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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.


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