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Confessions Of a Jewish Gap Year Mom


By Robin Rosen
My son Jack was just beginning to find his way socially when COVID hit in March of 2020. He is a fairly reserved kid with a late birthday, so he came to being social later than his peers. Camp had always been where he felt most comfortable socially, but COVID upended everything. It cancelled soccer, the prom, and his summer plan after Junior year to go on the Ramah Israel Seminar.

Just as Jack was applying to colleges online I heard about the JumpSpark gap year scholarship opportunity. I wanted to find a gap year program that was the right fit for him — religious but not too religious, a program where he could learn to make decisions for himself but with supervision. Social, but not a party program, with plenty of travel and experiences with Israeli kids. I wanted him to experience Israel, grow as a young adult, and come back excited to start college and still love being Jewish. After I researched and talked with a dozen different programs, I came to same conclusion that Jack had all along — Nativ was the right choice.

Once the volumes of paperwork were sent and sent again, we gathered everything on the packing list and tried to fit everything he needed for the year into two duffel bags. Lucky for us, he is a bit of minimalist, so we managed to fit everything in. I was ready for him to go.

I got asked often, “Aren’t you worried about sending him to Israel?” I wasn’t worried about Israel – I was worried about him making friends, that he got enough to eat, that he would do his laundry.  Things have changed a lot since I went to Israel as a student in 1989. There are no more payphones, tokens or collect calls. Jack had a cell phone with an Israel SIM card and could call or text when he wanted to.

It turned out that once or twice a week was what he wanted — and we were happy to get that! His calls were brief, his texts even shorter, but it was clear he was having a good time and busy. He was staying up late – his phone calls were often at 1:00 am Israel time. His credit card bills were mostly for food and occasionally a bar tab. Jack figured out how to do his laundry, how to navigate roommates who were as messy as he was, how to navigate the bus system and how to get invited to a friend’s house for shabbat.

I did worry when he got COVID so far away from home. Turns out that he ended up missing some programming he did not want to attend and played video games for a few days. In every picture that Nativ posted (no social media for my kid), he was smiling and surrounded by friends. I knew he was doing well. About six weeks after he got to Israel, he said to me, “Mom, you were right. I am so glad I am here.”

Mostly, I just missed him. Nine months is a long time to go without seeing your child. COVID prevented me from visiting him. We had a great trip planned but Israel shut their borders to tourists, just few weeks before our departure.

Jack returned home a bit shaggier, a bit taller, and much more attached to his cell phone. He misses his friends desperately. He is speaking up for himself more and he is working through his college online orientation without nagging. He set up his summer job and gets himself to work every day. He is much more confident in who he is as a young adult and as an American Jew. Now, I feel like he is ready for college and independent living. I am so grateful that he had this opportunity. It was a gift for him and for us.

To learn more about Gap Year scholarships and programs, contact Susie Mackler, or visit JumpSpark’s Gap Year Page.

$10K Scholarships Available for Gap Year in Israel. Apply now!

By JumpSpark

Did you know your high school student doesn’t have to start college right after completing high school? In fact, taking a year-long break between high school and college — known as a gap year — often contributes to a boost in performance when students enter college. Students who participate in gap year programs, whether academic, travel-focused, or service-focused, frequently become more mature, self-reliant, independent, and college-ready than students who go directly to college. (Read more about the benefits of a gap year here.)

Supported by scholarships of $10,000-$15,000 from the Zalik Foundation, 25 Atlanta area high school graduates are currently on gap year programs in Israel, connecting with Israeli culture and with Israeli peers. JumpSpark, which manages the Atlanta gap year initiative, is excited to announce the scholarship program will continue for a second year. Now is the time to learn more about gap year options and apply.

Jennifer Pollock Crim reports that her son Jordan has been thoroughly enjoying his gap year in Israel. “Jordan went there not knowing one person and now has many friends he can identify with and share new experiences together. He has never tried new food and says he loves trying new food and traveling to see and learn about new places in Israel. He also is enjoying his internship and learning independence and time management – two things that were reasons for him to go in the first place. I highly recommend it!”

Richard and Sheryl Arno said about their son Adam, “This experience on a gap year program has far exceeded our expectations. Adam has grown in so many ways and he has taken advantage of and experienced so many wonderful things that Israel has to offer.  He has made some lifelong friends, not only from the participants but also from the wonderful staff of Year Course.”

Bev Lewyn reports: “Rebecca is having the best time. She has made great friends from around the world, enjoys the Jerusalem academic classes, and had a profound trip to Poland.”

Read a current gap year student’s story about life in Israel here.


Zalik Foundation Renews its Commitment to Gap Year Experiences in Israel

By JumpSpark

If you have a high school senior thinking about a gap year in Israel, JumpSpark has wonderful news! The Zalik Foundation has renewed support for a second year of the Atlanta Israel Gap Year Scholarship pilot. For a second year in a row, select high school students will be generously awarded $10,000 towards a gap year program in Israel for fall 2022. JumpSpark will continue to manage this program which provides generous scholarships for a limited number of pre-approved, eligible Gap Year programs. (Learn more about eligible Gap Year options here).

Right now, 25 lucky students from Atlanta are having Gap Year experiences in Israel. They are exploring the desert, volunteering on kibbutzim, visiting high-tech startups, engaging in meaningful social action, and connecting with Israeli history. One of them is Ariel Goldt, a graduate of Walton HS, who chose the Nativ program for her gap year in Israel. She posts weekly on her adventures. Read some of her excerpts below.

Week 10: Last Shabbat on the Moshav (cooperative community) was such an amazing experience. I played Settlers of Catan entirely in Hebrew with 10-year-olds who didn’t know English while I didn’t know any Hebrew. Somehow, they won but I think something must have gotten lost in translation … or maybe the 10-year-old actually did beat me, but I guess we’ll never know! The family we stayed with did not speak English except for the grandma. The grandma’s daughter, her husband, and seven kids were also staying at her house this weekend. Oh, and a few other of her daughters were there so it was a busy house, but I loved it. Something exciting is always happening and I got to play with the baby all weekend! On Saturday we walked around and got a tour of the Moshav. It was beautiful.

Week 8: On Wednesday we went to a MASA event in Tel Aviv. It was SO much fun! The venue was so cute and Hativah 6 performed for us! We have been listening to their music a lot here, so it was so much fun to see them live! All of the gap year programs that are funded through MASA were there and it was nice to see all of our friends that are in Israel. That night we had a girls’ night in! We set up the laptop and watched Pitch Perfect, the first one obviously, because it’s the best. On Thursday we did some exploring around Jerusalem and found this pretty park! We walked around the park then grabbed lunch at the cutest cafe! That night our camp friend Jonathan was getting sworn into the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), so we went to his ceremony at the Kotel! I loved getting to see him and it was so special we got to be there for him!

Week: 7: This week we started our first official classes at Hebrew University! Now we have classes with other people in the international school. I have never been in one classroom with so many different denominations. Everyone I talked to was from a different country and it’s amazing hearing everyone’s unique perspective on the things we are learning in class! I am excited for the rest of the semester! The other night we last minute decided to go to a Hapoel basketball game! We lost at the buzzer, but it was still a really fun game!


Get a “PhD in Parenting!”


JumpSpark’s popular “PhD in Parenting Tweens and Teens” program is back for a second year.The program helps parents of tweens (10-13) and teens (14-18+) manage the stressors and complexities their teens are facing amid a pandemic that has turned their world upside-down.

Erica Hruby facilitates the program. She’s well aware of the unique issues that have faced teens and tweens in a COVID environment — depression, anxiety, and feelings of isolation from peers. Erica says, “Parenting tweens and teens isn’t intuitive. Many would call it an art. Parents find it difficult to be vulnerable or ask for help because they don’t want to feel that they’ve failed. In PhD in Parenting, the parents of tweens and teens share their challenges together. They begin to understand that teen issues require the same intensity of attention as the issues they focused on when their kids were infants and toddlers.”

Karen Bowen, the mother of a teen and a tween said, “My biggest insight and takeaway from the class is that we need to meet our kids where they are developmentally. I’m applying what I learned by taking a step back when I approach my children, to remember where they’re at emotionally before I engage.”

Shana Stukalsky, a parent of two teens, found the group setting extremely helpful. “It provided the opportunity to consider situations that I had not encountered, as well as approaches that worked or did not work. It’s always beneficial to hear other people’s perspectives, especially with regard to complex situations. Not only did the group leaders keep the learning relevant, but they also found ways to connect things back to individual situations.”

For more information about PhD in Parenting Tweens and Teens contact

JumpSpark Havayah Israel Experience Grants RFP

By JumpSpark

About JumpSpark 

JumpSpark, as part of the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative and Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, offers unprecedented collaboration to develop, nurture and scale new approaches to teen engagement. Informed by up-to-the-minute research and data, and drawing on the collective strength of local organizations, JumpSpark works in Atlanta to reverse the trend of teens opting out of Jewish life in their middle and high school years. Through dynamic partnerships and strategic investment, JumpSpark reimagines existing programs, supports new and innovative ideas, and thinks creatively to meet the needs of teens, their parents, and Jewish educators and professionals that work with them. 

As part of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, JumpSpark serves as a hub for Jewish teen education and engagement. This role allows JumpSpark to serve as both a funder and convener to help drive and shape the teen ecosystem. As a convener, JumpSpark runs a Community Partner Network of over 30 local youth serving organizations committed to raising the bar for Jewish teen education and engagement. As a funder, JumpSpark has invested over $600,000 dollars in the teen ecosystem since 2019 reaching 1000s of teens and connecting them to meaningful Jewish experiences. 

Strengthening Teens Connections to Israel  

JumpSpark, in partnership with Root One aims to support and grow high-level, multi-part engagement experiences for teens both before and after they travel to Israel. We will increase participation of Atlanta teens in Israel travel experiences, create meaningful connections between teens in Atlanta to the people, land, and state of Israel, and lengthen the arc of engagement for teen participants with Israel and the Jewish community. Havayah, translated from Hebrew as ‘experience’, expresses the desired outcome to lengthen the teen Israel experience in America. As part of this initiative, we aim to work in partnership with YSOs locally and nationally to encourage participating in Root One summer experiences. 

JumpSpark is now accepting applications for youth-serving organizations that support Root One approved teen Israel summer travel experiences to develop impactful pre and/or post trip engagements. We are accepting applications through November 30 for projects that will occur through June 2022.

Project Guidelines 

  • Develop engagement opportunities for participants of summer 2021 (post-trip engagement) or 2022 (pre-trip engagement)) Israel summer experiences 
  • Create opportunities to connect more deeply with Israel either before or after the summer trip  
  • Utilize data tracking strategies to analyze impact  
  • The grant is not to be used to further subsidize trip costs. Our goal is that 75% of teens participating in Israel teen travel experiences will engage in these additional experiences. 
  • Available budget for Havayah Grants is up to $10,000. 

We may request an interview prior to making final determinations regarding grant allocations. 

If you have any questions, please contact Nathan Brodsky, Director of JumpSpark, at 


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JumpSpark Signature Programs – Back for 5782


JumpSpark, Atlanta’s Teen Initiative, is excited to launch a new year with signature program: JumpSpark’s Strong Women Fellowship, JumpSpark Teen Boys Program, and the Amplifying Israel Teen Fellowship.

JumpSpark’s Strong Women Fellowship, now in its third fourth year, empowers female-identifying Jewish teens, grades 9-12, by providing access to strong women leaders, thinkers, and voices who shape their world. Each month participants hear from community leaders and engage in relevant learning that speaks to what it means to be a woman in our time. The Fellowship helps young women grapple with the obstacles they face and prepares them to take on leadership roles now and in the future.

JumpSpark Teen Boys Program helps male-identifying boys unpack the countless messages they hear every day about what it means to “be a man” and decide for themselves what male characteristics they want to emulate. The Fellowship encourages boys to examine various models of manhood and think critically about what means to be a man in today’s world. The group is a place for boys to decompress, learn tactics to deal with stress, and discover strategies for dealing with emotions in a society that tells them they should hold in their feelings.

Amplifying Israel Teen Fellowship. Last year JumpSpark added teen Israel travel to its portfolio and made it even more compelling with its Amplifying Israel Teen Fellowship. This bold initiative has strengthened Atlanta’s relationship with teens in our partnership region, Yokneam and Megiddo, and amped up demand for teen travel to Israel.

Just as we bring Shinshinim to Atlanta from our partnership region, we are now sending two Atlanta Yokneam and Megiddo as part of their gap year in Israel. Last year our Amplifying Israel Teen Fellows worked with four identified teen leaders in Atlanta’s partnership region. They are ambassadors who are trained as social media storytellers for the program as they help to engage more teens in immersive Israel experiences and build excitement for Israel travel.

Visit the JumpSpark website for more information about programs.

The Impact of a Gap Year in Israel


Sheryl Korelitz, Director of Gap Year Recruitment for Masa North America, works with JumpSpark and Federation to recruit students for gap year programs in Israel and match students with programs that suit their interests and needs. We asked Sheryl, the proud mother of two Masa gap year daughters, about the value of this experience:

Q: Why send your teen on a gap year program in Israel?

A: So many parents think of a gap year as a year off and worry that their kids will fall behind their peers when they get to college. Overwhelmingly, research shows that a gap year is incredibly beneficial for college success. Gap year alumni have higher GPAs in college and tend to graduate in four years. They are more focused in terms of their careers, and they develop a higher level of independence and maturity.

All types of kids grow during their gap year. Highly driven kids really benefit from time to breathe and flex different muscles. This gives them a year without expectations and less pressure. And kids who are not super students, who spent their high school years not feeling great about themselves because school wasn’t their best skill, they come back brand new! They walk taller, speak with confidence, and have had a year of tremendous growth and self-discovery.

Q: What are the benefits of deferring college to go on a gap year?

A: Kids have FOMO (fear of missing out), and I get it. They think their brain will wither, or that they’ll forget grammar if they take a year away. Some Israel programs have an academic base where you can earn college credit. But the truth is, your college peers won’t care where you spent the previous year. A gap year gives you a whole year to learn how to make all new friends — you’ll come to campus with that skill. You’ve learned to live with a roommate, you’ve done your own laundry, you’ll hit campus running. You’re not behind, you’re ahead.

Future employers will appreciate your experience, and the fact that you have friends from all over the world is a gift that you’ll have forever. And you’ll have BIG fun!

Q: What does a gap year mean for Jewish identity and future leadership?

A:  Parents are understandably anxious about the influence of the BDS (Boycott/Divestment/Sanction) movement on campus and students’ general lack of knowledge about Israel. A gap year is not meant to teach your kids how to be Jewish on campus or dictate a particular point of view on Israel, rather it lets them take ownership of their Judaism — discover how they feel about Israel, and what it all means. Their Israel experience empowers them to come from a place of knowing. They’ve lived it. They’ve met Palestinians. They’ve seen Israeli life and culture. The year empowers young adults to be strong in their Judaism. Being away from family, away from synagogue, helps students make their own decisions. Nothing is more powerful.

There is a strong correlation between Jewish campus leadership and an Israel experience. The Zalik Foundation, a funder of Atlanta scholarships for Israel gap year options, is specifically focused on this and I think it’s wonderful. These nine months spent in Israel are life-changing and I truly believe that they contribute to the Jewish future. I applaud the Zalik Foundation for seeing how impactful this can be. 

JumpSpark Partnership Amplifies Teen Israel Travel


JumpSpark is proud to partner with RootOne to promote summer teen Israel travel in Atlanta. RootOne provides major subsidies for trip participants, invests in elevating trip curricula and experiences, and works with its partners to create deeper pre- and post-trip engagement opportunities to help strengthen participants’ Jewish identities and connections to Israel before they begin college. Jewish teens in Atlanta are eligible to receive RootOne vouchers to attend Israel trips with five different youth-serving organizations. 

Jewish Student Union (JSU) GO is a RootOne partner offering an action-packed summer adventure trip in Israel for high school teens from the greater Atlanta area. This summer, JSU GO brought 40 local teens together for an incredible immersive experience. Rabbi Chaim Neiditch, the Executive Director of JSU, shared that, “One of the big features of our program is that everyone becomes a family. We facilitate a culture that’s designed to bring everyone together. We’re looking to help people make lifelong friends that go far beyond the trip.”  

One participant added that the trip allowed her to experience Judaism in a new way. “There’s a feeling that comes with being in Israel on Shabbat that you can’t have anywhere else.” Rabbi Neiditch affirms that, “The trip is life-changing for the kids. An immersive experience is a very different type of Jewish experience. We have kids who felt disconnected to their Jewish identity before the trip, and this trip changes the way they think about Judaism, makes it tangible and accessible to them. When you get a chance to spend time in Israel and explore a place that’s infused with Judaism, it changes lives.”

Interested in learning more about JSU GO? Visit Pre-registration for next summer is open now! Pre-register today for the summer of a lifetime and save $200. 

Making Israel Real for Teens


Jewish educators are constantly searching for ways to engage students in discovering their Jewish identity and connecting with the land and people of Israel. There is agreement that one of the most impactful way to link Jewish teens with their Jewish identity is having them spend extended time in Israel. Taking a gap year, between high school graduation and the start of college, is an ideal time. 

This past year, Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta in partnership with JumpSpark Atlanta, offered a gap year scholarship opportunity created by the Zalik Family Foundation. The scholarships can be applied to a wide selection of programs facilitated by the Jewish Agency, and coordinated by an organization called Masa Israel Journey.

Twenty-five students from around Atlanta have received grants of $10,000 to help subsidize the cost of their gap year program. An additional $5,000 scholarship was awarded to students who commit to serving the community upon their return. In a new twist, Federation is offering a new gap year option called Shinshinim IL bringing an Atlanta teen to volunteer in the Yokneam community for a year. 

Michal Ilai, Director of Israel Programs at the Weber School, helped recruit students for gap year experiences. She said, “Masa is a provider of many fine gap year opportunities each with a slightly different way to authentically engage students in Israel. Some programs are focused on academics, others are more experiential offering tiyulim (trips) around the country. But every avenue leads to the same destination — deepening Jewish identity while getting to really know Israel. There is a gap year for every kind of teen, and I was lucky to have been the matchmaker this past year. I hope this scholarship will be offered to Atlanta high school graduates for years to come.” 

Rebecca Lewyn, a Weber graduate and scholarship recipient, is looking forward to leaving for Israel. “I am so excited to be participating. It feels good to know my Federation supports a very important cause and helps send kids to Israel who wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity.” Lewyn will join Young Judea Year Course, a well-established and popular gap year program that has been attracting teens from all over the world since the 1950’s.  

Daniel Landis is a Chamblee Charter High School graduate who also received the scholarship. He chose a program with a technology track in which students intern in Tel Aviv tech companies. When asked what he wanted to get out of the experience, he immediately said “I want to gain a lot of new skills, explore my Jewish heritage and make new connections.”  

Leah Stock-Landis, Daniel’s mother, is extremely thankful for the scholarship. “From the beginning stage, all the information provided, and continuous support made us feel that somebody was looking for what was the best fit for Daniel.” He’ll be part of a program that takes students to Poland to visit concentration camps. This is of particular importance to the Landis family, as Daniel’s grandfather was a Holocaust survivor.  

A local family whose daughter recently returned from her gap year program, shared their excitement about the initiative. “Israel is very important to us, so it was a given that our daughter would go on a gap year program. We wish we had this level of guidance at the time we looked at the options. In addition to the incredible scholarship, the help to Atlanta families with selecting the appropriate program is a tremendous service,” the father shared. 

Atlanta Meets Israel in a JumpSpark Blog


JumpSpark’s Amplifying Israel program is all about connecting Atlanta teens with their counterparts in our Partnership RegionYokneam, IsraelLulu Rosenberg, an 11th grader at North Springs High School, is one of five Atlanta fellows in the program. Shaked Nitka is high school student in YokneamIsrael. Both girls are blogging to explore their feelings about what it means to be Jewish, and in the process are illuminating places where they align, and where they diverge a bit, tooHere’s what they have to say: 

Lulu Rosenberg: Whether I am lighting the Shabbat candles, eating chicken soup with matzah balls, participating in a global Jewish youth group like BBYO, or attending a Strong Jewish Women’s Fellowship meeting, there is no doubt that I am connected to my Judaism. Being Jewish is a huge part of my identity and it plays a major role in my daily life. When I wake up in the morning, it’s not like the first thing I think of is being Jewish. But when I come downstairs and see a plate of hamentaschen from my neighbor on the counter, I don’t question it. When I get a bowl for my cereal before I go to school, I make sure to get a dairy one and not a meat one. Leaving my house for school, I pass the mezuzah on the door and walk to my car. I don’t even notice the sticker on my windshield for the Jewish Community Center anymore; it is the same one that practically every other Jew in Atlanta also has. 

I used to go to a Jewish day school where all my friends and most of my teachers were Jewish. Now, I attend public school. My closest friends are still Jewish, but I am no longer in a bubble where Judaism defines my every day. Everyone at school knows I am Jewish, but it doesn’t seem to faze anyone like I expected it to. I’m not even sure how I expected people to act, but for some reason I believed that my Judaism would really matter to others. Lulu’s story continues here.

Shaked NitkaJudaism is a big part of my life, and it is in my daily life almost everywhere, sometimes even without me noticing it. It could be reflected in the Magen David (shield necklace) that I got for my Bat Mitzvah and which I wear all the time, or in the special feeling of a holiday whenever Friday comes. I think the fact that I’m Israeli has a strong connection to my Judaism because in Israel there are many holy places for Judaism that are close to me and that allow me to connect with Judaism and the history of the Jewish people. Also, Israel is based on Judaism and its laws, and the people surrounding me are following those just like me. For example, on Yom Kippur, everything is closed and when I go out on the streets there are lots of people outside riding a bike or meeting each other to spend this time together, which allows me to experience the holiday in a more powerful and special way. 

I’m not in a religious Jewish school, but Judaism is still present. I learn the Bible, and on school trips we go to places that are important to the history of the Jewish people. After school, I usually learn more and do my homework, go out with my friends, or ride on roller skates to a field close to my house where I will read a book or knit. On Friday, which is my favorite day of the week, I help my parents cook Shabbat dinner, and on that day, my brother also comes back from the Israeli army. We all sit down and have Shabbat dinner together. Being Jewish and Israeli is a big and important part of my identity that matters and interests me greatly. I love opportunities like this one (Amplifying Israel teen fellow) that connect me to Judaism.