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JumpSpark Events for Parents of Teenagers

By JumpSpark

Debra Siegel is a mother of two: her son, Zack, is a sophomore in high school, and her daughter, Zoe, is a freshman at the University of Wisconsin in Madison. Both of her children attended elementary and middle school at The Epstein School, and then Riverwood International Charter School. Zoe became involved with JumpSpark’s Strong Women Fellowship  while she was in high school, and Zack  also participates in JumpSpark programs. Before long, Debra learned that JumpSpark isn’t just for teens—it’s for parents, too.

JumpSpark is the Atlanta Jewish teen initiative at Federation and serves as a hub for teen engagement. But JumpSpark also offers programming for parents, families, and guardians of teenagers. Next week, JumpSpark is hosting two events for parents in Atlanta’s Jewish community: an in-person event called “Let’s Talk About Being a Parent of a Jewish College/Gap Year Student,” and an online workshop for parents of pre-teen and teen boys called “Helping Boys Thrive.”

Last spring, Debra participated in a JumpSpark program called “Project Launch” which helped parents of high school seniors with the transition from high school to college or a gap year.

Debra found it hugely helpful to connect with other parents who were approaching the same milestone. Participants were given support and helpful tips as they navigated this emotional time. “There are so many pieces that go into it—budgeting, parent/student communication, social and emotional wellness, learning about antisemitism, and how our children can be involved in Jewish campus life, even if not necessarily in a religious way.”

Now, Debra is on the Host Committee for an in-person event for parents called “Let’s Talk About Being a Parent of a Jewish College/Gap Year Student” on December 1, 2022, at 6:30 pm at Temple Sinai. This event is for parents and guardians of current college and gap year students. Debra says she’s excited to come together with her peers to “share what we’ve learned through this experience of sending our kids to college—the ups and downs, and how we can best support our children.”

In a year or so, Debra will be starting the post-high school planning process with Zack. JumpSpark’s goal is to help families through the transitions they go through during their teen years, and Debra is excited to access those programs for her son.

For many families with boys, the teenage years can be difficult. Boys often have a hard time communicating their feelings or opening up to parents about their struggles. JumpSpark is offering the program “Helping Boys Thrive” on Wednesday, November 30, at 12 pm.

This free, online workshop will be presented in collaboration with the Jewish Education Collaborative and will feature speakers from Moving Traditions. Parents and guardians of middle and early high school boys will have the opportunity to build community with other parents and get access to valuable resources from experts. Participants will leave the program with practical tools they can use with their families.

Parenting a teenager can sometimes feel isolating, and JumpSpark wants parents to know they are not alone as they navigate challenging waters. These two events are opportunities for families to build community and access valuable resources. As Debra says, such programs are important because, “We are reminded that we are all going through this together.”

Engaging Teenagers in Jewish Life

By Atlanta Jewish Foundation, JumpSpark, PHILANTHROPY

Being a teenager is hard. Hormones, increasing responsibilities, and long school days can make teens feel overwhelmed and cause them to disengage with their community. Federation supports many programs for young people in Atlanta (and abroad!) to get involved in Jewish life, and hopefully help them find community and a sense of purpose.  

The Jewish Foundation of Atlanta is launching the Young Philanthropy Fellows, which aims to teach teenagers about philanthropy through firsthand experience. The inaugural cohort will open their own Young Philanthropist Funds and learn about grantmaking. This group will inform each other about organizations and issues they care about, make size visits to local nonprofits, and engage in round-table discussions with professionals. They will engage in discussions about power and privilege and learn how to mitigate the occasional unintended consequences of charitable giving. Most importantly, they’ll learn how even young people can make a big difference. Applications for the Young Philanthropy Fellows are due September 19. 

Jumpspark offer resources for connection and growth to teenagers across Atlanta. They aim to empower and educate Jews from every part of our city, and to bring them together to learn and collaborate. Their initiatives include the Strong Women Fellowship, Gap Year Israel Scholarship, the Root One Experience (a summer travel program to Israel) and Navigating Parenthood (a series of workshops for the parents of teenagers to help them better understand the struggles their kids face).  

Internationally, Federation supports the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee’s Active Jewish Teens (AJT) initiative. This is a Jewish-identity building platform for 12-17-year-olds who live in the former Soviet Union. This program brings young Jewish people together and aims to give them a sense of community. They host a range of social, cultural, and leadership building activities, as well as holiday and Shabbat celebrations. With 63 active locations, including four in Belarus, AJT is helping young people in the Former Soviet Union connect with their Jewish identity and other young Jews across the world. 

Young people are the future, and their participation in, and enthusiasm for, Jewish life is essential to the future of Jews everywhere. Federation is proud to serve them! 

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 the 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 a 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 Israeli 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 a 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 

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.