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Persevering With My Peers: Insight into Teen Mental Health

By JumpSpark

I grew up with a school counselor as my mom. Needless to say, I have always known the importance of mental health. Talking about my feelings had never been a problem; in fact, it was normal in my household. Therefore, I brought that mindset into elementary school, which wasn’t anything necessarily special, considering crying and complaining were daily occurrences for most children trying to understand how to share, create friendships, and express themselves. I pretty much had one best friend who knew every thought that went through my head throughout middle school. She was practically my sister, so I didn’t feel any need to keep anything in. Sharing our thoughts and expressing our emotions were normal, everyday tasks. Again, unleashing this vulnerability was a regular and uneventful occurrence in my day-to-day life. 

When I got to high school, I was shocked that, after getting acquainted with my peers through surface-level discussions about our previous schools and favorite nail spots, they weren’t openly sharing their deepest, darkest secrets. Now that we are seniors, my friends are very aware that I am not afraid to show or talk about my emotions. After realizing not everyone is comfortable with feeling things deeply, much less talking about those feelings, I have learned to normalize mental health in my personal life. Most of the time, I encourage my friends to understand that feeling any type of emotion is normal, and you do not have to feel ashamed of it. 

Because of the pandemic going on right now, I have become very aware of my own mental health needs as well as the mental health concerns of those around me. The effects of isolation have been clear: Not only have I become personally acquainted with both anxiety and depression; I have  seen most of my friends struggle. One thing we can agree on in these times of turmoil in our country is that now, more than ever, is the time to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health.

Fortunately, I have had the unusual opportunity to view and interpret real data on the state of teen mental health in the Jewish community through an anonymous survey I created during my internship at the Blue Dove Foundation. One hundred fifty-four respondents, most of them Jewish, from both public and private schools across Atlanta provided insight into teen mental health issues. Some of the information was pleasantly uplifting; however, some statistics reflected the growing concerns society faces regarding mental health. For example, it was shocking to see roughly half the people who took the survey have experienced depression in the past six months, potentially propagated by COVID-19. Although I know, statistically, depression is pervasive among teens, it almost seems unreal that so many people have experienced it, considering I have had very little experience with people close to me opening up about their depression. Additionally, about 29 percent of respondents engage in solo or group drinking or drug use when feeling stressed, anxious, or depressed, which seems like too large of a number. When asked what they would worry about most when confiding in someone for emotional support, about 12 percent of respondents expressed that they do not have anyone they would trust to tell, and about 15 percent wouldn’t even want their friends/family finding out they are struggling.

Many things struck me as concerning in these statistics.  For example, 86 percent of participants have had a friend confide in them about their mental health, yet 44 percent of those respondents were told not to tell anyone about that discussion. Further, 43 percent said they feel as if they do not know how to help their friends’ mental health issues, and 41 percent of respondents don’t open up to others about mental health, because they do not want to burden others with their problems.

Teens are clearly underprepared to effectively help their peers with mental health, yet most respondents said they would go to a friend before talking to an adult about their mental health issues. Because the difference between the number of people who would most trust a friend and the number of teens who feel ready to handle someone’s mental health concerns, it is clear to me things need to change. It is extremely difficult to know the right steps to take regarding someone else’s personal struggles, and there is a lack of resources to point teens in the right direction. From these statistics, it is clear that most teens are “driving blindly” while trying to help their friends with their problems. 

By encouraging data-driven education and advocacy, Blue Dove aims to increase awareness about mental illness and make all of us feel less alone in our mental health journey. When giving teens the opportunity to share and listen to one another’s experiences without judgement, and by dedicating the time and resources needed to teach helping skills, vulnerability and understanding, Jewish youth organizations and day schools can simultaneously help end the stigma and increase the emotional intelligence and resilience of our teen population.

This article was originally published by the Blue Dove Foundation.

Zach Mainzer – Gap Year Spark Grant recipient

By JumpSpark

Zach Mainer is the valedictorian of the 2020 graduating class of AJA. He was awarded a Spark Grant to participate in a Gap Year program at Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh in Israel. Read more about Zack’s experience in a letter we received.

Dear JumpSpark:

Thank you so much for your contribution to my year in Israel. My experience in Israel so far has been invigorating and inspiring. I am studying in Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh, a yeshiva with programs for both Israeli and overseas students. From the moment I have arrived, I have been engrossed in advanced Judaic Studies (even though I spent the first two weeks in quarantine with only five other students). 

This year’s experience differs slightly than normal due to the coronavirus: The students can only spend time with their own “capsule” of students, and we are not allowed to leave the campus of the yeshiva. Despite this, the students have been able to bond, and we have participated in several activities. We package food for needy families once a week, and we also play thrilling nighttime sports.

Officially, the yeshiva goes on Sukkot break after Yom Kippur for three weeks, and the students can explore the country on their own. However, this year, we had to celebrate Sukkot in the yeshiva. Having this experience with the other students was unbelievable. Aside from a packed schedule of activities throughout the break, we also needed to build our own sukkah for the Sukkot holiday out of whatever materials we could find, as the yeshiva had never needed to provide its students a sukkah before. We searched around the campus and ended up building our sukkah out of old doors from a to-be-renovated dormitory, lots of tape and nails, random planks of wood, and palm branches for the roof. We had all been used to fancy sukkahs with solid walls specifically designed to be used for a sukkah. But we were proud of the ragtag sukkah that we built, and somehow, it stayed up for the entire holiday.

I am so glad that I received the privilege to come to Israel, and I am so grateful to JumpSpark for making it possible.


 Zechariah Mainzer

My capsule with the sukkah that we built


JumpSpark Launches Innovative Third Year of Strong Women Fellowship

By JumpSpark

ATLANTA, GA – Jumpspark’s Strong Women Fellowship, an empowering educational cohort for Jewish teens in grades 9-12, has continued to grow in size and expand programming to feature a Teen Board leadership position for third year returning fellows to give oversight over the fellowship throughout the year, interest-based cohorts for increased community building among fellows, small group meetings using Moving Traditions’ Rosh Hodesh curriculum, and increased leadership responsibilities for second-year returning teens. The 68 fellows participating in 2020-21 represent 17 high schools and 14 synagogues from the Atlanta metro.

The Strong Women Fellowship, launched in fall 2018 with an initial cohort of 28 teens, provides unparalleled access to strong women leaders, thinkers and voices shaping their world. Each month fellows meet guest speakers, build relationships in small groups, and grapple with the issues facing young women. The program is funded by the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, Jewish Women’s Fund of Atlanta, and the Jim Joseph Foundation.

After her experience in the fellowship last year, Sophie Kieffer said, “JumpSpark brought together an array of Jewish girls from across Atlanta with vastly different backgrounds, life experiences, and awareness of social issues. Our sessions taught us the skills to enter the world as college students, exposed us to the rich diversity of Jewish Atlanta, and heightened our awareness on the key social issues impacting our time.”

Monthly guests include local female Jewish professionals and leaders, as well as national leaders and influencers, that speak on relevant topics such as women in business, civic engagement, mental health, disability inclusion, and more. Guests this year include Stephanie Kaplan Lewis (co-founder, chief executive officer, and editor-in-chief of Her Campus), Lauren Berger (CEO & Founder of both and, Caroline Rothstein (internationally touring and acclaimed writer, poet, and performer), Pamela Schuller (internationally known inclusion advocate), and more. For the full itinerary, visit

New this year, JumpSpark has developed a Teen Leadership Board open to third year returning fellows to incorporate teen voice into every aspect of the fellowship. The Teen Board chose the speakers for the year and the topics to be discussed in the fellowship’s small groups. They will also give high-level feedback on the fellowship throughout the year and will continue to shape the fellowship’s growth and development.

The 2020-21 Teen Board includes:

Téa Barton

Emma Cohen

Lauren Cohn

Rachel Cohn

Sydney Fox

Tamar Guggenheim

Katie Hurwitz

Maya Laufer

Stella Mackler

Macy Mannheimer

Emma Nowitz

Lilah Presser

Zoe Siegel

Lili Stadler

Rene Walter

In addition, with the help of Rachel Alterman Wallack of VOX ATL, Atlanta’s home for uncensored teen publishing and self-expression, JumpSpark has reinvigorated a robust Peer Leader program for second year returning fellows offering leadership roles, tailored training and group facilitation resources, event planning experience, and resume-building skills and opportunities.

The 2020-21 Peer Leaders include:

Eva Beresin

Mollie Binderman

Rachel Binderman

Gabby Cope

Sarah Dowling

Alexa Freedman

Ruby Frohman

Julia Harris

Amelia Heller

Kayla Jacobs

Rebecca Kann

Phoebe Kaplan

Kira Mermelstein

Miriam Raggs

Skylar Rosenberg

Jenna Sailor

Peyton Schwartz

Noa Young

Audrey Zef

The 2020-21 Strong Women fellows are:

Ariella Ayenesazan, Peachtree Ridge HS c/o 2024

Téa Barton*, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2021

Eva Beresin*, The Weber School c/o 2023

Mollie Binderman*, North Springs HS c/o 2023

Rachel Binderman*, The Weber School c/o 2022

Ella Brill, Decatur HS, c/o 2024

Maia Capuano, Alpharetta HS c/o 2024

Ryan Carter, Grady HS c/o 2024

Emma Cohen*, Woodward Academy c/o 2022

Lauren Cohn*, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2021

Rachel Cohn*, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2021

Dana Cohn, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2024

Gabby Cope*, Lakeside HS c/o 2023

Gavrielle Diamant, The Weber School c/o 2024

Sarah Dowling*, The Lovett School c/o 2022

Sydney Fox*, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2021

Leora Frank, Atlanta Jewish Academy c/o 2024

Ryan Frank, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2024

Alexa Freedman*, The Galloway School c/o 2022

Ruby Frohman*, Dunwoody HS c/o 2023

Marissa Goodman*, Pace Academy c/o 2022

Jules Greenberg, The Galloway School c/o 2024

Eden Guggenheim, The Weber School c/o 2024

Tamar Guggenheim*, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2022

Julia Harris*, Dunwoody HS c/o 2023

Amelia Heller*, The Weber School c/o 2023

Katie Hurwitz*, Johns Creek HS c/o 2021

Kayla Jacobs*, Pope HS c/o 2021

Rebecca Kann*, Pace Academy c/o 2022

Phoebe Kaplan*, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2023

Nicole Katz, North Springs HS c/o 2023

Rachel Katz, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2024

Leah May Kogon, The Weber School c/o 2024

Kayla Kornfeld, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2023

Maya Laufer*, Dunwoody HS c/o 2022

Amber Lewis, The Weber School c/o 2024

Maya Lewis, The Weber School c/o 2023

Stella Mackler*, Grady HS c/o 2022

Macy Mannheimer*, Milton HS c/o 2021

Kira Mermelstein*, Atlanta Jewish Academy c/o 2021

Mollie Meyerowitz, Pace Academy c/o 2022

Leah Moradi, The Weber School c/o 2023

Hannah Much, Pace Academy c/o 2023

Emma Nowitz*, North Springs HS c/o 2022

Leah Perlman, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2024

Lilah Presser*, The Weber School c/o 2021

Rebecca Price, Druid Hills HS c/o 2023

Ariel Raggs*, Chamblee Charter HS c/o 2021

Miriam Raggs*, The Weber School c/o 2023

Zoe Richmond, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2024

Lulu Rosenberg*, North Springs HS c/o 2022

Skylar Rosenberg*, Lakeside HS c/o 2023

Jenna Sailor*, Dunwoody HS c/o 2023

Ava Satisky, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2024

Ariel Scher, Saint Francis HS c/o 2023

Peyton Schwartz*, Pope HS c/o 2023

Zoe Siegel*, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2022

Jamie Silberman, Dunwoody HS c/o 2024

Lenah Simons, Grady HS c/o 2024

Lilly Srochi, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2024

Lili Stadler*, The Weber School c/o 2021

Lily Stoumen*, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2021

Leah Taube, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2024

Rene Walter*, Dunwoody HS c/o 2021

Noa Young*, North Springs HS c/o 2023

Audrey Zeff*, Grady HS c/o 2023

Alex Zelcer*, Woodward Academy c/o 2021

Bailey Zibitt, Riverwood Int’l School c/o 2024

*Denotes returning Strong Women fellow

JumpSpark, Atlanta’s hub for Jewish teen innovation and 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.

Launching RootOne – The Jewish Education Project’s Major New Teen Israel Experience Initiative

By JumpSpark

Today The Jewish Education Project launched an ambitious new initiative to transform teen travel to Israel. Known as RootOne, the initiative is seeded with a $20 million gift from The Marcus Foundation and will help tens of thousands of teens travel there each summer with major subsidies for trip participants. We’re thrilled to partner with five leading youth serving organizations (YSOs)— BBYO, USY, Ramah, Union of Reform Judaism (URJ), and NCSY—to elevate their Israel experiences and to make them more affordable for more families.

Beyond increasing the number of teens and affordability of these trips, RootOne is an investment in the unique, immersive learning these trips provide. The initiative will support new trip curricula and offer deeper pre and post-trip engagement to strengthen participants’ Jewish identities and connections to community and Israel. We’ve brought on The iCenter for Israel Education to train all American staff who will lead trips, using their similar, proven model through which they train Birthright Israel staff. The iCenter also will help prepare Israeli teens who will join the trips since we know how impactful those peer-to-peer relationships are.

For decades, The Jewish Education Project has supported and resourced educators to deliver meaningful Israel education. But simply put, RootOne is a game-changer that takes these efforts to an entirely new level. It has the potential to impact a generation of young people. During the formative teen years, these trips can set a teen on a path for ongoing, meaningful Jewish engagement filled with lifelong friendships. They can cement a person’s connection to Jewish community, and they are integral to developing Jewish leaders who care deeply about Israel and the Jewish People.

The first RootOne trips are expected to leave summer 2021, with RootOne vouchers lowering the price point by $3,000 per participant. We expect to increase teens traveling to Israel on these trips by nearly 40% year over year. By 2025, we expect more than 10,000 Jewish teens will travel to Israel on RootOne peer programs every summer. And by 2030, that becomes 20,000 teens.

I invite you to check out the new website to learn more. Please share with your friends and colleagues. And we look forward updating you as this exciting initiative takes flight

Finding your College Community in this New Reality

By JumpSpark

This past week at the University of Georgia has been unlike anything I’ve ever expected. I never thought I’d be ordering meals via GrubHub or wearing masks in the lounge or rushing sororities online with plenty of technical difficulties. Honestly, I never expected to rush at all, but in a time of social uncertainty, it’s a relief to know I will have my sisters by my side. I live under the assumption my time here is limited and because of that, I push myself to meet people wherever I am, in the community bathrooms at Crusty Creswell or in line at Bolton waiting for food. In high school back in Suwanee, I liked to have my fashion reflect my values and personality, and particularly now, in a time where first impressions are everything, I’ve carefully selected my bags, stickers, and clothes to act as conversation-starters. I’m happy to say I’ve met many a person that way. 

While several of my classes are completely online, I do have a few hybrid courses where students are split into three groups and rotate as to who meets in-person versus who attends on Zoom. Because of the lack of proximity and opportunities to meet our classmates, my small group started a groupchat the very first day we met, something rather unusual when you have all semester to make a connection. 

Coming from a large high school with over 800 kids in my graduating class, I was nervous about going to an in-state school and branching out beyond my town’s “bubble” as we affectionately called it. What I didn’t fully comprehend, however, is the sheer size of UGA and how many incredible people serve to make up its single statistic of 38,652 students. More than that it’s amazing to see old friends in a new light. I find I’ve come to appreciate everyone’s nuances a little more; people act differently depending on the situation they’re in and I’ve found that COVID-19 has fostered a sense of community unlike anything I’ve had before, the idea that we’re all in this together against a common enemy. 

That being said, I think it’s important to note that along with the general camaraderie comes self-doubt: Am I doing the right thing, the safe thing? Every action I make is exhausting as I weigh the pro’s and con’s, especially as someone whose happy place is with other people. 

But then again, college is all about finding your niche and where you belong. To me, COVID has just sped up that process. I’ve found -and continue to find- little groups of people around campus who I’m lucky enough to call my friends and whether we go home after Thanksgiving or next week, I know they’ll be right there with me. After all, isn’t that what college is all about? 

The Closet

By JumpSpark

This year has been an absolute nightmare for the world. We started it off thinking we were starting World War 3, and then we were all quarantined for months, away from family and friends, because of a viral pandemic called “Covid-19”. The struggle for attention and friendship has only been strengthened by this virus. For people like me, who didn’t have many people to talk to before this pandemic, this was one of the loneliest years of my life. And I’m not alone in that sense, either.

There are so many teens in the State of Georgia who can’t come out to anyone because they are afraid of how their life will change, or who have no friends, because nobody can accept the fact that they are different. There are some people who are too shy to make friends, and stay hidden in the background. The pandemic has greatly magnified the effect of this issue, causing widespread depression and loneliness in the LGBTQ+ community, which is sending teens to toxic parts of the internet for positive attention, only to get the opposite. To make matters worse, most pflag organizations based out of Georgia only do support groups, and do social gatherings once every month. 

For this reason, and many more, this is why I decided 1 month ago that I would create ‘The Closet’. I know the name might be silly, and definitely more than a bit queer, but it provides exactly what everyone needs right now. Every Friday and Saturday, for 1 to 1 ½ hours, I provide a safe space supervised by adults for LGBTQ+ teens ages 13-18 to hang out and just be themselves.

I know the question everyone has now is, “How is this any different from other organizations doing the exact same thing.” Instead of being an organization run by adults, I wanted something different, which was an organization that was run by teens. I did this because I truly believe the only way to truly appeal to teens, is to be teens. So instead of adults trying to be teens, we are teens. Of course, I’m not introducing chapters for a long time, but when I do, those state’s chapters will also be ran by teens.

We’re just starting out- in fact, this is only our second week, but we would love new members. All of our meetings are free, and donations are accepted and greatly appreciated, but they are not required. If you aren’t in the LGBTQ+ community, but you know someone who is, or is thinking about it, please spread the word of our organization! 
You can find more information about us and how you can help on our website, If you are interested in supervising our events, please let me know! I’m always looking for more people to help out. You can reach me at [email protected]

Spark Note: Educating Generation Z about Israel

By JumpSpark
Annie Fortnow, Engagement Manager

As JumpSpark considers its role in expanding teen Israel education in Atlanta, we find ourselves at the forefront of a changing approach to this topic for teens today. 

In December 2019, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel with The Jewish Education Project (TJEP) and other Jewish Israel educators from cross-denominational and political perspectives to rethink how we educate Generation Z about Israel. Since today’s youth are increasingly progressive and questioning the conflicts within Israeli society, we need to adapt the traditional Israel trip to better meet teens’ understanding and connection with Israel through a multi-narrative approach that gives a voice to the different ethnic groups that make up the tapestry of Israel. 

What the Data Says

In TJEP’s comprehensive Gen Z report, data shows a clear generational shift in how kids see the Jew in today’s society – teens care about all people, but they are not tribalist. They are asking if being Jewish is good for global humanity, not just their people. The idea of Jewish peoplehood is much less prevalent among teens today than older adults. 

Other major concerns of teens include:

  • Tikkun Olam: teens responded that tikkun olam feels like “white privelege” to them and reinforces Jews as an oppressive white minority. They are looking for a more nuanced approach to volunteering that includes community building and working with communities to fight for social justice and equality in our society.
  • Israel Connection: teens have a positive relationship towards Israel and see it as important in some way. However, the less connected the teen is to the organized Jewish community, the less they felt Israel was important. The organized Jewish community feels Israel is central to Jewish identity in the US, but is Israel the best way to be reaching people on the margins?
Download the full report

Exploring the Multi-Narrative Approach

Our first encounter with a multi-narrative approach to Israel education was with the community of Israelis from Ethiopian descent. We had the opportunity to hear from three prominent Israelis from Ethiopian descent who all work with the community’s absorption into Israeli society in various ways. 

To frame the session, we discussed the importance of talking about race in Israel for teens today. As a generation growing up in the wake of police brutality towards black and brown folks and mass incarceration in the US, issues of race relations are on their minds. Through speaking with the community, we learned that in Israel, there are similar acts of police brutality and discrimination towards Israelis of Ethiopian descent. Although we cannot fully compare the issues in these two countries, sharing this narrative in Israel with teens could allow them to consider their role as Jews in Israel and the US in improving race relations and creating justice and equity for all. 

The next day, we embarked on a dual narrative tour of Bethlehem from both an Israeli and Palestinian perspective. We observed the Israeli West Bank barrier that, from the Israeli narrative, serves as a security barrier against terrorism, and, from the Palestinian side, services as a racial segregation wall. To hear both sides allowed us to better understand the nuance behind the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and, ultimately, make a more informed opinion about our own beliefs. As teens today are increasingly progressive and see Israel as an oppressor in this conflict more and more, we need to not only talk about the conflict with the teens but show both sides to allow them to create their own stance and a better understanding of the complexity behind the situation.  

Questioning and critiquing is a Jewish practice that can be seen throughout our literature and in our traditions today. While Israel travel and education can no doubt light the spark for further Jewish identity exploration, it also allows teens to engage in this Jewish practice of questioning and exploring the complexities behind a situation. To truly meet teens where they’re at, we need to address issues like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and racism from a multi-narrative approach to add nuance and complexity to a teen’s views of the land, people, and State of Israel. Only then can we help teens discover their own stance on Israel and support their plight for justice and equity in our world. ~ A.F.

Announcing JumpSpark’s New Navigating Parenthood Coordinator

By JumpSpark

JumpSpark recognized early on that parents are an essential component to an engaged and healthy Jewish teen population.  In response, JumpSpark launched Navigating Parenthood in 2018. Over the past two years JumpSpark has hosted 16 Navigating Parenthood workshops, panels and films across Atlanta equipping almost 400 parents with the network and resources to raise thriving Jewish teens.

Introducing Amy

Amy Fox
Navigating Parenthood Coordinator
Email Amy

Now in 2020, Navigating Parenthood is entering an exciting new phase with the addition of Amy Fox as Navigating Parenthood Coordinator. Amy is no stranger to the challenges of parenting Jewish teens in Atlanta today.  She is the mother of boy/girl twins who graduated from The Epstein School and are currently in their junior year at Riverwood International Charter School.  She is also deeply rooted in the Atlanta Jewish community serving as a Wexner Heritage Fellow, Lion co-chair for Federation’s Women’s Philanthropy division, advisory board member of the Atlanta Jewish Foundation, member of the ACT (Agents of Change Training) Cohort for the Jewish Women’s Fund, and an alumna of the Frank Mission to Poland and Israel. Last summer she was able to connect with many of the parents in the community through her work as co-Chair of Administration for the 2019 JCC Atlanta Maccabi Games.

Learn more about Amy’s work as an ambassador for the Atlanta Jewish Community ›

Instead of starting with more Navigating Parenthood events, phase one of Amy’s part-time work will be to launch a listening campaign across the community to learn more about both parents needs and their challenges.

Reflecting on why her new position with JumpSpark is important, Amy shared, 

“As teen parents, for sure there can be rewarding moments, but these moments can be accompanied by the feeling of being isolated, ill-informed, and questioning one’s ability to support our kids and assist them along the road to becoming independent well-adjusted adults. One has the sense of being all alone in this endeavor, when, there are so many teen parents dealing with the exact same issues”

JumpSpark is invested in the parents in our community and wants to create a strong partnership to meet their needs and the needs of their teens.  Amy’s new role is full of potential to create the resources, programming and networks that are needed to do just that. 

Contact Amy

Are you the parent of Jewish teens in Atlanta? Amy would love to meet with you, hear your story, and bring you along on this journey. She can be contacted at [email protected].

Kesher Fellowship Trains Jewish Teens in Leadership

By JumpSpark

First published by the Atlanta Jewish Times ›

With the objective of transforming the way Jewish teens can engage each other, an exciting new program launched in Atlanta called the Atlanta Kesher Teen Engagement Fellowship.

With the objective of transforming the way Jewish teens can engage each other in the Jewish community, an exciting new program launched in Atlanta called the Atlanta Kesher Teen Engagement Fellowship. The program is run by the Union for Reform Judaism and funded in part by a JumpSpark grant through the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta.

The fellowship is based on the peer-to-peer engagement method that began in the Northeast and has been scaled to the Atlanta community. It emphasizes the impact Jewish teens can have on each other through face-to-face interaction.

“I think this program is a great example of having an inner circle of teens that are getting a huge amount of leadership training and mentorship and strengthening their own Jewish identities, and then impacting a much wider circle of teens throughout the community,” said Adam Griff, Kesher Teen Engagement Fellowship director. “They’re being empowered to co-create with their network these new events.”

The teens will develop social and leadership skills and receive mentoring from experts in peer-to-peer engagement. The program is designed to allow busy teens to participate by managing their own time and at the end, each fellow receives a $200 stipend.

“This model is unique in the Jewish teen landscape,” Bobby Harris, director of URJ Camp Coleman said in a press release. “The teen fellows are creating experiences that are fun and meaningful for them and their friends, instead of just trying to bring them to large-scale programming. Like the chavurah or ‘small circle’ model, this is about friends connecting to friends and building circles of peers living Jewish lives.”

The teens chosen through the application process range from 12 different high schools and six synagogues across metro Atlanta. The fellowship chose applicants who already have a strong Jewish identity and are involved and engaged in Jewish youth groups such as BBYO and NFTY or other high school clubs. “Not only do they represent a diverse range of Atlanta congregations, schools and neighborhoods, they are smart, passionate, and excited to be part of this endeavor,” Griff said in the release. “We know that building relationships is the key to increasing engagement. I feel confident that this group of teens will help us push the needle and reach teens that until now have stayed on the sidelines of Jewish life.”

The fellows are required to execute three pop-up events throughout the program that involve Jewish content, but the teens have some room to get creative. “This fellowship gives these teens the opportunity to think outside of the box; they are planning really unique programs for teens all around the metro Atlanta area,” said Jessie Schwartzman, Kesher Teen Fellowship engagement coordinator. She described one fellow who planned a Chanukah party at which the students made Chanukah cookies together. “We want their Jewish identity to translate on unengaged teens in Atlanta,” Schwartzman said. “We’re just really looking for ways to connect with teens on a different level.”

The program is having a positive impact on the teens involved, according to Schwartzman. “The fellows themselves who are part of this experience have really started to learn the value of leading a program – how to delegate tasks, what it means to share their Jewish story with others,” she said. “This type of training is not common in this generation; they’re so used to using their phones. [The fellows are] really learning the value of face-to-face communication.” This extends to a wider circle of Jewish teens who are being engaged by the fellows and growing in their Jewish connection.

The fellowship kickoff was Nov. 17. “I am excited to be a Kesher Fellow because I believe Jewish Atlanta is relying on today’s Jewish teens to ensure a strong Jewish Atlanta in the future,” Sophie Kieffer from Temple Sinai said in the release.

Schwartzman said that Atlanta is one of the few cities around the United States that’s participating in peer-to-peer training and they hope to expand their reach across the city. There are a growing number of organizations, such as OneTable, that are promoting this form of engagement with young adults, but it’s fairly new with teens, Griff said. “I think it’s exciting that Atlanta’s on the forefront of this.”

New Teen Engagement Fellowship Kicks Off in Atlanta

By JumpSpark

ATLANTA, GA – The Atlanta Kesher Teen Engagement Fellowship, an exciting new peer- to- peer engagement opportunity for Jewish teens in grades 10-12 offered by the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ), has officially launched in Atlanta. The 15 fellows participating in 2019-20 represent 12 high schools, 6 synagogues, and 11 zip codes across the metro Atlanta area.

Based on the successful URJ North East Teen Collective’s approach to teen engagement, the Atlanta Kesher Fellowship brings a different engagement experience to Atlanta’s Jewish teens. Tailored training on peer to peer engagement allows teens to strengthen their relationship building skills, understand the importance of face to face communication, and learn a new way of engaging their peers.

Funded in part by a JumpSpark grant through the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta, this fellowship doesn’t involve a strenuous amount of hours, rather it is created for the busy teen and allows them the to create their own schedules strengthening time management skills. Teens will develop a variety of practical business, social, and leadership skills throughout the fellowship and receive expert mentoring and support to create meaningful Jewish engagement for their peers. At the end they receive a $200 stipend for all their hard work!

“This model is unique in the Jewish teen landscape,” says Bobby Harris, Director of URJ Camp Coleman. “The teen fellows are creating experiences that are fun and meaningful for them and their friends instead of just trying to bring them to large scale programming.  Like the chavurah or ‘small circle’ model, this is about friends connecting to friends and building circles of peers living Jewish lives.”

The fellows are tasked with planning three small events (3-10 people) throughout the school year. These events include things, like a Shabbat dinner, Havdalah hike, or a philanthropic father and son basketball game. The idea is to create small events relating to Judaism that have large impacts on the teens who aren’t as engaged in Jewish life in Atlanta. Creating more ways for teens to positively interact with Judaism will allow them to pave their own Jewish journey and lead to a greater impact on their lives.

At the inaugural fellowship on November 17th, the teens learned the importance behind the work they are doing, why face -to -face communication is beneficial, and the power of inclusivity. The fellows left the kickoff ready to take on Jewish Atlanta!

Sophie Kieffer (18) reflected after meeting her fellowship peers at the kickoff: “I am excited to be a Kesher Fellow because I believe Jewish Atlanta is relying on today’s Jewish teens to ensure a strong Jewish Atlanta in the future.”

The 2019-20 Kesher Fellows Include:
Lola Bessoff, Temple Beth Tikvah
Adam Boehm, Temple Beth Tikvah
Tali Cohn, Temple Sinai
Danielle Faulhaber, Temple Kehillat Chaim
Harrison Frank, Temple Emanu-El
Nicole Frysh, Temple Sinai
Katie Hurwitz, Temple Beth Tikvah
Sophie Kieffer, Temple Sinai
Simon Klee, Congregation Gesher L’Torah
Andrew Levingston, Temple Sinai
Tali Lipton, Temple Sinai
Lily Ragals, Temple Emanu-El
Sara Serrano
Deirdre Weissman, Temple Kol Emeth
Sophie Wilson, Temple Beth Tikvah

“Our 2019-2020 fellows are a remarkable group. Not only do they represent a diverse range of Atlanta congregations, schools, and neighborhoods, they are smart, passionate, and excited to be part of this endeavor. We know that building relationships is the key to increasing engagement. I feel confident that this group of teens will help us push the needle and reach teens that until now have stayed on the sidelines of Jewish life,” says Adam Griff, Atlanta Kesher Fellowship Director.

The Union for Reform Judaism’s youth programs instill a sense of joy, compassion, and pride in being Jewish while nurturing a young person’s innate desire to make a difference in the world. Central to the URJ’s strategy is collaboration with Reform congregations, other Jewish organizations and individuals who are committed to youth engagement.

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