Springboard Blog

Springboard Blog

Mazel Tov to the 18 Under 18 Honorees!

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18 Under 18 Group edited

Springboard, The Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago (JTAC) and JUF are proud to announce the inaugural cohort of 18 Under 18 winners (listed below). These 18 outstanding teens embody one or more characteristics selected by JTAC: works toward inclusion of Jewish teens of all abilities; prioritizes raising money for tzedakah/charity or volunteering; teach their peers and love Jewish learning; motivate others to be involved in Jewish life; or stand out as a Jewish leader or role model. After going through a rigorous nomination and application process, the winners were selected from among dozens of applicants by a committee of JTAC teens and Jewish professionals.

The 18 teens are active in many organizations, including youth movements, Jewish camps, Jewish engagement programs (Voices, Diller, Seed 613, Research Training Internship, Moving Traditions, JSC, JSU, Or Tzedek, Write On for Israel), congregational religious schools, sports teams, arts programs, student government, and more. They represent 14 high schools in the city and suburbs and 16 congregations, and range in age from 9th-12th grade.

Teens gathered at JUF on the evening of March 7, along with representatives from JTAC, to meet each other, participate in a leadership session led by Kayla Lesch, National President of Young Judaea, take headshots and learn about translating their skills onto resumes.

The 18 honorees will be celebrated at a special community-wide event on April 25 at 7:00 PM at the Starlight Theater in the Wilmette Community Center. The evening will feature a performance by the comedic troupe The Altarboys as well as a dessert reception to honor these incredible teens and their accomplishments.

Information about the 18 Under 18 Celebration will be available at www.juf.org/jtac. Over the next six weeks this blog and the Springboard Chicago Facebook and Instagram pages will highlight each of the honorees. We hope you enjoy getting to know this group online and that you will join us in congratulating them in person on April 25th.

Congratulations to Colman Adams, Rachel Aranyi, Syd Bakal, Maddie Brim, Daphne Budin, Gabriella Cooperman, Ben Gerstein, Joey Greenebaum, Rebecca Greenstein, Quincy Hirt, Kelly Kogen, Emma Milner -Gorvine, Lillie Murphy, Michael Rubin, Spencer Schwartz, Kalman Strauss, Abby Tzinberg, and Chloe Wagner!

Registration for Camp TOV Now Open

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Registration for this summer’s Mini Camp TOV and Camp TOV programs are now open and available here

Mini Camp TOV 2017

Camp TOV is Teens@JUF's day camp “on wheels” where teens use their time and energy to volunteer in a fun, engaging and hands-on way. Campers learn about a variety of issues facing our society with an emphasis on Jewish values and the importance of gemilut chassidim -- acts of loving kindness and tikkun olam -- repairing the world. Each day brings a new hands-on volunteering project for them to participate in with campers earning about 25 volunteer hours in just one week! Program dates are below and additional information for both programs can be found on the TOV Teens webpage.

  • Mini Camp TOV is on Wednesday, June 14th and Thursday, June 15th.
  • Camp TOV session 1 is Monday, July 31st  through Friday, August 4th.
  • Camp TOV session 2 is Monday, August 14th through Friday, August 18th.  

Below, Hallie Shapiro Devir, Associate Vice-President of Community Outreach and Engagement, shares her experience with Camp TOV. 

As a parent, one of the best things you can see is your child doing good and enjoying it. Raising kids who are excited about making the world a better place is all the more important to me as a Jewish Communal Professional whose work is engaging teens in the Jewish community. So it was especially exciting to me to hear a conversation between my oldest and middle children the other day. Eli, a 9th grader in a Chicago Public School, had spent the morning of his “teacher furlough day” volunteering with TOV Teens, and was telling his brother, Noah, a 6th grader, about the experience. He paused and said, “I saw the Camp TOV flyers in mom’s office after we came back downtown. Guess what? You’ll be old enough to go this year!”

Eli is a several-year veteran of Camp TOV and Mini Camp TOV. Although he started because I signed him up, he now asks every year if he’s doing Camp TOV again or if only Mini Camp will fit into his summer schedule. He’s a menschy kid in general who likes volunteering, but what he likes about Camp TOV is getting to work on many different projects while meeting other teens. He enjoys being a part of something bigger, whether its being a piece of an assembly line that labels 1000 bags for The ARK’s High Holiday Food Drive, repackaging two tons of corn at the Northern Illinois Food Bank for distribution to a dozen food pantries, collecting 60 bags of trash off a Chicago beach, or painting an entire fence at a shelter for battered women. He also relishes knocking out a big chunk of his annual required service hours in a few short days. But most important to me is that the experience is one he wants to share, even with his siblings, because at the end of every day, he feels good—about himself, about the power of teens to make a difference, about the possibility of the world being better because of something he did. This summer, I’m excited to hear about my two sons having fun while doing good. I hope your kids will join them!

Springboard Staff Spotlights

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We are so excited about this year’s one-of-a-kind school break programs. Today we are highlighting some of the incredible staff working behind the scenes to make this year’s program a success. Read the staff spotlight’s below and sign up for your own school break adventure today! 

Program: SciLab

Staff Spotlight: Albert Marks

Albert Marks

As the Senior Assistant Director of OSRUI, the reform Jewish summer camp in Oconomwoc, WI, Albert works year round supporting OSRUI. He is responsible for social media, contracts, staff hiring, camper and staff recruitment, and alumni development as well as overseeing the running of the summer camp and over 1000 people on a daily basis.  Growing up, Albert always wanted to work at a place where he could have a significant impact on the lives of others. Being able to be a role model to reform Jewish teens while simultaneously being surrounded with amazing people makes OSRUI the perfect place for Albert. 

Spending time with staff and campers is his favorite part of working at OSRUI, and he can’t wait to hang out with you this Spring Break! Too often in school, we are taught to learn the simplest of objectives, but never explore them, and often those of us who are passionate and curious stand on the sidelines. At SciLab, being an interested and curious scientist is the perfect starting point. You have the chance to use camp to explore sciences such as biology and astronomy, while still getting to do fun camp activities like night hikes and sports. Sign up today, hands on, out of this world activities are waiting for you at SciLab!

Program: Chicago Teens for Change

Staff Spotlight: Orit Sacker

Orit Sacker

Orit was born in Israel, but is in Chicago on Shlichut, through the Jewish Agency for Israel. She is an architect by profession, but has been involved in Young Judaea for many years. She loves the impact that Young Judea has on all who are involved and she is excited to see the impact Chicago Teens for Change is able to create on this committed group of teenagers - both those who are running the peer-led program and those who are participating.

Chicago Teens for Change is designed to leave a lasting impression and have a meaningful impact on those who are looking to spend their spring break giving back to the community, making new friends and connecting with different aspects of the community they live in. Participants will have the opportunity to do lots of social action combined with a healthy dose of fun! In addition to spending time volunteering in different locations, participants will also enjoy group building and leadership development activities. All of this will take place at a summer camp - the location already oozes with fun. Chicago Teens for Change is going to be amazing!   

Program: Breakaway Programs (Tree House Building, Ta’am Ivrit, Studio Chi, Cooking Workshop, and Wilderness Survival)

Staff Spotlight: Kyle Kolling

Kyle Kolling

Kyle Kolling is one of the amazing leaders that will be running the Camp Chi Breakaway Programs. Kyle is so excited to be a part of Springboard School Breaks this year. He works at Camp Chi as a Program Coordinator and Teen Camp Director. He loves theater, soccer, and baseball. However, his favorite thing is going to Camp Chi for Summer Break.

When Kyle first heard the idea of being at camp over spring break last year he was very intrigued. He assisted with the 2016 StudioChi pilot and from that point on knew he wanted to always be a part of Springboard programs. He even took some film classes at the University of Liverpool that he thought might come in handy. This year he thought they should expand the programs at Camp Chi. “The BreakAway programs are five different unique programs, each led by professionals in their field. Knowing how much everyone learned and had a blast last year, I cannot wait to see how incredible of an experience these five programs turn out to be. From StudioChi, Wilderness Survival, Tree House Building, Cooking Workshop, and Ta’am Ivrit, each of these five programs will be a blast!” says Kyle.

Program: Farm to Table: Chef’s Immersion

Staff Spotlight: Trisha Margulies

Trisha Margulies

Farm to Table: Chef’s Immersion is an awesome program that will take place at Pushing the Envelope Farm. Trisha and her husband, Rabbi Fred, started Pushing the Envelope Farm 8 years ago because of how much they believed in Jewish Environmental Education. Trisha has lived all around the country and eventually settled back in Chicago to open this farm up. Trisha loves make an impact on other people. She says, “I think it's always exciting to work young people because they ‘push the envelope.’ Young people want to be challenged and I think they want to change peoples’ lives.” 

As somebody who very much cares about our environment and Judaism, she was able to create Farm to Table: Chef’s Immersion, a program that does both. Participants will learn about cooking and have a true farm to table experience. The participants will be making enough food to eat, as well as give back to those in need. There are so many different types of food in different cultures that people often don't know about it, and on this program, participants will get to taste some of those new foods and create some of their own new memories.

Program: School of Rock

Staff Spotlight: Russell Wiener

Russell Wiener

Russell Wiener, is a musician, producer, and engineer in Los Angeles, California. He also is one of the staff members for School of Rock, taking place at Beber Camp. He has been involved in music at camp for 15 years, ever since the Executive Director, Stefan Teodosic, asked Russell if he would put together a music program.

At School of Rock teens will be able to play, collaborate, learn songs, play together, write music, perform, find a new passion, and make friends. No skill level or instruments are required! According to Russell, he got involved in School of Rock because, “It gives me a chance to build on the music programs we have!” He is excited to watch the program grow and create meaningful experiences for Jewish teens in the area. 

Program: Big Apple Adventure

Staff Spotlight: Levi Zeffren

Levi Zeffren

Levi Zeffren is the City Director of Chicagoland NCSY. NCSY has spent months putting together an incredible experience full of fun and adventure. They could not be more excited to meet everyone signed up and spend 5 days together in NY!

Support Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation this Sunday (February 5)

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 by Quincy Hirt, a senior at Whitney M. Young

Voices Craft Fair

My experience as a part of the Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation through the Chicago Federation has been amazing one.  Voices is a teen philanthropy foundation, and was started by the Jewish Federation of Chicago in 2005. Each year, a group of around 20 Jewish high school students are selected to participate in the VOICES 101 program. The group learns the ins and outs of professional philanthropy and grant making and gets to allocate at least $25,000 to affect real change in areas they care most about both locally and in Israel.

Participants like me who are interested in staying involved after the initial one-year 101 program can join the VOICES alumni program. The alumni board has a similar format but relies on the teens to do their own fundraising to support the causes they are passionate about. As part of the Alumni Foundation we all contribute financially, fundraise, and commit time and energy to research, writing of RFPS and selection of grants.  Last year, our alumni group was able to raise over $40,000, leveraging a matching gift, which we allocated to 6 organizations in areas such as basic needs, aid to Israel, and medical research. This year our goal is to once again raise and award $40,000 in grants to benefit Jewish charities in both Chicago and Israel.   

On Sunday, February 5th, Voices will be hosting a Crafts Fair from 8:30-12:30 at Anshe Emet. The crafts fair will feature 18 crafters selling their wares including handmade jewelry and clothes, photography, candles, children’s books and toys, natural skincare products and more as well as activities for kids. There is a $5 suggested admission fee which will be donated to Voices: The Chicago Jewish Teen Foundation.

Recent research has concluded that hands on philanthropy is what matters to our generation. We want to be directly engaged. We want to see the impact of our dollars. We don’t want to just write a check.  Our philanthropy will not be the same as that of our grandparents or our parents. Knowing this, it is incumbent upon all of us…Jewish communal professionals, lay leaders, and teen leaders, to create, market, and lead programs that reflect this desire. Voices engages and empowers teens. We hope you will join us on Sunday! 

Or Tzedek is for You: Reflections on Or Tzedek 2016

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By Abby Tzinberg 

Or Tzedek 2017

Or Tzedek: Jewish Teen Institute for Social Justice is a unique, Chicago-based program that provides opportunities for teens from across the country to learn about and take action on current social justice campaigns. Or Tzedek gives teens a Jewish framework to explore their social justice identities and gives them the tools and inspiration to build a better world.

As someone who has had her fair share of experiences with programs targeted at Jewish teens I can confidently say that Or Tzedek was one of the most meaningful experiences that I’ve ever had--Jewish or not. Or Tzedek is unique in that it combines politics, identity, activism, independence, community organizing, urban exploration, group living and Judaism all in one. It is open to all Jewish denominations and attracts a wide variety of Jewish experiences. This gives an added layer of sophistication and wisdom to all program activities and conversations.

The itinerary for Or Tzedek caters to all interests - whether your thing is direct service or community organizing, Or Tzedek has it all. This past summer we did a ton: registering people to vote, handing out lunches to those in need, tours through the city, workshops on identity and privilege, picnicking in Millennium Park.

Another really fantastic thing about Or Tzedek is the Kehillah, or community. You really get a chance to get to know everyone, and the program is designed to build one community, not split off into small groups. Even if you don’t know anyone going in everyone is extremely welcoming. If I had to choose one thing that I took away from Or Tzedek it would be the people.

The staff are some of the loveliest people you will ever meet. They have so much love, empathy, grit and integrity, and it shows. The group of teens that Or Tzedek attracts cannot be replicated anywhere else. Every single person has a shared goal: to be kind, smart and respectful. I challenge you to find a group of people anywhere else that can provide the same support and kindness that the people in Or Tzedek have.

So to anyone considering signing up for Or Tzedek: Do it. Whether you’re a seasoned social justice warrior or just getting started Or Tzedek is for you. No matter how prevalent your Jewish identity is in your life, Or Tzedek is for you. If you’re looking for an awesome group of people Or Tzedek is for you. If you love the city and urban living Or Tzedek is for you. If you just want something productive to do with your summer Or Tzedek is for you.

Curious if Or Tzedek is right for your summer 2017? Check out the website to learn more and book your spot today! 

Moving Beyond Square One with M²: The Institute for Experiential Jewish Education

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Beyond Square One

This year Springboard partnered with M²: The Institute for Experiential Jewish Education to create a Chicago based intensive and immersive professional development program that promotes and develops local experiential Jewish educators. The Chicago cohort consists of three seminars that blend intensive theory with immediate practical application. Tamara Stein, Springboard Teen Engagement Specialist, reflects on the first two workshops.

About 5 months ago I found myself with a title that I had never held before: Jewish educator. As a Teen Engagement Specialist I would be serving in a formal Jewish youth educator role for the first time, after spending my whole life looking up people who played that role for me. I was passionate about teaching Jewish values, and providing memorable and worthwhile experiences, and was eager to gain new tools to support my transition into this role.  

M2 has given me the vocabulary, the methodology, and the confidence to be a more articulate and knowledgeable Jewish educator. I have learned how to infuse Jewish content in a way that is enjoyable and truly valued by the groups that I work with. I have learned that when planning programs, whether it be a Shabbat experience or a Tikkun Olam project, we must be intentional about our typology of activities in order to motivate participants to join in. I have also learned that Jewish values are the starting point by which we as experiential Jewish educators should teach, not something to meander back to at the very end of a program.  By naming, and then exploring, the challenges that Jewish educators face in their everyday work, and then offering resources and solutions, M2 has opened my eyes to how stimulating education can be if you are able to infuse experiences with intention, Machshava, and action, Ma’aseh.

On a personal note, M2 has enabled me to learn alongside, and befriend, 12 intelligent, like-minded, passionate, Jewish educators. Through my participation I have developed a collaborative network of youth professionals from different organizations with whom I can call on to troubleshoot problems, discuss new ideas and work together with on community events. 

Jewish youth professionals, educators, volunteers and layleaders are encouraged to check out the Professionals tab to learn more about upcoming opportunities for professional development, and networking through Springboard.  


18 Under 18: A Celebration of Jewish Teens

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by Brittany Abramowicz

Eighteen under 18

The best part of my job working as a Teen Engagement Specialist with Springboard is getting to visit different area youth groups and programs and meeting amazing teens. Most weekends, I attend activities organized by teen leaders who are dedicated to Jewish community, helping those in need, and making Jewish involvement accessible to everyone. This is why it gives me so much joy to be working on 18 Under 18: A Celebration of Jewish Teens. This distinction recognizes teens from different corners of the Chicago-area with diverse Jewish backgrounds, practices, and interests. I look forward to the program on April 25th when we will come together as a community to celebrate 18 special teens and inspire one another. 

The nomination process began last month. As this is a brand new program, I really had no idea what to expect. Teachers have been nominating their students, teens have been nominating friends and organizational leaders, youth directors have been nominating program participants, and many other people have submitted the names of teens they believe are deserving of this honor.  I have been struck by how impressive the applications that we have received are.  While these teens are all very different there are some important commonalities: they all have a strong sense of self, they understand and utilize their strengths and look at their weaknesses as opportunities, they don’t settle and they rally their peers and adults to work with them and see different perspectives.  We are truly lucky to have all of the nominees in our community.

Nominations are being accepted through Friday, January 27th. At that point, JTAC (Jewish Teen Alliance of Chicago), an advisory board made up of representatives from many area youth groups, will review and select the 18 honorees. 18 teens will be honored at the first ever 18 Under 18 community-wide celebration event on April 25. Check back here to learn about the incredible teens once they are selected and for more information on attending what we believe will be an amazing event.

If you’d like to nominate a teen, you can find the forms and more information on the JTAC page


New Years is not only a time for celebration, but also a time to try something new. Join us on an exciting Springboard School Break in 2017. Happy New Year!


Looking for a fun way to spend your spring break? Join Springboard!