Blog with Springboard

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


Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

No Better Time than IsraelNow

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By Sam Rodin

Jewish educators are often tasked with creating magical moments that combine deep educational content, authentic Jewish experiences, and genuine joy. IsraelNow does this each year for scores of 8th graders from across the country. In normal times, participants travel to Israel for a week to build relationships with Israel, gain Jewish self-confidence, and broaden their peer networks. Sadly, we do not live in normal times, and IsraelNow made the heartbreaking decision to cancel travel to Israel for our 2024 trips. The IsraelNow team was left with an important question: In acknowledgement of our mission to bring teens to Israel, should we cancel our program entirely? Or do we strive to create an experience that can achieve our outcomes, at least in part, and provide a meaningful opportunity for this year’s 8th grade class?  

IsraelNow took a leap of faith and journeyed into the unknown with more questions than answers. We didn’t know where to travel or what content to bring. We didn’t understand the complexities of discussing Israel today. We didn’t know who of our teens might be interested in a domestic IsraelNow trip. But sensing that now, perhaps more than ever before, Jewish teens are looking for safe spaces to experience Judaism, discuss Israel, and simply have fun, we knew we had to try. 

The program we put together — 5 days in Northern California with volunteering and touring, hiking and text study, group bonding and personal exploration — was nothing short of exceptional. Teens walked away feeling a deep connection to their Jewish identities, to Israel, and to each other. It was truly transformational. This is the power of experiential education.  

Just a few weeks ago, we were sitting at the Seder table celebrating Pesach and singing Dayenu. Had this been all we accomplished, Dayenu, it would have been enough. But what is much rarer in this field is the opportunity to transform the staff along with the teens. Spending this week with over 130 Jewish teens was transformational for me as well. I witnessed teens practicing Judaism in new ways, having deep and profound discussions about the current war in Israel, and being joyful with new friends from across the country. And I was right there with them, finding new meaning in Jewish text, sharing and learning about my own Israel story, and dancing and laughing together.  

There is no replacement for Israel, and I pray IsraelNow can return to trips to the Jewish homeland in the year to come. But for now, I am proud to have been with IsraelNow and feel closer to Israel, my Judaism, and the Jewish people because of having spent time with these 8th graders in California. 

Visit https://www.israelnowtrip.org/chicago/ or email us at israelnowchicago@juf.org to learn more about IsraelNow.  

IsraelNow Group Photo

IsraelNow Hiking Group Photo

Meet our new Program Director of Teen Social Change Initiatives, Shoshi Shapiro

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My name is Shoshi Shapiro, and I am very excited to join JUF as the new Program Director for Teen Social Change Initiatives. Core to my beliefs is that every individual can make a difference (yes, Tikkun Olam was engrained in me early), and I am looking forward to connecting my personal values to work. 

To give you a little more about me, I grew up in NYC and came to the Chicago area for college. I studied Learning Science in the School of Education and Social Policy at Northwestern and completed certificates in Civic Engagement and Human-Centered Design. The nerd in me loves talking about human-centered design, museums and why voting in local elections matters thanks to my time in college. I also staffed USY on Wheels and Pilgrimage, which were two of the most meaningful summers spent exploring Jewish history and identity and of course racking up new states and countries.  

Fast forward a few years, I now live in West Lakeview. Shabbat and sharing Judaism with friends are part of my everyday life. I also foster dogs and adoption counsel through a local rescue, am an avid women’s basketball fan (both college and pro), sail in the summer with my dad, and assemble excellent cheese plates.  

Below are two photos- one of me and friends meeting the legendary Candace Parker (I am the one on her right), and the second is of my currently adoptable foster Auden who was very upset I was packing and insisted I not by sitting on the clothes. 

I am again so excited to be here and can’t wait to meet and make impact with you all!  

Candace Parker and Auden

Don’t Miss Upcoming program and Scholarship Deadlines

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Summer is just around the corner! Summer and School year leadership programs for the 24-25 school year are now accepting applications.  Here are some great experiences to check out.  

AMHSI Classic Program in Israel: Classic 6-week academic program, formally known as Foundations Israel, will take students on a 4,000-year journey throughout the History and Culture of Israel beginning with the Middle Bronze Age and ending with the Modern Middle East.Located outside of Tel Aviv in the city of Hod HaSharon, the AMHSI campus features renovated dorms, dining room, basketball courts, running track, music room, and the ability to walk to shops, restaurants, a smoothie bar, and much more Students are eligible for high school credits and optional college credits. Learn more and sign up here. 

Genesis Precollege Summer Program: Join an incredible Jewish learning community this summer at Genesis! You'll take classes taught by passionate Jewish educators, make incredible friends, and experience life on a college campus. Scholarships available, learn more and register here. 

Hartman Teen Fellowship: The Fellowship will run from September 2024 through May 2025. Applications are due May 31st. Jewish teens have big questions, face challenging dilemmas, and are searching for a place to explore new ideas. The Hartman Teen Fellowship is an extraordinary opportunity for North American high schoolers in grades 10-12 to cultivate Jewish identities that value Jewish Peoplehood, Israel, and humanity. Fellows will develop the tools to build an informed, meaningful, and bright Jewish future. Learn more and register here. 

JUF Israel Scholarships: Apply for a JUF Israel experience scholarships for fall and academic year programs. The deadline is June 1st and awards will be announced in mid-July.  

Springboard Access Grants: Now it’s even easier to try new programs in the Jewish community. With a Springboard Access Grant Springboard will provide up to 50% of tuition costs of your first overnight Jewish teen program up to $300 Learn more and apply here. 


My Experience as a jGirls+ Magazine Editor

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I am sitting at my desk at home in Evanston IL, talking with teens across the country about submissions to jGirls+, a national online Jewish literary magazine. The meeting starts with catching up and lots of laughter, but then we transition to reviewing each piece. We think about its structure, the content, the perspective, and then think about the edits we would make. We discuss the author’s meaning and the context. Together, we joke and share stories, but mostly we debate. These meetings are a teen-only space and leave me feeling empowered. Sometimes I change my mind about the strength of a piece or the underlying issue, and sometimes I don’t. But after each discussion, I emerge understanding the world and myself a bit better than when I evaluated the piece on my own. When our meeting is over, I haven’t left my chair, but I have grown and changed in ways I didn’t expect.

The people on the Editorial Board and Photography board are like me in that they are Jewish and are passionate about writing, but they are also different from me. Together we represent 15 states, 25 different Jewish practices (each of us is unique), and multiple ways of thinking. Each year we gather in New York City for an in-person retreat. Throughout the year, we also have the chance to learn from experts and build our skills. Just a couple weeks ago, I led a meeting with the editor of Hey Alma (how cool is that!).

If I had to choose one word to describe my experience at jGirls+ it would be fulfilling. From having the opportunity to produce timely and meaningful content to creating such genuine friendships, I feel so lucky to be part of such an incredible Jewish community. I applied with hopes of becoming a better editor, but I have gained so much more. 

** We accept writing and art submissions all-year round from Jewish girls and non-binary teens on any subject and any genre. We are also seeking content reflecting Jewish teen responses to the Israel-Hamas war. All perspectives are always welcome.

Apply to be on the editorial and photography board here (applications are due March 26th, extensions available upon request): 

https://jgirlsmagazine.org/take-action/#teen-staff

Submit writing here: https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSfX7mq6icX5yJcoO63P5SHQMR-pq3MJvMEEpjblHBawrUpp4w/viewform

Browse the website here: 

https://jgirlsmagazine.org/

About the author: Isabel Rosenberg (she/her), a senior at Evanston Township High School, loves to create – everything from dance choreography to stories. Through her work as an editor and department head for jGirls+ Magazine, a national Jewish literary magazine, she is able to help others share their stories. Isabel is one of this year’s 18 Under 18 Honorees. 

Isabel Rosenberg

What Makes BBYO Special to Me?

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The B’nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO): a pluralistic teen movement; a home. A non-profit organization that helps Jewish teens build their identity; somewhere memories are made, laughter is shared, and meaningful connections are built. 

A few months ago, I was having a conversation with a new prospect, trying to find the words to describe how incredible our movement is. She was asking questions such as “How do I become a member?” “What does membership entail?” “Which chapter would I be in?” Having all the answers, I easily led her through everything she was wondering. But, one last question was stated, making me unsure of how to properly answer it. “What makes BBYO so special?” To be truthful, I had no idea how to reply. How can I easily summarize the impact this organization has on me? Where would I even start? “This might take a while,” I replied, knowing that I wanted to answer her with all of my heart.

“Before I joined BBYO, there was nothing that stuck with me. I had sports and extracurriculars, but I did not have a true connection with anything. This organization was always mentioned by family members and friends, but I had no clue what it actually was. I gave one event a shot and by doing so, I immediately fell in love. After my first event, I began to participate in unique programming. I tried new things I had never thought about doing before. I learned more about what it means to take leadership in my community and speak up for myself and for the Jewish community when necessary. I felt more connected with my Jewish identity than ever before. Most of all, I made lifelong relationships, meeting some of my best friends.”

Here, I am truly able to express myself for who I am. I love being a part of this community, along with attending events that are hosted by my chapter (and the region) have always been the highlight of my week. 

By coming to GMR’s Whirlyball kickoff, I assure you that you will have a great time, and will want to become more involved. A regional event like this one is the perfect opportunity to meet new people, and get a feel for what this organization really is. I promise that if you come, you will have so much fun, and feel the same love for this community that I do.

Hallie Horwich

About the author: Hallie Horwich is a Freshman at New Trier High School and was Bat Mitzvahed at Beth Emet Synagogue in Evanston. Hallie is an active member in BBYO, and has served as her chapter Sh’licha (Jewish Enrichment VP), and Mekasheret (Eighth Grade Recruitment). She enjoys spending her summers playing field hockey and traveling.



Coming Together to Make a Difference: Join Our Giving Circle for Israel

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In tough times, working together can have a big impact. If you're a teen or an adult looking to help people in Israel affected by the ongoing conflict, you're in the right place! On November 5, you can be part of a group of caring folks who join forces to make a positive change.

What's a Giving Circle?

A giving circle is a group of people who pool their money and sometimes their time and skills to help a cause they care about. It's like a team effort where we all chip in to do something awesome. In our case, we're helping out folks in Israel dealing with the ongoing conflict.

The Power of Teamwork

The cool thing about a giving circle is that when we all work together, we make a bigger impact. Here's why it's awesome:

Super Impact: By combining our resources, we can make bigger donations that can support larger projects and help more people.

Learn and Connect: Giving circles let us learn about the issues we're tackling and talk to others who care about the same things. This is especially great for teens looking to understand social issues better.

Community Vibes: Being part of a giving circle is like joining a friendly club with a shared mission. It's a chance to meet new people and build relationships with those who want to make the world better.

Supporting Israel in Tough Times

The ongoing conflict in Israel has been really tough on many folks. As part of our giving circle, we're stepping in to support organizations that are helping those affected by the conflict. This could mean giving humanitarian aid, supporting mental health programs, helping with reconstruction, and more.

Why You Should Join

Here's why you should hop on board:

Make a Real Difference: You can directly help people in Israel who are going through hard times.

Learn and Grow: Joining our circle means you'll learn more about the situation in Israel, the organizations making a difference, and how we can change things for the better.

Be Part of a Caring Crew: Together, we can offer hope and support to those in need. By joining us, you're becoming part of a kind and caring community that wants to make the world a better place.

This giving circle reminds us that we can do amazing things when we team up for a good cause. So, on November 5, let's join forces and be part of the giving circle that's all about helping Israelis affected by the conflict. Together, we can bring a glimmer of hope to those facing hard times in Israel. Don't miss this chance to be a part of something truly meaningful. Join us and help create a brighter future for those in need.

You can register for the giving circle here.

Giving Circle



Meet BBYO’s New Associate Regional Director: Shira Rosen!

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I am so thrilled to be a part of BBYO as an Associate Regional Director and Genesis Fellow to GMR. I was born and raised in Los Angeles in a big, close family.  Judaism was always a huge part of my life. From attending Jewish day school to going to a Jewish sleep away camp in the summers, I have grown to appreciate deeply and cherish my connection. My time at Camp Ramah in California started as an infant in their Gan while my parents worked as camp doctors, to my own time as a camper, counselor and Rosh Edah (Division Head).  I loved working with staff and campers alike to plan programs, create leadership opportunities, and just have fun! In 2022, I graduated from Indiana University with a BA in psychology and minors in marketing and photography. After graduating, I spent the year in Israel teaching English to students in Rishon LeZion as a part of the Masa Israel Teaching Fellows (MITF) program.

Whatever opportunity comes my way, I strive to educate myself and make an impact on the community around me. In my recent Israel program, I attended the Masa Wilf Leadership Summit, where I learned about adaptive leadership. During this time I was also selected to be on a panel to speak to Israel’s President, Isaac Herzog, about my own Jewish leadership journey. I can lead. I can educate. But perhaps my greatest goal has been making sure that those around me can each learn enough to move forward by gaining new knowledge and leadership skills. Although I can take matters into my own hands, it is important to teach people new skills and ensure others one day will replace me. I hope that those around me also take their new confidence and experiences right back to their communities, homes, and schools. I hope that I can make others' voices heard and develop, since if I had the great fortune of family, community, education and experiences, so can I try to create connections with new communities. I am excited to be able to translate my passions and hobbies to Chicago and BBYO, and I know I will be inspired by those around me. 

When I am not working, you can often find me going on walks, trying something new, traveling, and cooking.  I have a passion for photography and finding the beauty in things around me.  I am excited to have the opportunity to explore a new city and relearn how to navigate the winter weather!  Help me explore my new Chicago home!

Shira Rosen

Knit Knot Knoop: Changing the World One Stich at a Time

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I’ll never forget the first time I learned about a knit and purl stitch. I was visiting my grandma in her apartment in Chicago and I was 8 years old. That first stitch inspired a passion for knitting that would forever connect me to my grandma, or in Russian, my babushka. My grandma immigrated to the United States from Russia 23 years ago and one of my favorite things to do is to knit alongside her while she tells me stories that her grandma once told her. 

Last year on Halloween I broke my leg and knitting was one of the only activities I could do while I recovered. It brought me great joy and comfort and I found myself wanting to give that feeling back to other people. In addition to teaching me about knitting and making Russian chicken meatballs, my grandma also taught me about doing good in the world and always being kind to people. I knew I wanted to use knitting to give back to those in need. I have always had an interest in public health and one of the greatest public health problems of our time is the homelessness crisis. While I was healing from my broken leg, I came up with the idea for Knit Knot Knoop. 

I created Knit Knot Knoop to bridge my love of knitting with my interest in fighting against homelessness in Chicago. I knitted several scarves and partnered with EZRA, an organization that works to prevent homelessness and relieve hunger, to distribute the scarves to the homeless in EZRA’s care to keep them warm during the harsh Chicago winters. I visited several nursing homes in the Chicago area and taught the residents how to knit. I loved connecting with the residents because they reminded me of my own grandma. 

This year I am working to expand Knit Knot Knoop and bring it into Hebrew schools because I want to teach people my own age not only about knitting, but more importantly, about the homelessness crisis facing the United States. As I teach people about knitting, I will also present about homelessness to inspire them to give back to their communities. I am looking forward to expanding the project and will be including information on my website about homelessness and educational knitting videos so that students far and wide can contribute.

Download a video here.

Here is how you can get involved:

  • Kids and teens in the Chicago area can learn how to knit through online videos and I will pick up the scarves to be donated to EZRA 

Kate Elterman

About the Author: Kate Elterman is a rising 8th grader at the Latin School in Chicago, Illinois. Kate studies Spanish, Russian, and Ukrainian. She is also a competitive fencer and is ranked 30th nationally. She hopes to become a dermatologist focusing on public health. Kate founded Knit Knot Knoop to educate young people about the homeless crisis through knitting.

How the Hartman Teen Fellowship Expanded my Worldview

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My name is Daniel Weisskopf, and I am a junior at Rochelle Zell Jewish High School. During the 2022-2023 school year I had the distinct privilege of learning as a Hartman Teen Fellow. This pluralistic program ran for the first time this past year as a way for North American Jewish teens from every background, including Hasidic, Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and Unaffiliated Jews, to come together and analyze modern facets of society - from both the perspective of Jewish texts and ourselves. The program enabled teens who attend Jewish private schools and those without formal Jewish education to learn and grow together. Throughout the two shabbatonim, three trimesters of electives, and monthly beit midrashim (learning sessions), brilliant scholars taught us about identity, Jewish Peoplehood, faith and practice, ethics, and power and vulnerability. We also bonded through fun and engaging activities such as laser tag and escape rooms. Furthermore, we built relationships, forming an inclusive pluralistic Jewish community. Our relationships have continued beyond the Fellowship and have expanded our social networks.

The Hartman Teen Fellowship has taught me to expand my view of the world, be more open minded, listen to every member of society, and engage in thoughtful and respectful discourse. The skills and topics fellows learn throughout the year have a wide-reaching scope and last far beyond the duration of the program. When I arrived at the opening shabbaton, I was surprised to find a lack of participation from Chicagoland Jewish teens. I feel our community can benefit greatly from more Chicagoland Jewish teens learning from and experiencing the Hartman Teen Fellowship. It is my hope that more Jewish teens, from Chicagoland and beyond, will join me in the program in order to learn more about themselves, the diversity of North American Jewry, and the relevance of Jewish thought in the modern day. As we grow our Hartman Fellowship community, I feel confident in the future of North American Judaism.

Weisskopf



Meet Danielle: The New Teen Engagement Specialist for Springboard!

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I am so happy to be joining the Springboard team. After working for Congregation Beth Am this past year (2022-2023) as a Social Media Specialist, I found a passion for building and supporting Jewish communities, while also being creative through content creation and social media. These two areas of interest mesh perfectly in this role, and I look forward to utilizing my interests to connect with Jewish teens in the Chicagoland area. 

I grew up in West Rogers Park and attended Akiba Schecter Jewish Day School in Hyde Park. During my childhood, I spent a lot of time in Apachi JCC Rogers Park, Apachi JCC Skokie, and Camp Nageela Midwest. I enjoyed the atmosphere and activities at camp. During high school, I was involved with NCSY and would go to several events and shabbatons throughout the years. I was also a camp counselor and drama specialist for Apachi Skokie’s Performing Arts Camp (PAC) for several years. I met many amazing people and made lifelong friends along the way. We made long-lasting memories and immersed ourselves in Jewish songs, foods, and stories.

Superheroes

Apachi JCC Skokie Superhero Day

NCSY Group

NCSY Shabbaton

Being a part of a Jewish community has profoundly impacted who I am and has led to my joining the JUF as their Teen Engagement Specialist. I want to share the joy of being a part of the Jewish community, no matter what that may look like for each individual. There is no wrong way to participate or show up. 

When I am not at the JUF, I can often be found trying a new restaurant, going to concerts, or relaxing with my cats, Gus and Zeus.

Gus and Zeus

Gus and Zeus

The Importance of Getting Involved

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Let’s take a stroll down memory lane. About six years ago, I was sitting in a crowded auditorium at Vernon Hills High School, carefully listening to a passionate speech from the student body president at first year student orientation. I remember the advice he gave, and it all seemed like the standard clichés: don’t procrastinate, study for exams, practice academic honesty, make meaningful friendships, challenge yourself with your course work, cherish these four years etc. However, there was one piece of advice that was said more times than I can even express: “Get involved.” Now, that was not just something the student body president was saying. I heard it from everyone: teachers, parents, grandparents, upperclassmen, and my friends. Even though this advice seemed pretty obvious, it was easier said than done. “Getting involved” in high school activities is more nuanced than just joining any club you can, for I would say it is most interesting to join activities that cater to all your different interests. 

When I came to high school, I knew that I wanted to be on the dance team. I had danced all throughout my childhood performing and participating in countless recitals, competitions, summer intensives, you name it. However, while I was quite comfortable dancing, I knew that it was imperative for me to try something new. During my sophomore year, I did a project on gender inequality in Peru, and it was this that inspired me to be one of the founders of VHHS’s first gender equality club. Nevertheless, this club and project was the very beginning, for I wanted to learn about how gender equality and Judaism intersect. During my senior year, I wanted to try something new, and with our world being flipped upside down by the pandemic, I wanted to find something where I can make an impact in a virtual sense. Therefore, I applied to be part of Moving Traditions’ Kol Koleinu Feminist Teen Fellowship, and it was there where I met people from all around the country passionate about various gender equality issues. I got to lead teachings about climate change and create a social change project about reproductive health. It was experiences like this one that made my less-than-normal high school experience special. High school gave me the opportunity to explore all my passions, and it allowed me to meet different groups of people and to practice different skills. It was this involvement that helped me at George Washington University when I started to join activities and create meaningful relationships with my friends and professors. It also inspired me to major in international affairs and take classes related to international human rights and gender equality. 

Imagine you are about to graduate from high school. When you take your stroll down memory lane, you want to remember all the relationships, passions, and skills you learned in high school. So simply put, try something new because you never know what will be most interesting. 

Sammie Reinstein Photo

Sammie Reinstein is a rising third year at the George Washington University in Washington D.C. where she studies history and international affairs. She is excited to make her second appearance on the Springboard Blog, but this time as a Lewis Summer Intern at JUF in the Integrated Fundraising Department. In high school, she was involved in the Kol Koleinu Feminist Teen Fellowship through Moving Traditions and USY. In her free time, you can find Sammie dancing, listening to Taylor Swift, or re-reading Little Women. 


How Diller Teens Fellows Helped me Explore my Jewish Identity

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Hi everyone! My name is Ariana Freimuth and I am a sophomore at Vanderbilt University. I am majoring in Human and Organizational Development with minors in Business and Data Science. During my time in high school, I was a Yearbook Editor, VP/co-founder of Women in Business, Peer Group Leader, and I played varsity Field Hockey and Lacrosse. Outside of school, I worked as a Madricha at my synagogue’s Sunday school and at Apachi Day Camp during the summers. I also participated in Voices and, last but not least, Diller Teen Fellows.  

After spending nine years at Solomon Schechter Day School, I struggled with how I would maintain my connection to Judaism upon entering a public high school. I was able to continue my involvement in the Jewish community through working at Apachi and the Sunday school, but Diller was what allowed me to explore my Jewish identity. It gave me the space to reflect on what type of role I wanted Judaism to have in my life with a more adult-like perspective for the first time. The experiential activities combined with meeting other teens from all over the world enabled me to independently shape my Jewish identity. Forming relationships with the other teens in my cohort (shoutout cohort 8!) aided this as well. Despite our three-week trip to Israel being canceled due to Covid, I gained clarity in what being Jewish meant to me and how I wanted to serve the community going forward. At Vanderbilt this past year, I kept that inspiration going through Hillel and TAMID, which is a consulting club for Israeli businesses. Because of my experiences in Diller, I am motivated to continue my involvement with the Jewish community at Vandy, and I am excited to continue this beyond as well. 

Ariana Freimuth


A Taste of Israel: My 8th Grade Journey Through Culture and Connection

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As an 8th grader, I was faced with a big choice - a three-day trip to Washington D.C. or a week-long adventure to Israel through a program once named “Ta’am Yisrael” or “Taste of Israel”, and now known as “IsraelNow”. The decision required some thought, but the chance to explore my Jewish heritage was more appealing than visiting D.C.'s historical sights. 


The anticipation built up as the plane landed in Israel. I had no clue what this place was like; I only knew of Israel through stories and my religious studies. As soon as I stepped onto Israeli soil, I was on cloud nine. I felt such a powerful sense of connection in the brief moments of stepping out of the plane. Ta’am Yisrael offered a full immersion into Jewish culture, exceeding all my expectations in a short period of time. This trip gave me the chance to learn about Jewish traditions, Israel's history, and interact with other Jewish teens. All of these things helped in shaping my identity at such a pivotal point in my life. 


Every day was an adventure. Sleep came at a premium, but who needs sleep as an 8th grader? The adrenaline and excitement fueled me. Oh… and the shakshuka! We trekked up Mount Sinai, explored the bustling markets of Jerusalem, had plenty of falafel and Israeli cuisine, and left a prayer I wrote at the Western Wall, a piece of me that still remains there.  


What made the experience even more meaningful was meeting and forming connections with Jewish teens from different backgrounds across the Chicagoland area. Their stories, viewpoints, and the deep conversations we had made me realize that I was part of a community connected by our shared history and values.  


My week in Israel wasn't just a trip; it was a crucial point in my life where I found a sense of independence and curiosity that has stuck with me. This trip allowed me to experience Israel as a vibrant, living part of my Jewish identity. I returned home not just with memories, but with a deeper understanding of my Jewish identity. 


The true value of my Ta’am Yisrael experience wasn't just from what I learned or saw, but from the perspective it gave me. It allowed me to see the diversity of the Jewish community, connect with my roots, and understand that my Jewish identity will forever be a key part of who I am. It affirmed that I am a small piece of a much larger puzzle that makes up Jewish culture. 


Now, I should mention one part of the trip that you must keep in mind - our visit to the Dead Sea. Now, nobody warned me about sunburns, so I’m going to warn you! Imagine the surprise (and everlasting sting) when I realized that the sea's salty water doesn't quite agree with sunburns. It's a memory that still brings a smile to my face, and a gentle reminder to pack extra sunblock next time. This experience, along with the countless others, continues to shape my life story as I continue my journey as a young Jewish adult. 

Stone Gomberg

About the Author: Stone Gomberg is a junior at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. He is studying Advertising in the College of Media and has a passion for research and consumer insight. He is heavily involved with Jewish life on his campus and was a member of the Lewis Summer Internship Program at the JUF.  In his free time, he enjoys watching sports, traveling, and indulging in a variety of foods. 




Top 5 Reasons to be a Peer Ambassador

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Hi! My name is Jessica, and I get the privilege to work with Springboard Peer Ambassadors throughout the school year. Throughout the school year, Peer Ambassadors increase awareness about Jewish teen activities, facilitate Jewish connections for your peers, and even create their own programs. They can earn a total of $300 over the course of the Ambassadorship. It’s amazing to see what the Peer Ambassadors are able to accomplish in an entire year. Check out the top 5 reasons why you should apply to be a Peer Ambassador for the 2023-2024 school year!


  1. Connect with Jewish teens in your community! 

Last year, 15 Peer Ambassadors were able to connect with over 200 Jewish teens! From hosting events to attending community events to having meaningful conversations, teens across Chicagoland. Meet other Peer Ambassadors and develop incredible friendships. 

 Connect with Jewish teens in your community


  1.  Get Creative! 

As a Peer Ambassador, you get the opportunity to host your own event shabbat or holiday celebration so you can connect to Jewish community your way.   

 Get creative


  1. Become an Expert in Jewish Teen Community Programs! 

From youth groups to leadership programs to travel opportunities, you’ll be able to discover so many ways for you and your friends to get involved. 

 Become an expert


  1. Grow as a Leader! 

No matter what your vision is for the future, Peer Ambassadors is a great way to strengthen your leadership skills. At monthly workshops, you and other Peer Ambassadors will learn a lot that can be brought back to a community you are connected to. 

 Grow as a leader


  1. Have Fun! 

When you are trying new things with friends, you can’t help but have a good time.


Have fun


Check out our website to learn more about the Peer Ambassador program and apply TODAY! Questions about Springboard Peer Ambassadors? Contact JessicaBank@juf.org.  


Meet the Springboard Lewis Summer Intern, Ariana!!

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Happy summer! I’m very excited to spend my first full summer at home in a while with JUF’s Youth Initiatives Team. My past summers have been filled with Camp Ramah in Wisconsin, Diller Teen Fellows, and being a counselor at Kefiada in Kiryat Gat. If you have any fun Chicago summer tips, please let me know!  

After spending my high school years with more Jewish organizations than I can count, I am excited to be contributing to the planning side. I am very grateful for my upbringing in the Chicago Jewish community and how it has shaped who I am today. The values which guide my life including respect, curiosity, and inclusion all have roots in my Jewish upbringing. I have learned to appreciate the people I surround myself with and how important it is to build a supportive community.

Ariana Photo 1

Ariana and Marc Luban at a CHUSY convention in 2018

I am currently a student at Muhlenberg College, studying Psychology and Business. My hobbies include playing Jewish Geography, making Challah, and overanalyzing my tomato plant.  

As a new resident of the East Coast, at least while I’m at college, I have learned that everyone is obsessed with New York City. While they love their big city and the hubbub, it has made me appreciate the Chicago community and pluralism I am surrounded by so much more. This Shavuot I had the opportunity to learn at Anshe Emet Synagogue with a beautiful mixture of people including one of my high school teachers, my camp director, and some childhood friends. I love the welcoming and openness of the Jewish community in Chicago. The bridge of religiosity and respect from one denomination towards another instills my faith in Judaism. 

Ariana Photo 2

Ariana and Jacob Kline hosting two Israelis as part of Diller in 2019

While I build my community in college, I rely on my friends and experiences from Chicago. Bringing friends into the Jewish world whether at Hillel or elsewhere is always a highlight. The love that emanates from community is beautiful and motivates my involvement within Judaism.  

I am excited to learn more about my Jewish identity and connect with others who have dedicated their work to continuing and improving the Jewish community.

Ariana Photo 3  

Ariana with friends at the 18 under 18 celebration in 2019


Meet the new CHUSY Engagement Director, Parker Weber!

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I’m incredibly excited to be joining the USY team as the new Chicago USY (CHUSY) Engagement Director.

Although I was not part of USY, I attended JCC Camp Apachi and Camp Chi, and worked at both summer camps for a combined 9 summers. These experiences are what led me to teaching. Being a camp counselor, assistant unit head, and finally a unit head, were the best jobs on earth. I wanted to find a way to have that kind of joy and feel that I was making that important of a difference every day, I found that through teaching.

Parker Weber

I loved working in the classroom, but I missed those informal interactions with the kids, where we were just trying to have as much fun as possible. I found that when I became a part-time youth advisor for USY at Beth Judea.

These informal educational experiences were more in line with what I was looking for. So, when the CHUSY Director position opened up, I leaped at the opportunity. I’m excited to be in this new role, collaborating with other youth organizations and professionals to create as many opportunities for our Chicago teens as possible to have an amazing Jewish experience.

In my downtime you can find me enjoying a good book, snacking on popcorn while watching a movie, and annoying my neighbors by practicing piano.

Check out these videos highlighting Chicagoland's amazing Jewish teen programs!

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Enjoy these videos from our Community Celebration and see a preview of some of the amazing opportunities for Jewish teens in Chicagoland! 


Part 1 of the Community Program Highlights video




Part 2 of the Community Program Highlights video




Recognizing amazing Jewish community leaders

CTeen Deerfield's Hannah Belenkiy wins CTeen International Leader of the Year

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Hannah Belenkiy, a 10th-grade student at Lake Forest High School, has won the prestigious “CTeen International Leader of the Year Award” for her leadership skills and dedication to her community. Hannah is the teen leader at the CTeen (Chabad Teen Network) in Deerfield, IL, which aims to provide Jewish teenagers with opportunities to connect with their heritage and their peers in a fun and meaningful way.

Hannah Belenkiy
Hannah delivers her acceptance speech in front of the entire CTeen International Summit

Hannah's passion for Judaism and her desire to share it with others began at a young age. Growing up in Lake Forest, which has a small Jewish population, Hannah often felt isolated and disconnected from her heritage. Determined to connect with other Jewish teens and to share her Jewish pride, she started the Jewish Culture Club at her high school.

Hannah's leadership skills were quickly recognized by her peers and community members. Becoming the leader of her CTeen chapter, she planned events such as a Chanukah festival, where students and teachers came together to celebrate the holiday and learn about Jewish customs and traditions.

For the past two years, she has attended the CTeen International Summit, where over 3,000 teens from 30 countries across the world come together for an inspirational and educational weekend filled with Jewish pride. Each year chapter leaders are nominated to win the CTeen Choice Award. The award recognizes an extraordinary Jewish teen leader out of hundreds of candidates from around the world who have a significant impact on their community. The recipient of the prestigious title is announced at the weekend summit.

After all the votes came in, Hannah was awarded the CTeen Choice Award 2023. Winning the CTeen Choice Award is a significant achievement for Hannah, and it is a testament to her hard work, dedication, and leadership skills. The award was presented to her by Rabbi Mendy Kotlarsky, a leader at Chabad World Headquarters in New York.

Rabbi Chaim and Mina Schanowitz, who work with Hannah in the local CTeen chapter, describe her as a natural leader and an inspiration to others. "Hannah is a true role model," says Mrs. Schanowitz. "She has a deep love and respect for Judaism, and she is always looking for ways to share that with others."

For Hannah, the award is not just a recognition of her achievements but also an opportunity to inspire others. "I am so honored to be this year's female leader of the year! I don’t live in a large Jewish community, so I have been really lucky to find CTeen when I was in eighth grade!" said Hannah. "CTeen has helped me feel prouder of my Judaism and has allowed me to connect with more Jewish teens across the world! I am so grateful for this opportunity."


Hannah accepts the CTeen International Leader of the Year award and gives a short speech
CTeen, the Chabad Teen Network, engages hundreds of thousands of Jewish teens in young leadership programs through its seven-hundred chapters, in one-hundred countries, on six continents. To find a CTeen location in your neighborhood, visit  https://www.cteen.com/locations

Practicing Tikkun Olam through the Lens of Mental Health by Daniel Tothy

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“I can’t handle it…..I don’t want to be here anymore.” -Hyper Blue Alligator

The above message was not from a video game teammate. It was a message from a teen I had never met. As I sat down in the chair that I do homework in every night, I readied myself for the shift I was about to start. I am a Teen Talk Peer Advisor, helping other teens through some of their most trying times.

The topic of mental health didn’t really hit home until my close friend was bullied so much that he began high school elsewhere. I realized I wanted to help others who were struggling, but I didn’t know where to start. During my freshman year of high school, I participated in L’Taken. I focused my efforts on mental health support within schools. From cyberbullying to depression, loneliness, and anger, I saw how frequently my friends were being affected and suffering.

After my L’Taken trip, I was hooked. I learned that I did not have to be a bystander. I could make a difference. I discovered Teen Talk, an organization that helps struggling teens connect with trained peer advisors in a free, anonymous, safe space. Interested, I applied to and was selected, participating with teens across the country in 40 hours of training in mental health crisis intervention, reflective communication, and self-care skills.

Now as an advisor, I take shifts each month. The platform lets people fully participate in a non-judgmental space. Teens like Blue Alligator reach out for help. I meet them during vulnerable times in their lives and I believe that I make a difference helping to repair one person’s world at a time.

Did you know that half of all mental health conditions start by fourteen years of age, but most cases are undetected and untreated? Teen Talk provides an excellent space for teens to get non-judgmental, anonymous help.

There are many more people to help and even more ways to collaborate with others to make a difference. The program is based in California, but the online platform needs peer advisors from all over the country.

Here is how you can train to be a Teen Advisor:

  • Teens in grades 9-11 can apply to become a volunteer and it is all remote.
  • There is a 40-hour training and commitment of to two shifts per month for one year.
  • Teens are always supervised and supported by professional clinicians while acting as a teen advisor on the app.
 Daniel Tothy


About the Author: Daniel Tothy is a senior at the University of Chicago Lab Schools. For the past two years, he has been a peer advisor for Teen Talk, an online, anonymous platform that supports teens in their moments of need. In his free time, Daniel is the vice president of his school’s Jewish Students Association, a co-founder of the Marine Biology Club, and the captain of his fencing team. He has also been a madrich for four years at Chicago Sinai Congregation. This summer, after ten years as a camper, Daniel is excited to be a counselor at Adirondack Camp in upstate New York where he will teach sailing and fencing.

 


The Power of All Star Abilities by Dex Schwartz

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As a 16-year-old, I’ve come to realize that there are few experiences quite as impactful and rewarding as volunteering. When I heard about the opportunity to partner with teens with disabilities to prioritize health and wellness, I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of. All Star Abilities at the JCC in Northbrook is incredible! The program is wonderful and has provided me with lots of opportunities to make friends with incredible people in an environment that all of us love—the gym. This experience has been invaluable for me in so many ways; not only have I had the chance to help others, but it also has taught me the importance of community service and has given me skills that will last a lifetime.

Partnering with teens with disabilities has allowed me to better understand the value of selfless acts of kindness. Serving without expecting anything in return is incredibly important, and volunteering teaches this lesson in a way no classroom ever could. It has also been eye-opening to witness the struggles that some individuals face on a daily basis due to their disability. It has made me appreciate my own ability while developing empathy towards those who may be different from myself.

Weight Room
Two teens standing in corner at a piece of workout equipment in the Bernard Weinger weight room. On their right is two rows of free weights against a large full wall mirror, to their left against a wall with a window looking out into the parking lot are rows of colorful kettlebell weights. Behind them is a large balance ball and two adjustable benches.

Throughout my time in this program, I have worked with tons of different kids and have made special connections with many of them. In particular, I have loved working with Zach. Zach is a high school senior, and even though I am just a sophomore, we have been working out together for almost two years. I love working out with Zach and helping him reach his full potential in the gym. His favorite thing to do is pullups, and everyone in the program has heard legends of his prowess (30+ in a row). Zach is also an incredible kid outside of All Star Abilities. He loves writing novels and playing basketball for his school. If not for this program, I would never have met Zach or any of the other kids that I am proud to call my friends. For that, I am forever grateful.

 To learn more about JCC's All Star Abilities or to get involved, check out their website here.

Dex Schwartz
Photo of Dex Schwartz sitting on couch and smiling.

About the Author: Dex Schwartz is a Sophomore at New Trier High School where he is a member of the Lacrosse team, DECA, and Tri-ship, a leadership organization engaged in fundraising activities that benefit the New Trier Scholarship Fund, as well as projects that serve the community. When not volunteering with All-Star Abilities or traveling to lacrosse tournaments, he works with kids at High-Five Sports Camp.