For my Tikkun Olam project, I am helping to heal the world by raising money to help heal kids in the hospital by providing them their own ukuleles and music therapy. Like my Torah portion mentioned, it is important to heal yourself and others by saying and being sorry. Saying sorry can heal others as well as healing yourself. Music can do the same thing for people, too.

Music is healing because sometimes when I am stressed or mad, I listen to music or play on my guitar. Music has a way of distracting me from anything that is bothering me and helps me feel better. I would like to share an original song that I wrote to explain some examples of saying sorry and being sorry.

Say Sorry Be Sorry By Ryder Tiplitsky

Have you ever felt bad about the choices you've made 

Living in darkness, hiding in shade

No one is perfect, doing the best we can

But sometimes we hurt when we get mad.

With unkind words, hurting your friends

Disrespecting your parents, things you want to mend

 

Say Sorry- it  can open your mind

Look ahead and leave the rest behind

When you're sor ry- you can heal from with in

Learn from the past and then begin

 

It's not over when you say those words

Your actions will speak louder- you gotta let them be heard

When you make better choices- then you'll know

You can move forward and it will help you grow

   

Be Sorry- it can open your mind

Look ahead and leave the rest behind

When you're sorry- you can heal from within

Learn from the past and then begin

   

Don't look back, look ahead

Take what you learned in your heart and head

Learn from the past and the wrongs you've done

You can make them right one by one

 

Be Sorry- it can open your mind

Look ahead and leave the rest behind

When you're sorry- you can heal from within

Learn from the past and then begin***

Before I end, I want to thank all of the people that helped get me here today. Thank you to everyone at Temple Jeremiah for working with me and teaching me how to love and appreciate Judaism. Thank you to my great friends and family friends who have all supported me and are joining us today in person and on zoom. I also want to thank my aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents and my amazing parents for supporting me, listening to me practice, and helping me celebrate this big day. Last, but definitely not least, I want to thank the most important people in my life- my brother Casey and my sister Presley. They make me smile, they make me laugh and they always know how to heal me.

Baruch atah adonai, may you be surrounded by music, family, friends and forgiveness. May they bring peace, love and healing into your heart, into your home and into your life. Amen.

About the Author: Ryder is a current 7th grader who had his Bar Mitzvah on April 24, 2021. He loves his grandma's matzo ball soup! Ryder and his family belong to Temple Jeremiah in Northfield. Ryder loves to spend his summers at camp at OSRUI! 

Shavuot Learning from Olive

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Olive

Hi everyone. This is a really strange time to have a Bat mitzvah. When I imagined it, I thought it would be a lot different than how it is now. But I’m grateful to see everyone’s faces and that my family is here. It is a hard time because we are all so isolated. It is hard to know how everyone is feeling. And I was thinking about not knowing what others are thinking as I was writing my d’var Torah. 

My Torah portion is about Jacob leaving Beersheba and going to Haran.  There he finds his uncle Laban and stays with him. While he is there, he falls in love with Laban’s daughter Rachel. Laban realizes this quickly and decides to take full advantage. So, he makes a deal with Jacob: If Jacob works for him for seven years, he can marry Rachel. Jacob agrees. 

However, once those seven years pass and it is time for the wedding, Laban realizes his oldest daughter Leah has not yet wed and he doesn’t want her to disgrace their family if her younger sister marries before her. So, Laban tricks Jacob into marrying Leah.  

Jacob is furious. But, Laban explains the situation to Jacob and tells him if he works another seven years he can marry Rachel, too. Jacob does this because he loves Rachel. Fast forward seven years later, and now he is married to both daughters.  

While Jacob is married to both sisters, Leah has 4 children with him. Rachel, however, cannot have children. Instead, Jacob has children with Rachel’s maid Bilhah. Bilhah has 2 children. Leah sees this and worries she might have no more children, she then gives her maid, Zilpah, to Jacob. Jacob has 2 children with Zilpah.  

Soon after, however, Leah does have more children with Jacob--2 more sons and 1 daughter. Then, God remembers Rachel and gives her 1 son with Jacob.  

Eventually, Jacob and Laban get into a fight, and Jacob ends up taking Leah, Rachel, and all the children away until he and Laban finally reach a truce.  

Something that really stuck out to me in this portion is the mistreatment of women in the story. And not only the mistreatment, but how we don’t get to really get a grasp of the story from their perspective or hear their voices. This leaves us with so many unanswered questions.  

Did Rachel know what her father's plan for the wedding was? And if she did, was she ok with it? Did Leah truly want to marry Jacob? Or even did Rachel want to marry Jacob? Did they want to leave their father and their whole life behind? This whole thing between Rachel and Leah -- did it ruin their relationship, or did they always compete with each other? And what about Bilhah and Zilpah having no say in how they were treated--what are they thinking? Just think of how different the story would be If it were being told by the women. There really is so much gray area in this portion that could have all been avoided if we had simply given the women a voice and heard their perspective.  

For my Bat mitzvah project, I have been talking and working with the wrongfully convicted and trying to listen to their voices. Now, especially because of George Floyd's death, we have been hearing and talking a lot about police violence. So, I decided to talk with some of my dad's clients to hear about their experience with wrongful conviction and police violence. 

One story involves a man and a woman who had 3 kids together -- they all have become friends of our family. I have researched their case. In their specific story, a police officer started harassing both and eventually he framed both for drug possession and intent to sell. It happened a bunch of times. In one instance, they were just in their car when the officer pulled them over and looked in their car, pulled something out of his sleeve and accused both of drug trafficking.  

The couple told other police and many others that the officers had framed them. But no one did anything. The man was sent to prison and the women pleaded guilty to do probation to avoid prison. After all, they had a family and needed to protect them as well. Eventually, years later, my dad worked with them and was able to free them.  

The ending is happy, but the story is not. Even after the couple was free of their convictions no one apologized for not helping or not believing them. Everyone just went on with their lives. When they were first wrongfully convicted no one listened to what they had to say or even gave them a second glance. They were labeled as soon as they were convicted and, not only did this conviction affect them, but it also took a toll on their whole family. The kids were used to their dad being around all the time, being the one to take them to school, pick them up, and help them with their homework. That was all taken away. That was just one of the many consequences that came because no one would listen to their voices when they were telling people what happened.  

October 2, 2020, was something called Wrongful Conviction Day – a worldwide recognition of individuals who are convicted of crimes they did not commit. In honor that day, I encouraged many people to show their support by telling the wrongfully convicted that their voice is important, and we are listening. I worked with the Exoneration Project to have people send messages directly to people still in prison fighting their wrongful conviction. I wrote a message too and told them there is a community out here supporting and listening to you. 

Connecting this back to the Torah portion: No one listened to what Rachel and Leah had to say or their feelings on their situation. Jacob and Laban just assumed they wanted what Jacob and Laban wanted. And Laban treated both Rachel and Leah as an object, trading them for labor.  Even though it may have been common around then, it doesn’t make it any better and is not an excuse. I think all this proves how we lack an understanding for so many people.  

So, after hearing these stories I encourage you to listen to others' stories and don't make judgements if you don’t fully understand their perspective. Most importantly have and show empathy.  

About the Author: Olive is a current 7th grader and had her Bat Mitzvah this year. She loves to eat hamentashen cookies during Purim! Olive and her family belong to Oak Park Temple and  she is part of the Oak Park Temple Youth group (OPTY). Olive loves to spend her summers at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI). 


Shavuot Learning from Mischa

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Mischa

First of all, thank you to everyone for being here with me. One of the benefits of having my Bat Mitzvah over zoom, is that friends and family members from all over the country and all over the world, are able to join us today. So, thank you.

For me, becoming a Bat Mitzvah is a time to look at the past, present, and future. Today is a day to look back at my life, look at everything I’ve accomplished, and all the challenges I’ve faced, and acknowledge that I’m entering a new phase in my life, as I take on more responsibility. I’ve been told by many, many people that becoming a Bat Mitzvah is not just a few hours in one day. Not even just one special day. They say it is a process. I feel like I have been preparing for today for my whole life. Although I may not have had tutoring at the age of four, or been writing this speech at the age of seven, I did start developing my Jewish identity at those ages. The values and identity that I have developed throughout my childhood, at my school, Nettelhorst, my summer camp, OSRUI, my youth group, NFTY, and my Hebrew school, Moadon, will stay with me as I grow.

I'd like to tell you about some of the core values that I’ve learned are most important to me, and that have helped me really know who I am as I become a young adult. The first core value I’d like to talk about is learning and teaching. For as long as I can remember I have loved learning, and hoped to become a teacher.

Over the years, when I’ve had days off of school, I would sometimes go to Moadon to be a teacher’s assistant with the younger children, and I always enjoyed it. Now, as a NFTY ambassador, I am learning even more about how to be a leader and a teacher. I am also able to share what I’ve learned with my peers. It feels good to help others and contribute to their learning. My time with NFTY and Moadon have solidified learning and teaching as one of my values.

A key value my family has taught me is kindness. They show me that no matter what, they love me, and that has taught me compassion. I am now able to draw on that experience in my friendships, as well as with strangers. Sometimes it is hard, and sometimes I mess up. But kindness is also about being kind to myself. So even if I mess up, I have to be kind to myself and say “Hey, everyone messes up sometimes. It’s ok, and you learn from your mistakes”.

A more light hearted-but equally important-value that I’ve learned is fun. At OSRUI, everything feels like a fun adventure. A big part of this is loosening up and letting go to allow fun to happen. Applying this to everyday life, and making fun a priority, is really important to me. This value in action, means making intentional choices to foster and create fun in my life. Examples from this COVID time period, which is full of challenges, include planning outdoor get togethers with local friends and family, organizing fun zoom calls with my camp friends (which by the way, we are overdue for!), and spending extra time in nature at our house in Indiana.

A fourth core value I’ve identified in my life is equality and respect. In school, we recently read a short story called “Harrison Bergeron” by Kurt Vonneget. It is a story about equality but not in the sense that any of us strive for. In the story, people who are considered physically beautiful have to wear a mask, which by the way, is ridiculous because everybody is beautiful. People who are especially smart have their thoughts interrupted every 20 seconds, and people who are exceptionally strong have to wear a weighted necklace or backpack to offset their physical strength. Of course, this kind of equality is not what I hope for in this world. What I hope for is an equality that gives everyone safety, justice, opportunity, and respect, regardless of race, gender, size, ability, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, and countless other identities and characteristics. In many ways, I can contribute to this goal. I can treat everyone I come in contact with, equally and with respect. These values of teaching, kindness, fun, and equality and respect are so important to me, and I will take them with me moving forward.

If becoming a Bat Mitzvah is all about the process, why did we ask you to put a couple hours aside so that you could come listen to me lead this service, and read from the Torah? The whole point of today is to share everything I’ve learned leading up to my Bat Mitzvah. In addition to strengthening the core values I’ve discussed already, I’m very proud that I’ve improved my Hebrew reading so much. For me, it is so important because half of my relatives speak, read and write Hebrew, and now I feel like I can be a bigger part of that. Now that I’ve shared about my learning process leading up to today, I want to talk about the Torah portion I recently chanted.

My Torah portion comes right after the 10 commandments. It shows us more concrete examples of how the 10 commandments play a role in daily life. There are so many examples of lessons and values in my portion that were important when the Torah was written, and are still relevant today. The following are some of the examples I want to share with you. “You shall not follow a multitude to do evil”. This means if many people - even people you know and trust and love - are doing something you know is wrong, you should not follow them. Although it is difficult, being the upstander is such an important role in society, and one that I aim to fulfill.

Another example I want to share is “If you meet your enemy’s ox or the enemy’s ass going astray, you shall surely bring it back to him again”. This means that your responsibility to the environment and to your community, matters more than any interpersonal conflicts you may have. What I’ve understood from this verse is that we may need to put our personal conflicts aside when they are at odds with the needs of the larger community or environment.

The part of my portion that I want to focus on today with you is this: “And a stranger shall not oppress; for you know the heart of a stranger, seeing you were strangers in the land of Egypt”. We all know what it is like to be the stranger. We’ve all been the odd one out before. So why do some treat people who are different in cruel or prejudiced ways? I am in a club at school called FOR club which stands for Friends of Rachel. Rachel Joy Scott was the first one killed at Columbine High School on April 20th, 1999 during the school shooting. About a decade after Rachel's death, her father found an essay of hers in which she had written "I have this theory that if one person can go out of their way to show compassion then it will start a chain reaction of the same. People will never know how far a little kindness can go.” This quote is so inspiring to me. For my Bat Mitzvah project, I have combined these ideas of offering compassion to others and contributing to the chain reaction of kindness. I am making supply kits for people without homes. These kits will help them through the winter by providing needed supplies for life without a house. When I sent out an email to everyone asking you to participate in my project, I added a page on how to host this project in your own community, because I want to make a difference bigger than my own efforts. I see this as another opportunity to be part of a chain reaction.

I have witnessed a small chain reaction like this even in my own home. For example, I invite Romy to hang out in my room and read with me. She would then feel inspired to be kind to Emmett, so she builds Lego with him. Then Emmett would want to do something kind to Sy, like read him a book. Then Sy would make the whole family laugh, with a knock-knock joke about a banana crying. And the cycle continues.

Rachel’s idea about a kindness chain reaction, and the verse from my Torah portion about treating others with respect and equality, inspire me to treat everyone-friends and strangers-with more compassion.

I want to finish by thanking everybody who helped me get to this moment. First off, I want to thank you all for being here. Thank you to my Nettelhorst friends for being so loving and supportive.

You guys make school fun. To my camp friends, the thought of going to camp with you again gives me hope through the pandemic. Nana, Papa, Lisa, Matt, Eric, Allie, Anouk and Cleo. Although I am very lucky that we were able to have our family dinners at some points through the pandemic, I look forward to being able to do it without wearing masks. Saba, Savta, Mayrav, Renee, Yaniv, Michal, Eitan, Mili, Jonah and Elan. I can’t wait for the day when we are all vaccinated and can have our Shabbat family dinners again. To all my relatives, I love you. I want to thank Savta for being such a big part of planning my Bat Mitzvah. I know that you worked very hard, and it means so much to me. Mayrav, Renee, Mama, and Romy, thank you for working on my Bat Mitzvah photo montage. I’m so excited to watch it after havdalah! Ronit, you were the best tutor I could ask for. You were so supportive and you made me believe that I could accomplish everything you were teaching me. Romy, Emmett, and Sy, you never fail to make me laugh. All of your jokes really help me with the stress of remote learning and all of the crazy things going on in my life. Mama and Aba, you have supported me from the beginning. You helped me so much in getting to this point. Thank you for having my back during this process. I love you both to the Moon and back. Shabbat Shalom everybody!

About the Author: Mischa is a current 7th grader who had her Bat Mitzvah this year. Mischa loves to eat latkes during Chanukah! She belongs to Temple Beth Israel in Skokie with her family. Mischa is an active member in NFTY Chicago Area Region (NFTY-CAR), and spends her summers at Olin-Sang-Ruby Union Institute (OSRUI). 


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