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COMMUNITY

Three Questions for Kelly Cohen

By COMMUNITY, JumpSpark

Q:  How did your background as a Judaic Studies teacher prepare you to lead JumpSpark?

Kelly: One of the most amazing parts of being the Director of JumpSpark is being able to grow with the teens and families of teens in our community. I spent my first six years in Atlanta working at The Davis Academy, and now so many of the kids I taught in elementary school are the teens JumpSpark serves. My work as a Jewish educator has taught me that there are a million ways to connect to Judaism and Jewish tradition, and that my role is to be a guide on that journey of connection. To be a part of a teen’s or a family’s Jewish journey for almost a decade is one of the true pleasures of my work and I am so happy I get to do it now with JumpSpark.

Q: What do you mean when you say, “JumpSpark creates more defining moments for Jewish teens?”

Kelly: The teenage years are crucial in terms of identity exploration and growth. I was a very active NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) member when I was a teen and even spent the first semester of my senior year of high school studying abroad in Israel. Those were defining Jewish moments for me that set me on the path to be a Jewish educator and a committed member of the Jewish community. JumpSpark wants to help teens to have their own defining Jewish moments that hopefully connect them to the Jewish community. We know that a one-size-fits-all model isn’t going to work for all teens, so JumpSpark is working to build and fund new ways to create those moments for teens today.

Q: What can we expect from JumpSpark in the 2019-20 school year?

Kelly: We have so much planned for next school year.  For teens we will be launching a new cohort of our Strong Women Fellowship and a new Teen Israel Taskforce. JumpSpark also just made a $260,000 investment in expanding and enriching the teen landscape, so keep your eyes open for new teen opportunities all around the city. Speaking of being all around the city, we are expanding our Navigating Parenthood series to three locations: Intown, Sandy Springs and Alpharetta, so more parents can gain the network, resources, and skills to parent teens today. Finally, we are expanding JumpSpark Professional and offering more high-level training and networking for the Jewish professionals in our community who work with teens. JumpSpark gained a lot of momentum this year and we are ready to take it to the next level in the coming school year.

How Friendship Circle Inspired Me

By CARING, COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance, Jewish Camp Initiative, JEWISH JOURNEYS, People in Need

By Daniel Stern

I was still a freshman at The Weber School when my older sisters suggested it was time I took part in Tikkun Olam(repairing the world.) It was at this point that I decided to volunteer with Friendship Circle’s “Buddies at Home” program. I signed up and became a buddy to a young adult with special needs named Mike. Mike and I met nearly weekly, as our schedules permitted, and we had so much fun hanging out, playing sports together, going to the dog park, having lunch, and things like that. It was a great relationship.

By the time I was a sophomore, I began to think about creating a one-week summer day camp for people with disabilities modeled on Friendship Circle, where every camper has a “buddy.” I was really pumped to do it, but I did not have a plan set in stone. My Mom said, ‘Go for it, but, remember, this is your project, not mine.’ I went to the Sandy Springs Tennis Center and asked them if they’d donate a couple of tennis courts, and they said, OK. I was excited to launch what I was then calling “Serve it Up” Summer Camp, but pretty soon it dawned on me that I needed a little backup. I wanted it to be a free camp to encourage all who wanted to participate to attend. I knew I needed to raise money and I knew I needed my friends to help pull this off. I launched a Go-Fund-Me campaign online that raised over $1,000 for us to get started.

I worked with Rickelle New, the Director of Friendship Circle, and I created the tennis program and she created the arts and crafts program. We developed a flyer and reached out to all of the families that had participated in Friendship Circle activities. Recruiting my friends to become buddies for our campers was the next challenge, but eventually more than 20 of my friends signed up to volunteer. It was a great success to be outside playing tennis with our special friends. So, the following summer, I was excited to create another camp. We decided to move the camp indoors to the gym at Atlanta Jewish Academy, so those who did not want to be outside all day could also participate. That summer, we played many sports in addition to tennis and still included arts and crafts. Many of our campers with special needs even had two buddies! I learned that many people with disabilities have other health issues. They can’t take the heat and need the comfort of air conditioning.

I really thought I was doing this for kids with special needs. But, when the parents of these kids came up to me and told me how much they valued the camp, it felt so good. I realized that not only did the kids benefit, but their entire families benefited from what we had created. So did my volunteers. Now, as a freshman at Vanderbilt University, with the benefit of hindsight and a little maturity, I can see I was also doing it because of the values I learned in my family, at school, and through Friendship Circle. When you help others and build real relationships, you are doing the work of tikkun olam.

Keeping Judaism Alive in Our Little Family

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, PJ LIbrary

By the time my twins Megan and Brett were 14 months old, my marriage to their father was over. Their Dad isn’t Jewish, and after the divorce he was pretty detached from the kids. Suddenly, I was their everything. I realized it was up to me to keep Judaism alive in my little family.

Even before my divorce, I signed the twins up for PJ Library, and took them to Tot Shabbat at Kol Emeth. Later on I started looking into Big Brother programs for my son. You had to be at poverty level to qualify for these mentoring programs – but luckily, not for PAL, Atlanta’s only Jewish Big Brother/Big Sister program.

Amazing things happened the minute I met the PAL Program Manager, Carly Sonenshine, at JF&CS. She encouraged me to put both kids in the program and then matched us with our Big PALS — Bennett Ginburg for Brett, and Marni Bronstein for Megan. They take the kids to events, out for ice cream, and just have fun with them. To say my twins have bonded with them is an understatement.

A Big PAL fills in huge gaps for a single parent. They are friends in a way a parent can never be. Brett has ADHD and dyslexia and Bennett really understands it. Megan was nervous about going to Camp Coleman next summer, and Marni handled her anxiety beautifully.

Megan and Brett’s PALS give them one-on-one time I can never provide enough of. After three years with Bennett and Marni, they’ve found friends, role models and Jewish mentors for life.

If you think your family would benefit from the PAL program, learn more here.

By: Karen Bowen

Federation is proud to support the JF&CS PAL Program, which provides one-on-one mentoring relationships for children with trusted adults.

Empowering Girls Through STEM

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, JumpSpark

Despite the strides made in gender equality, it’s dispiriting to see how many young girls still avoid math and science classes. By the time these girls get to high school, their lack of exposure to STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) can foreclose exciting educational and career opportunities. Today, women make up nearly half of the working population, but only 26% work in STEM fields. That’s why Atlanta Jewish Academy (AJA), in partnership with JumpSpark, and with grant support from Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta (JWFA), created the Young Women in STEM Career Fair, held March 17 at AJA. The goal was to open doors for 8th-12th grade girls through mini-classes and face-to-face networking opportunities in STEM subjects.

“Female role models are so important,” said Rivka Monheit, an AJA parent who chaired the Program Committee. She’s just one of the parents who reached deep into her Rolodex to find professional women to would share their passion for science and math with young high school women and become potential mentors. Monheit is a patent attorney who advises chemical firms and puts her science background to work every day. She is passionate about exposing girls to STEM early, so that if they do pursue science careers, they don’t fall into the so-called leaky pipeline. “There’s a 50% drop out rate of women leaving science careers or simply not advancing,” Monheit says. “We want to help girls get the right training and plot their course.”

The STEM Career Fair definitely lit a spark with AJA students. “The Young Women in STEM event was extremely empowering! I’ve always wanted to be a doctor, but I never knew I wanted to be a doctor. This event gave me the courage and empowerment to keep going on and live up to my dreams with the strength of being a woman,” said Tali Feen, an AJA Upper School Student.

The mentors were similarly enthusiastic. Dr. Amanda Cooper Cohn, a Senior Advisor for Vaccines at CDC said, “I loved being at the Young Women in STEM Career fair both as a mother with my two teenage daughters and as a mentor.  Seeing the girls engaged with a variety of STEM professionals made me realize the world of opportunity is so much bigger for these girls than it was for me, which is exciting but also underscores the importance of mentoring girls through the process of entering STEM professions.  All the girls were curious, engaged, and interested in careers where they can make an impact. I also loved sharing my own path as well as hearing about the paths of the other amazing STEM volunteers at the fair.”

The STEM Fair was also the kick-off of a mentoring program for girls that will launch next school year. JumpSpark is the lead partner on this aspect of the initiative and is accepting applications that will match girls with STEM mentors. Find out more and apply here. Girls from any school are invited to apply. Applications are open now through April 17. Mentees will be notified June 2019.

Being a Self-Advoate for Autism

By COMMUNITY, Jewish Abilities Alliance

Eren Niederhoffer is an Atlanta young professional with skills in business administration and non-software analytics. He is also a self-advocate for people with autism and is leading and growing an organization called Autistic Self Advocacy Atlanta (ASAA) which offers social experiences for people on the spectrum. Eren’s activism includes intentionally calling himself “autistic,” rather than “a person with autism.” Below he shares why he chooses using this language, instead of people-first language.

Have you noticed that a lot of people say they’re Jewish when it comes to politics, but won’t go into detail about how they practice Judaism? They simply say they come from a Jewish family and seem unwilling to express pride in their roots or their culture.

I see it as fear. That’s why when a person says, “I’m autistic,” it feels to me like instead of running from who they are, or dismissing that part of who they are, they’re acknowledging that it is part of them. They’re acknowledging the need to accept and live with the autistic part of them rather casting it aside. Just as Judaism is a part of who I am, when I say, “I am autistic,” I am saying, “this is who I am.”

Right now, my organization Autistic Self Advocacy Atlanta (ASAA) is providing lunch and dinner socials so that many autistics can meet and make friends. I am mentoring other autistics to become event hosts and leaders and also trying to help them realize they don’t have to hide who they are. Autistics can be open about themselves and to others around them. We should not hide that we are Jews either. Why would we be ashamed of being Jewish? Should some of us be shamed for being autistic? The logic is the same! This is why building an autistic community can give us that sense of confirmation to be true to ourselves.

Learn more about ASAA, self-advocacy, and MENTRA.

Finally Doing “Mommy” Things

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, PJ LIbrary

Discovering A Jewish Life in Atlanta
by Rachel Sigman

Living in the south and being Jewish can make one feel a bit disconnected at times. I live in the diaspora of Woodstock, and if you are Jewish up here, you won’t have everyone you meet inviting you over for Shabbat dinner.  That’s what I was able to expect in Miami and in New York, but here, not so much. Here, I am lucky if I can find Hanukkah candles when Hanukkah rolls around. Here, there is no synagogue nearby.

So it’s a miracle that adopting our son Jack was the best Jewish thing that my husband, Darryl and I have ever done.  He is a perfect little baby boy and has brought us immeasurable joy already.  Jack will turn one in March and watching him grow and achieve milestones brings our little family so much nachas (joy). As an older mother, it has also been a small miracle to finally meet other Jewish moms and build a Jewish life with this beautiful boy. PJ Library helped make that happen. I knew very little about PJ Library until a friend of mine signed me up for free Jewish books, just after we were matched with a birthmother. PJ Library brings Jewish families together and gives our kids a sense of Jewish community. Now I know I don’t have to move back to New York or Boca Raton. I can live in Woodstock and still be part of a large Jewish network.

I met my husband Darryl on JDate. He was also from New York and our families lived less than an hour away from each other in Florida. Darryl was raised in a Conservative family. I had gone to Hebrew school, had been to Israel, and even attended a seminary in Crown Heights. Darryl was working in the corporate office in Home Depot for 15 years already when we met. I was an elementary school teacher. Neither of us were practicing much at the time, but we both identified as Jewish.  We fell in love and got married.  It was bashert (pre-ordained).

Like many older couples, shortly after we married we discovered that we had some fertility issues.  We considered in vitro fertilization, but failed attempts at pregnancy and heartbreak sounded so bleary to me. Darryl’s father Fred suggested adoption to me many years ago. I loved that idea but did not yet have the gumption to make it happen.  Shortly after Fred’s death I turned 42 and realized that if I didn’t have a baby soon, it would never happen. I decided to commit every fiber of my being into becoming a mom. I pushed Darryl to go through the adoption process with me, knowing that he would one day thank me (he did).  In less than a year, we became mom and dad.

Our first PJ Library book came shortly after Jack was born.  A woman who used to volunteer in my classroom through Federation brought me a slew of books from PJ library for Jack.  I knew I wanted to raise my son as a Jew and made sure to give him a kosher bris so that when the time came, his conversion into the fold would be joyous and painless.  I had stopped doing Jewish things before Jack was born, but now I was eager to do mommy things.  When Hanukkah rolled around, I began looking at Facebook events and saw a familiar name: PJ Library!  PJ Library North Fulton was hosting a small Hanukkah party. Darryl and I took little Jack and it was there that I met Abby Adler and Leah Stinson, who are PJ Library Connectors.

Leah and I met for coffee.  She told me more about the wonderful programs that PJ Library does for young children, even children Jack’s age. I joined the Facebook page for PJ Library North Fulton and since then have taken little Jack to many Jewish events. Babies and toddlers play side by side at these events while parents schmooze and get to know one another.  Sometimes we meet at a preschool where children get to play in all the classrooms.  Sometimes there is an event where a craft is involved or where doing mitzvot is encouraged.  I met several moms who have children Jack’s age who are committed to raising their children in a Jewish home. Some moms have held playdates in their homes.  I am meeting some very nice people and hope to establish and maintain friendships for our little family.

Who could have guessed that a little baby, born in Arkansas, would be the spark that connected me to my Jewish roots. I know that adopting a baby from a non-Jewish birthmother means that it is up to the adoptive family to decide if they want to raise their child in a Jewish home. For me, there is no doubt that I want Jack to live a Jewish life. Finally, I feel that I can. I wish you could see how Jack’s face lights up and how he claps his little hands to his favorite song, Hava Nagila. To me it’s proof that he already has a Jewish soul.

What Teens Say About the Strong Women Fellowship

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, JumpSpark

JumpSpark’s Strong Women Fellowship Expanding to Serve More Teens

Applications are now open for the second cohort of the Strong Women Fellowship. With the success of last year’s launch, and the support of Federation, JumpSpark is excited to expand the program to include peer leadership opportunities, community groups for ongoing connection and interaction based on geographic location.  Each month teens in the Strong Women Fellowship meet speakers, visit organizations and engage in relevant learning that speaks to what it means to be a woman in our times. Year two will feature an all-new, incredible slate of speakers including, Lindy Miller a former candidate for GA Public Service Commission, Whitney Fisch of Jewhungry the blog, Dr. Tarece JohnsonSOJOURN, and more. The program targets teens in grades 9-12. 

Here’s what participants say about the program: 

“My expectation of the Strong Women’s Fellowship cohort was totally different from the experience I actually had. Much to my surprise, and delight, there were no parasha readings or lessons on the history of Israel. Instead, I met so many accomplished, empowered, women at every meeting, I was inspired by their unique stories and enjoyed the discussions we had…but most of all I enjoyed having the opportunity to make friends with other Jewish girls. I’ve met so many amazing people from all over the city that I would have never met otherwise.”  – Ariel Raggs 

“The fellowship provided the opportunity to speak with other women across a range of ages, and through these discussions I grew as a woman and become a stronger and prouder Jewish woman, too. Women across the globe have been using their voices to advocate for what they believe in, and through this fellowship, I too, have been given tools to do the same in my Jewish community and hopefully across the world.” – Tamar Guggenhei

“[The Strong Women Fellowship] ended up being a place I could safely share my ideas and opinions with other girls who would listen. I didn’t think this group would affect my life very much, but it’s left me with new ideas and new friends. It gave me a whole new perspective on the world and other girls; it was so much more than I expected, and I’m grateful for all the experiences.” – Maya Laufer 

Learn more here. Applications are open to all Jewish teens in grades 9-12 from the Atlanta metro area. Reach out to Laura Gronek with any questions.

Books to Feed the Russian Soul

By COMMUNITY, JEWISH JOURNEYS, PJ LIbrary

Meet Our Russian PJ Library Connectors

Meet Masha Vaynman and Lana Severinsky, two Russian-speaking Jewish moms who are PJ Library’s newest Connectors. Both are long-time PJ Library subscribers who love how free monthly books bring Jewish traditions into their homes. Now, thanks to a grant from the Genesis Philanthropy Group, a foundation focused on developing Jewish identity among Russian-speaking Jews, they’re using PJ Library as a platform to build and engage Atlanta’s Russian-Jewish community.

Masha and Lana estimate that there are as many as 26 thousand Russians in metro Atlanta and that around 50% of them claim some Jewish heritage. Many are married to non-Jews and know very little about Judaism, but are eager to learn by reading Jewish-themed books with their children. These parents also wish to keep the Russian language alive in their homes. PJ Library books in Russian and in English are great vehicles for both.

“Books are so important to the Russian soul and psyche,” Lana explains. “You simply cannot find a Russian-Jewish family without books.” “So many Russian Jews were intellectuals in Russian society. They actually took their books along when they left,” Masha adds.

Nathan Brodsky, Federation’s Family Impact Manager, has watched the PJ Library program grow in Atlanta and sees a great opportunity in the Russian-speaking community. “PJ Library is built on supporting families’ abilities to form strong connections with other families. We offer over 200 opportunities for families to connect in-person each year, often bound by geography or age-range, and we are eager to expand to now support the Russian-speaking community.”

JumpSpark Professional Builds Careers

By COMMUNITY, JumpSpark

JumpSpark, Atlanta’s initiative for teen engagement, isn’t just for teens and parents of teens; it’s also for the professionals who work with them. JumpSpark Professional is a complementary initiative that’s building an infrastructure for Atlanta’s network of teen educators and engagement professionals. “We want them to be equipped to do great work, feel great about their jobs and build solid career paths. Our monthly events give professionals an opportunity to learn from experts. We are offering grants for Atlanta professionals to attend the Pardes Beit Midrash B’Darom, Feb. 15-18, and there’s an April workshop on Jewish Multiculturalism with Dr. Tarece Johnson of Global Purpose Approach,” Director Kelly Cohen said. 

Adam Griff, Director of NFTY-Southern Regional Area and Camp Coleman Machon Director, said, “JumpSpark is doing a phenomenal job of providing youth professionals with access to a really diverse set of opportunities. For me, the social media workshop last year provided some very tangible and useful tools and skills. The trip to Israel last year also gave me both an inspiring experience as well as some great new program ideas.” 

Ezra Flom, who runs the Shinshinim program in Atlanta, and manages the activities of eight post-high school Israeli teens, has already benefitted from JumpSpark Professional. “Thanks to JumpSpark Professional I was able to participate in the Teen Educators’ Innovation Conference in Israel. I brought back an array of tools and connections that helped me in my previous job, directing youth and family programs at Temple Kol Emeth, and now with the Shinshinim. Because of connections I made and strengthened, Shinshinim Altanta nearly doubled in its second year”