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Introducing Sophie DeKoven, a Springboard Peer Ambassador

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

Every summer I return to my second home: Camp Ramah in Wisconsin. At camp, I enjoy playing sports, swimming in the lake, and more than anything, hanging out with my friends. One of the most amazing aspects of camp is the unmatched community. Being a Jewish camp we celebrate Shabbat, but every Thursday evening we begin to welcome in Shabbat in a unique way: through Mishmar. Mishmar is a special time where the three oldest aidot (age groups) gather and sing their hearts out in the darkness of the sifriya (library), lit only by string lights. I remember my very first Mishmar; I was stunned by how powerful singing can be. The songs often start very quiet and peaceful, building up to the loud, table-banging dynamic including everyone’s voices and energy. My first Mishmar I didn’t know many of the words so I hummed along, but I was so moved by the passionate singing; it was such a wow moment. Regardless of how beautiful my singing may (or may not) be, I felt so welcome and comfortable in that space.

Sophie DeKoven 2

As I mentioned, community is so important to me. I go to Jones College Prep, a Chicago Public School, where the Jewish population is not so significant. Something crucial to me was finding a comfortable Jewish community to meet more teens throughout the year while I’m not at camp. I’m thrilled to be a Springboard Peer Ambassador so that I can help other teenagers who are struggling to find their place find a great community they feel comfortable in. Additionally, I’m eager to meet more Jewish teens throughout the Chicago area and connect with them on a deeper level than playing Jewish Geography, no matter how entertaining that may be. I can’t wait to bring new people to amazing events throughout the area, and become a stronger, more confident leader.

The Peer Ambassador values that speak out to me the strongest are definitely leadership and community mindedness. Throughout this year, I truly hope to become a stronger leader, and engage teens in any way I can. I also hope to be inclusive to teens that may not yet feel comfortable going to events on their own. Keeping these values in mind, I will engage many new teens throughout the area and foster a genuine relationship with them.

Sophie DeKoven

About the Author: Sophie is a senior at Jones College Prep where she is the president of Jewish Student Connection. She likes playing lacrosse, flute, and piano in her free time, as well as hanging out with friends, bringing criminal minds, and reading. She regularly volunteers at the Lakeview Pantry and as a math tutor. She enjoys attending BBYO programs and is excited to be a Peer Ambassador to introduce new teens to great Jewish programs around the Chicago area.



Where Are They Now: Featuring Lauren Tapper, Past 18 Under 18 Honoree

(Jewish Journey) Permanent link

It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog post, and I’m so excited to share what I have been up to recently. One of the biggest things in my life right now is NFTY. I am the Communications Vice President of the Chicago Area Region of NFTY (NFTY-CAR). This means I write blogs for the URJ and NFTY websites, post a lot on our Instagram page (@nftycar), and take photos and videos at events. After leaving my old school, NFTY is one of the biggest ways I stay involved with the Jewish Community. It connects me to so many old and new friends from around Chicago. We have two cool opportunities coming up: a virtual Halloween movie night on October 23rd, and va’ads. Va’ads are like smaller committees and are a way to take on some leadership at NFTY and help the board in planning events and programs for events. I’m leading the media va’ad, and if you join you can help me make Instagram graphics, write blogs, and post on Instagram. These are pretty low-commitment, but allow you to actually make an impact in NFTY and get to know some new people. Applications are due on the 23rd, and the link to sign up for our movie night and apply to va’ads are both linked on the linktree in our Instagram bio!

Lauren Tapper photo 2

This coming November I’m invited to speak on a panel at the Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco. I will be talking to the museum’s Teen Art Connect (TAC) Anti-bias Leader’s fellows about my work with Covid-TV, a blog that connects teens from around the world during the Pandemic. This panel is an incredible opportunity, and I’m so excited to connect with the teens in this fellowship and hear about their anti-bias and diversity work within the Jewish community. The goals of Covid-TV--connection, support, understanding--are just as foundational in anti-bias training. There are so many similarities between these fields, and I’m sure we will uncover even more commonalities during the panel.

Lauren Tapper photo 3

Outside of my work within the Jewish community, I’ve been pretty swamped with schoolwork. I know a lot of other people are struggling with managing their workload too, so I’ll say the thing that’s helped me most is finding a balance between school and rest. I’ve found that if I work for too long and don’t pay attention to what I need that I won’t learn as well. It’s just as important to listen to your body and your needs as it is to do your schoolwork. Caring for yourself and your mental health is so important, especially during the school year.

That is all I have for now, but thanks for reading and I hope to see some of you soon at our upcoming NFTY events or in one of the va’ads! 

Lauren Tapper photo

About the Author: Lauren is a Junior at the Lab Schools in Chicago. She is the co-founder and director of Covid-TV, an online platform connecting teens from around the world during the pandemic through emotional and social justice work. She was an 18 Under 18 Honoree in 2021 and a recipient of the Diller TIkkun Olam Awards in 2021. In her free time you can find her watching New Girl, making graphics for the NFTY Instagram page, or drinking an Iced Chai Latte.

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

(Program Experiences) Permanent link
Justin Rubenstein

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

Q: What did you do this summer?

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

Q: Why did you decide to do Chalutzim?

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

Q: What are your favorite moments about this summer?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Justin Rubenstein

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

Meet Madeline Oppenheim: KAM Isaiah Israel's Youth Advisor

(Community Spotlight) Permanent link
Madeline Oppenheim

We are excited to introduce Madeline Oppenheim, KAM Isaiah Israel's youth advisor. Outside of being a youth advisor, Madeline is a graduate student at Illinois Institute of Technology's Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling program, specifically learning to be a mental health counselor, advocate, and researcher for populations with severe mental illness (SMI). Currently, she is interning at the Veterans Affairs as a vocational rehabilitation counselor for veterans with SMI. Previously, she received a masters degree from King's College London in a program called Early Intervention in Psychosis. Madeline grew up in Atlanta, and is very appreciative of how warm and supportive the Chicago Jewish community has been to her. 

In an interview with Madeline, she shared with us what she loves most about working with Jewish teens, her favorite place in Chicago, and her favorite Jewish food.  

  • What do you love most about working with Jewish teens and youth group work in general? Chicago Jewish teens renew a sense of hope for the future for me. I have found that the teens I work with are intrinsically motivated to make the world a better place and to foster community. Aside from this, I enjoy working with Jewish teens because I get an excuse to do art projects and murder mystery nights. Lastly, I enjoy teaching and learning about Judaism with Jewish teens as teaching and learning are my current forms of Jewish worship and practice. 
  • What is your favorite place in Chicago and why? As of right now, Promontory Point is one of my favorite places because you can enjoy and swim in Lake Michigan without too much of a crowd. There are also campfire pits with prime views of the lake and Navy Pier. 
  • What is your favorite Jewish food and why? Hamantaschen, because there's nothing better than cookies with jam. 

You can check out the great stuff that KAM Isaiah Israel's youth group is doing on Instagram @kamii.ty.


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