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Conquering Confidence: Practice Makes Perfect

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Nadia Bilchik is an editorial producer for CNN. Before she came to speak to us, I honestly didn’t even know who she was. After hearing what she had to say, I don’t think I’ll ever forget her.

Katie Hurwitz

Feeling somewhat anxious in certain situations is a common feeling for me and for so many others. Teen anxiety is higher than it ever has been. Whether it’s severe or not, it can make little things like raising your hand to speak in class or talking to new people so much harder than they should be.

I work myself up so easily about many things, making it hard for me to try new things. It sometimes takes some convincing to get me to go to large events and new places. I’ve always wished I didn’t have to live with any worries, so, when I saw the topic for the meeting, I was very curious. I went into the meeting not sure what to expect, and came out of it with knowledge I didn’t know was available.

Nadia Bilchik on CNN

Bilchik explained that she had created a four-step guide on how to conquer and calm your nerves before doing something that is out of your comfort zone. The first thought that came to my mind is that this meeting is perfect for me! She went on to explain each of these steps.

1. Think of happy past moments

2. Show interest

3. Breathing exercises

4. Show energy

They include: thinking of happy past moments, showing interest in the topic at hand, doing breathing exercises, and showing energy. The first is pretty self explanatory: think of memories that make you happy and hold onto them to take your mind off of the worrying. It was interesting to hear everyone’s happy moments.

The second involves a tactic of not using “I” statements. We did an exercise where we had to have a conversation with someone else and could use only questions in response to our partner. This gives the person that you are talking to reassurance that they have your full interest and attention.

Katie applying the 4 steps to confidence

The third step to calm nerves is all about breathing. Taking deep breaths is a way of refreshing your mind and body. It helps slow and control your heart rate and it sends a message to your brain to calm down and relax.

The last step is to show energy and engage in the conversation. You can show energy simply by standing up straight and putting a smile on your face. This shows confidence and makes you approachable. Bringing up topics that you and whoever you are talking to are both interested in is a great way to engage another person. This helps the conversation flow. With practice, all of this combined will eventually allow you to be able to comfortably start conversations with anyone.

Since this meeting, I already have and will definitely continue to use this process a lot throughout my life. I am overjoyed that Nadia Bilchik shared her wisdom with me and my fellow strong women. •

Three Questions for Kelly Cohen, JumpSpark Director

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First published by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta ›

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. •

Spark Note: In Every Generation

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Tonight, when we sit down at our Seder tables we will be engaging in the ultimate historical role-playing activity. We come together at Seder not only to remember the Exodus from Egypt, but also to put ourselves into the story. Guided by the text, “In every generation a person is obligated to see themselves as if they had left Egypt,” we suspend disbelief and imagine that we were there, and it happened to us. 

As I prepare myself for Seder this year I find myself struck by a new appreciation for this mandate to embody the Passover story. Previously, I had thought of it as a call for radical empathy and the required precursor to “You shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt,” but now I realize that there is something else profound in that idea. 

It is not by accident that the phrase starts with the words, “In every generation.” The work of seeing yourself as a part of the Jewish people, of connecting to the Jewish story, tradition, and community is a task that every generation is called to engage with. 

In my work with JumpSpark I am constantly thinking about how to connect the teens of today with the Jewish community. We talk endlessly about Gen Z and how this generation is unique and needs to be engaged differently. To this end, The Jewish Education Project just unveiled what is believed to be the largest study of American Jewish teens ever conducted, with 17,576 teens participating. GenZ Now, Understanding and Connecting with Jewish Teens Today deepens our understanding of the complexities of being a Jewish teen in the United States today and reveals interesting finding about the roles of families and youth serving organizations.  

The task of understanding and meeting the needs of this new generation feels large and complicated. The struggle to keep teens engaged is not new and the work to fix that problem didn’t start with JumpSpark. By starting the quote with the words “in every generation” it implies that the work is never finished. It is never solved; it is just passed off to the next generation to find a way to do it for themselves. This cycle started in the Torah and is continuing today.

I am proud of the work JumpSpark is doing to bring Gen Z and the teens of our community into the ancient Jewish task of finding their place in the Jewish community. If they can see themselves as a part of the story, whether that is the story of today’s Jewish community, or as an ancient Israel millennium ago, then we have succeeded. 

If you would like to know more about how we are helping teens find their place in the Jewish story you can follow us on Facebook or Instagram at @JumpSparkATL. On behalf of JumpSpark, I would like to wish you all a Happy Passover. May your holiday be filled with meaning and connection. 

Change Maker Spotlight: Varda Cheskis Sauer

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This month as we name our Change Maker, we want to do things a little differently and chat with our honoree, Ms. Varda Cheskis Sauer. A teacher by trade and a champion for creating more places and ways for teens to connect with Jewish life, Varda is known and beloved by the hundreds of students that come through the doors of the Jewish Culture Club at
North Springs Charter High School.

This spring after 14 years, she’s moving on from sponsoring the club, but her support and dedication will not be forgotten. Thank you, Varda, for investing in the Jewish teens of Atlanta and for being a Change Maker in our community!

JumpSpark: How many years have you sponsored the Jewish Culture Club at North Springs?

Varda Cheskis Sauer

Varda Cheskis Sauer: I have sponsored the Jewish Culture Club for 14 years!  Some students approached me in 2005 about starting a “Jewish club.”  Initially I told them no because, with North Springs being a public school, I did not want to violate the law of separation of church and state.  Then, we came up with the idea of a Jewish “Culture” Club where everyone would be welcome who might want to join!  The rest is history!!  We are the largest club at North Springs with the most active membership!  Virtually EVERY member attended every single meeting!

JS: Why did you choose to devote so many years to teens?

Varda with Rabbi Silverman

VCS: I know that most teens have little or no Jewish continuity in their lives from their Bar/Bat Mitzvah years until they have children of their own.  That’s a long gap with no Jewish education!  My goal was to provide education at every single meeting in order to fill that gap!  It was a challenge to figure out a model that would draw students in and KEEP them!!  After all, they had to give up their lunch period and social time with their friends! Having Rabbi David Silverman as our main speaker was definitely a huge asset and draw for the students.  He has been extremely engaging with the teens and made every meeting fun and inspirational!

JS: Do you have an idea of how many total teens have come through the club over the years?

VCS: My estimate is about 1600 teens came through my North Springs Jewish Culture Club!  The club grew very quickly – word spread like wildfire! The club started out with 20 student-teens, doubled in size the next year, and by the 4th year, we had 100 members and could barely fit in any room in the school!  By the 10th year, we had 160 active members and were lucky to have the use of the huge Band room and Media Center for our meetings!  No classroom could accommodate a club of our size!

Cheskis Sauer with NSCHS students

JS: What do you most hope they’ve learned from you and the Jewish culture club?

VCS: The teens have experienced a real sense of ‘kehillah’ or ‘community!’  They loved having a regular time when they would learn about Jewish culture with other teens in their public school.  Over the years they have told me that they learned so many things about Judaism and its culture that they never studied when younger. They have been taught excellent skills on how to respond to many questions from the general school population. They said this gave them a sense of security within their social circles.

JS: How many years did you work as a teacher and what subject(s) did you teach?

VCS: I was at North Springs High School for 24 years!  I taught Sociology and Health Education in the late 1980s for 3 years and then I shifted careers for a few years while raising my children.  I came back to NSHS in 1995 and retired in 2016!  I created two amazing Internship classes – Mentorship and Magnet Internship.  I taught 11th and 12th graders all about the value of internships and then I placed them all out into internships during their class time with me!  My classes were definitely a favorite elective for the students!

JS: How else have you worked or volunteered with Jewish teens?

VCS: As a teen myself, I was a volunteer teaching assistant at my own synagogue Hebrew School in Chicago.  As a mom, I served on the Adult BBYO Board in the mid-1990s.  I chaperoned teens on numerous field trips for the Greenfield Hebrew Academy (now Atlanta Jewish Academy) including their big 8th grade trip to NYC.

JumpSpark Invests in Atlanta Jewish Community Through $260,000+ In Spark Grants

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JumpSpark has awarded more than $266,000 in Spark Grant funding to six organizations working to expand programming for Jewish teens in Atlanta. A new grant program in 2019, Spark Grants allow JumpSpark to invest in the Jewish teen space in Atlanta through large-scale strategic grants. Renewable up to three years to support long-term program growth, these grants are intended to create and fund new programs and initiatives, support programmatic growth, and rethink existing models of teen engagement.

“In the fast-paced, demanding world teens live in today, the Jewish community must focus its resources to create diverse entry points to lifelong Jewish learning and community engagement,” says Kelly Cohen, JumpSpark Director.

After a discovery period in 2018 to understand the needs of Atlanta’s teen ecosystem – including teens, families of teens, and Jewish professionals that work with teens – and a pilot grantmaking cycle of $1,000 awards, JumpSpark opened a request for proposals that support community infrastructure growth, create new points of engagement, provide high-level Jewish learning, and foster collaboration and community-building opportunities in Atlanta.

The 2019 recipients are:

  • Creating Connected Communities – $39,000 to expand the successful Leadership Development Program.
  • In the City Camps – $45,000 to expand Camp Mogul business camps for middle school students.
  • Jewish Kids Groups – $36,850 to launch the Learner-Leader-Teacher Development Academy.
  • Marcus Jewish Community Center of Atlanta – $70,000 to sponsor the VOX ATL-run Maccabi Star Reporter program and catalyze participation in the Atlanta-hosted 2019 Maccabi games into expanded year-round programming for teen athletes.
  • SOJOURN – $25,000 to pilot the Tum Tum program, a safe space for Jewish LGBTQ+ identified teens and allies to share, learn, and connect.
  • Union for Reform Judaism – $70,000 to launch the Teen Engagement Internship program, a year-round leadership and engagement model successfully piloted by the Northeast Teen Collective.

JumpSpark is a proud partner and innovation initiative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta. CEO Eric Robbins said, “The Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta is proud to drive this important initiative that is making incredible impact and investment in our teen community!”

As an invested partner, JumpSpark looks forward to building these programs with recipients and creating more opportunities for a vibrant Jewish life in Atlanta.

JumpSpark, Atlanta’s initiative for Jewish teen engagement, connects and invests in the community to create more meaningful and defining moments for Jewish teens in Atlanta. Serving teens, their parents, and educators that work with teens, JumpSpark offers empowering teen programs, Navigating Parenthood workshops, professional development, and grants. JumpSpark is supported as an innovation initiative of the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, by the Jim Joseph Foundation, and by generous donors in the community.

Consent and Identity: The Importance of Knowing Myself

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Rachel Cohn

Coming into this meeting with the poet Caroline Rothstein about consent, I was prepared to have a difficult discussion about the reality of sexual abuse and rape culture. However, this meeting with Caroline pleasantly surprised me. We learned that you cannot give your consent to something without fully knowing who you are as a person.

Caroline speaking to the Strong Women

Caroline told us her struggles with finding her own identity in the form of beautiful poems. She spoke about the hardships she faced every day and the struggles with being a woman in society today. She spoke poetry about sexual abuse and her difficult eating disorder.

Caroline Rothstein

However, to me, the most noteworthy poem was about how despite all these burdens, she still showed up on the other side a strong woman who knew her strong identity. The words Caroline said truly spoke to me and it felt as though she knew me better than I knew myself. I was on the edge of my seat just wanting her to keep chanting about what she was passionate about, for I was also passionate about the same things.


After that, we had the opportunity to write our own poetry and I found it much easier than I anticipated. Our poems were about being Jewish and women or about being a Jewish woman. I had so much to say and found it inspiring that everyone else did as well. It was comforting to be in a room full of people who have the same beliefs and values as I do.

While I came into this meeting eager to learn about consent, I ended up learning more about identity and the importance it plays in knowing whether or not to give consent to something. Caroline was extremely empowering and I was grasping onto every last word she said. Although this meeting went much differently than expected, I am so grateful for that because what we talked about in this meeting, identity, and being a Jewish woman, are all so important to me and things that I will never stop caring about.


Introducing…Beit Midrash for Jewish Professionals

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Over President’s Day weekend JumpSpark Professional traveled with 14 local Jewish educators and professionals to Ramah Darom. Surrounded by the beauty of the North Georgia mountains we participated in the Pardes Beit Midrash B’Darom, a weekend of learning and community building. All the learning was incredibly meaningful, but there was one new piece of text that has stuck with me:

Reish Lakish, a 3rd century scholar said, “Adorn yourself first, and then adorn others.” 

This is the Jewish equivalent of “Please put on your own oxygen mask first before assisting others.” Reish Lakish is reminding us about the importance of self-care. How many of us working in the Jewish world forget that message? How often do we really do something for ourselves? We all know we should, but so often we feel we are just too busy.

That is why JumpSpark Professional is launching the Beit Midrash for Jewish Professionals. For one hour a month you can set aside time to do something for yourself and your own Jewish self-care. Come explore Jewish text and wisdom together with other Jewish professionals and discuss how it relates to our lives and our work. Each month the session will be led by a different Rabbi or Jewish Educator from our community. No Hebrew or prior text experience necessary.

Our first session is February 27, 2019 at 10:30 AM, and we would love to have you join us! Our topic for discussion is, “What’s Jewish about Innovation?”

Give yourself the gift of Jewish self-care this week. Learn more and register here.

Can’t join us? Make sure you are following JumpSpark Pro on Facebook for all upcoming professional development opportunities.

Atlanta Anti-Semitism Summit Educates And Empowers Community

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“After Pittsburgh, I sometimes I feel unsafe as a Jew.”

“Why do some people rationalize anti-Semitism while others speak up and fight the same actions?”

“People don’t like Jews.”

Overheard as attendees shared in breakout sessions at the Anti-Semitism Summit: Navigate, Communicate, Advocate on January 6, 2019, these comments highlight the community need for this program presented by Anti-Defamation League (ADL), Temple Sinai, and JumpSpark in partnership with 17 Jewish community organizations.

In response to the tragic mass shooting at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue last fall, and the growing number of anti-Semitic incidents both in the southeast and nationally, the summit examined the reality of anti-Semitism and how to communicate and advocate for the world we want to see.

David Hoffman, ADL Assistant Regional Director, began the summit by presenting a common understanding of the term “anti-Semitism” and how hate can escalate from attitudes to actions to violence. The ADL plays a role in fighting all forms of hate, including anti-Semitism, and reports a rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents locally and nationally, including in K-12 schools and college campuses.

“Until recently, I rarely heard from parents about anti-Semitic incidents,” said Temple Sinai’s Rabbi Brad Levenberg. “This year it has skyrocketed. People report everything from subtle bias to overt acts. Parents want to know if they are overreacting, but I usually find their instincts are spot on.”

Separate teen and adult breakout groups explored how to communicate within our families about anti-Semitism, and taught how to report and respond to bias, hatred and injustice, whether at school, online, or in the community.

In groups by grade, teens gained awareness of their personal experiences with anti-Semitism, discussed how anti-Semitism exists in their lives, and developed skills to respond to anti-Semitism throw role-playing exercises.

Many teens left saying they were surprised to learn their peers have had similar experiences and were motivated to speak up when they encounter acts of anti-Semitism.

“It’s eye-opening to see that so many people have experienced anti-Semitism and we are not alone,” said one teen.

With nearly 200 parents and teens participating in the event held at Temple Sinai, summit organizers had no idea the demand was so high for such an event. Kelly Cohen, JumpSpark Director, said, “As we see from the large crowd that came to the summit, when we create programs and opportunities that speak authentically to the needs of our community, people come!” 

Visit our Resource Page ›  for tips and information from the Anti-Semitism Summit.

Woman Undefined

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Lili Stadler

Whenever prompted with the topic of sexuality and gender identification, I had never thought twice. I would simply brush off the subject since I had always been confident in who I was and who I felt that I was: a girl. I always thought that was a confusing conversation topic, thinking that there was not much to discuss. More clearly said, sexuality was always something simple to me. When preparing for the conversation of gender and sexuality with Dr. Joy Ladin and my peers of the Strong Women Fellowship, I did not believe my thoughts would change. But, seeing different perspectives and hearing the struggles and stories of my peers completely altered what being a “man” or “women” could be.

When you look up the word “woman” in the dictionary, you will find the definition, “an adult human female” or “a wife, girlfriend, or lover”, plus other varieties of that nature. But, I have realized that the dictionary definition of this word barely scratches the surface of what being a woman actually means.

When finishing her empowering story of bravery and transition, Dr. Joy Ladin prompted me and my peers with a question: “What was your experience of growing up as a girl?” To my surprise, the majority of responses to the question, including mine, were negative. We discussed in our conversation the topics that us, as teenage girls in the modern world, face, most of which were feelings of adversity and fear. A few examples included memories of my peers’ parents telling them to change because they were “showing too much”, them getting dress code violations for their bra straps and thighs showing, and their constant fear of slut shaming.

“What was your experience growing up as a girl?”

To my surprise, the majority of responses to the question, including mine, were negative.

Hearing these things, at first, made me feel comforted that I was not the only one who had gone through these things. But, after a while of discussion, I realized how negative this conversation was. I knew we all love being women, but the growing sense of negativity made me feel unsettled. From here, the conversation unintentionally turned into one about what it means to be a woman.

Joy started off this conversation with the topic of gender versus sexuality. She explained to us that these two things do not need to go hand in hand, nor do they have the same connotation to every individual. Once again, this was something I had never thought about before, so my mindset was transformed. I realized that all of those negative memories of growing up a girl made up who we had become. With further discussion, I was inspired that gender and sexuality are not as simple as I thought, and that two people with totally different experiences of being a women could still be defined as one.

We should not be defined by who we are categorized to be, but who we feel we are.

The beauty of the hardships of growing up in fear and shame is that we learn to overcome it and hopefully become who we feel we are inside. The story of Dr. Ladin, although completely unique to the stories of everyone participating in the conversation, led us to the conclusion that being a woman and growing up as a woman can be defined in an infinite amount of ways. We should not be defined by who we are categorized to be, but who we feel we are. •

Teens and Parents Wrestle with Anti-Semitism

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by Nina Rubin, first published by Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta ››


“After Pittsburgh, I sometimes I feel unsafe as a Jew.”

 “My neighbor believes that all Jews are liberals.”

“My friends can’t understand why I don’t believe in Jesus.”

Those are a few of the comments we heard at JumpSpark’s Atlanta Anti-Semitism Summit: Navigate, Communicate, Advocate, a joint program with the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Temple Sinai in partnership with more than a dozen Jewish organizations.

Sparked by the massacre at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue, and the serious uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in our area and around the world, the Summit unpacked what we mean when we talk about anti-Semitism. Separate breakout groups for teens and parents focused on how to communicate within our families about anti-Semitism, and how to report and respond to bias, hatred and injustice, whether at school, online, or in the community. 

“Until recently, I rarely heard from parents about anti-Semitic incidents,” said Temple Sinai’s Rabbi Brad Levenberg. “This year it has skyrocketed. People report everything from subtle bias to overt acts. Parents want to know if they are overreacting, but I usually find their instincts are spot on.”

Nearly 200 parents and teens participated in the Summit, and follow-up discussions are planned. Kelly Cohen, Director of JumpSpark — Atlanta’s initiative for Jewish teen engagement, said, “As we see from the large crowd that came to the Summit, when we create programs and opportunities that speak authentically to the needs of our community, people come!” •