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An Interview With Avi Kaplan, One of the Country's Best Chess Players

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

Springboard loves featuring inspiring teens in the Chicagoland community. We had the honor of chatting with Avi Kaplan, a freshman at Lane Tech, and one of the best chess players in the country for his age group. Avi recently placed second at a national youth chess tournament and is closing in on a 2,200 master score. He is also a chess instructor who began tutoring younger kids when he was in 7th grade with a roster of 5 students. Avi is the highest US Chess Federation rated chess player in the Chicago Public School system. 

If you also play chess and are intersted in connecting with other Jewish chess players, email Springboard@juf.org. 

9th grade chess win

9th grade chess win

Springboard: How did you get started playing? Why were you interested in chess?

Avi: I started chess back in first grade as I attended a Chicago Public School, Decatur Classical, in West Ridge and joined the chess club. I started in one of the lower groups and the chess teacher would set up puzzles. When I solved one, that’s when chess first clicked. 

I didn’t really like games with luck too much. I kind of preferred games with more skill involved. And I thought chess was the perfect game as it’s just you, versus the opponent. The better player most of the time is going to win the game. 

So as I started advancing in the clubs, I wanted to keep on improving. Then I moved to tournament level and obviously I didn’t start by playing national tournaments. I started with some Chicago Public Schools tournaments at my grade level. And I started to win pretty much every time I played. So then I started going into the advanced sections and I didn’t win every time. Some of the people I played were better and had more experience. I reviewed the games by myself and started testing out my own strategies. Since I got more interested in chess, I wanted advice from people with more experience so I started attending some chess clubs around Chicago.

Doing chess clubs and camps  gave me the needed experience to push forward. Then I learned to play online chess to get even more experience and could practice chess in the leisure of my own house. This meant I had more practice than ever for the competition days and since I got so much practice in, I started playing kids twice my age and then adults.

I’ve won a lot of tournaments. One important thing is not to let the losses get to you. Even as a chess champion you’re not going to win all the games you played. What’s important is that you bounce back after a tough loss. 

Avi with trophies

Avi with trophies

Springboard: How has chess influenced other parts of your life?

Avi: My memory and creativity come into play at school. Memory is obviously important for learning geographical locations mathematical formulas, remembering specific facts. My creativity is important as it can help me approach problems differently than other people do.

Chess has influenced my memory and my overall creativity and also my determination. It’s also made me a more courageous individual. 

Springboard: Has chess impacted your Jewish journey in any way?

Avi: Yes, preparing for my bar mitzvah --since my memorization foundation was substantial – I had a really easy time remembering my Parsha as well as memorizing other prayers and my speech. So instead of worrying about that, I could enjoy the process of studying and learning. I did miss a lot of Hebrew school because of chess, but Rabbi Dovid Kotlarsky at Chabad Lakeview taught me one-on-one all summer before my bar mitzvah so it was really great.

Avi at K-8 Championships

2014 CPS K-8 Championship

Springboard: Which Jewish values influence how you think about chess?

Avi: In Judaism you have to have a positive attitude and Jewish people throughout history have overcome a lot. In my chess career, I’ve had some unfavorable moments, but my overall positive attitude derived from Judaism helps me stay strong.

Something that influences my approach to chess is treat others how you want to be treated when it comes to being a good sport. Win, lose or draw, you always have to be respectful toward your opponent.

Springboard: What is it like being in high school and being a top tier chess player?

Avi: Being in elementary school and playing chess was easy to get through because there wasn’t that much homework. High school is a more difficult to manage as I have several hours of homework daily along with doing a couple hours of chess each day. So I try to get as much homework done during schools as I can.

Avi with mayor

Avi with the Mayor

Springboard: Do you have any influential chess players that you look up to?

Avi: Some of the best chess players I enjoy watching are Magnus Carlsen. I love reviewing some of Anatoly Karpov’s past games because he had a perfectionist mindset and the way he played and outmaneuvered his opponents was astonishing.  I’ve also had to the opportunity to train under some famous Jewish chess grandmasters including World Chess Champion Grandmaster Maxim Dlugy who run a chess school on the Upper West Side of Manhattan and I trained for two years during middle school with Soviet-born Boris Avrukh, an Israeli chess grandmaster and permanent member of the Israeli National Chess Team who lives and teaches in the Chicago area. 

Springboard: What is your favorite chess move and opening?

Avi: I enjoy playing tactical and aggressive positions because it fits my fighting spirit. I try to alter my openings to get into favorable positions. 

Springboard: Our work at Springboard is all about elevating teen voices. Is there a message you would like to share with other teens your age?

Avi: In chess and in other aspects of life, try not to let your losses define you. And when you’re winning, don’t get overconfident. Just keep having fun and the moments will come.

At the end of the day if you have a strong passion for something, opportunities will come. Your moment will come. 

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

(Community Spotlight) Permanent link

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

Cradles and Crayons

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

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

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

Tikkun Chicago 2022


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

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

Springboard saff love to hear stories about how teens in the community are connecting with their Jewish identities, educating others about the Jewish community and grappling with the complexities of being Jewish today. A few weeks ago Hailey shared her PSA (Public Service Announcement) school  assignment with us on Instagram. She chose to create a PSA about overcoming antisemitism. We asked her if she’d like to share her message with more people and reflect on the experience of creating this project on our blog. 

Stop Antisemitism

What is your topic? I'm excited to be talking about subject that are very important to me, Judaism and that antisemitism is still a problem today. I see antisemitism as a a certain view that people have on Jews. And people show a certain perception of hate towards Jewish people that is directed to Jewish community institutions and religious organizations.

Star

I chose to draw the Star Of David on top and wrote “this is our star” and on the bottom I drew the star that was used to mark Jews with during the holocaust, to separate them from other people. And I wrote “not this!”

Why did you choose this subject? I feel more drawn to this topic as I get older and am seeing antisemitism happen more now. I feel like I needed to speak out and share about this because I feel like people should be more educated on it and I am the only Jewish student in my school. 

I don’t want Jewish people to be only known for being in concentration camps and being hated by Hitler. I want Jewish people to be known for all the traditions and holidays that we celebrate, and all the positive things that we would love to share without getting bashed or hated on for it.

What do you hope other teens learn from your PSA? Antisemitism shouldn’t be happening. It isn’t cool to hate on someone for what they are a part of and what they love. It is frustrating that sometimes famous people make antisemitic comments. I think that everyone should keep the golden rule in mind: “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say it at all.”

My hope is that everyone finds a place that you are safe and comfortable in with your religious beliefs. I feel safe at my synagogue, Congregation Etz Chaim, and at my Jewish summer camp, OSRUI. They make me feel safe because I can be open about my religion and beliefs with other people that agree with me and make me feel comfortable and loved. Everyone should be able to feel that way.

Hailey

About the Author: Hailey is an 8th grader. She participates in builders club, teen advisory board, and JYG. This year, Hailey plans to raise awareness about ALS by speaking about it and fundraising. Hailey’s favorite place is OSRUI, her summer camp, and reading books and being with the people she loves makes her happy.

My Jewish Identity: Introducing Simone Redensky, A Springboard Peer Ambassador

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About the prompt: We asked each Peer Ambassador to share with us a pivotal moment in their Jewish journey, what being a Peer Ambassador means to them personally, and what value speaks to them. Stay tuned over the next few months to hear from all of the Peer Ambassadors.

Check out Simone's blog post below as she shares how JCC Camp Chi shaped her Jewish journey. 

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

Simone on PNW

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

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

Simone Redensky

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

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