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Spark Notes: Telling Our Failure Stories

By JumpSpark

I recently had two amazing experiences that changed my beliefs on failure.

Kelly Cohen, JumpSpark Director

The first week of October I traveled to Austin to meet with leaders and representatives from the nine other Jewish Teen Initiatives that make up the Jewish Teen Education & Engagement Funder Collaborative. Together we participated in a Failure Lab that’s led corporate failure training for companies such as Steelcase, Dell, Goodwill, and the University of Michigan.

Monday, October 15th JumpSpark Professional hosted a Creativity & Collaboration workshop led by Dad’s Garage. Using very low-stakes improv games and not putting anyone on the spot, our facilitator Whitney led us in exercises to wake us up and shake off any case of the Mondays while also practicing creative thinking, listening, and partner/group collaboration; she expertly weaved in anecdotes and actionable steps we can take to integrate these learnings into our everyday work. As Whitney demonstrated at the workshop, in improv when you fail everyone claps, celebrates your courage, and moves on.

Three things I took from both these programs is that:

  1. Everyone fails
  2. Failure is necessary for growth and innovation.
  3. The real test is how we respond to it and how we tell our failure story.

Not only do we need to fail, we need to shorten our failure cycles, moving quickly from failure to trying again. Shortened cycles lead to more learning and ultimately more innovation. JumpSpark, as a hub of teen innovation in Jewish Atlanta, has to be telling its failure story not only so we can better serve our community but also so we can model vulnerability.

Our last JumpSpark Professional event – the Creativity & Collaboration workshop mentioned above – was dangerously close to being a “failure”. We didn’t get the turn out we’d hoped, and was nearly canceled. In order for us to better serve you, we need to know why.

I invite you to share anonymous feedback about why this workshop or any previous events didn’t pique your interest. Was the location or time inconvenient? Are team-building events not your thing, or did the mention of “improv” sound unappealing? Was cost an issue, or did you not even hear about it? Or is JumpSpark Professional simply not speaking to your needs as a resource to build up Jewish professionals in Atlanta? I value your truthful feedback and perspective about your needs and the needs of the professional community. If you don’t wish to be anonymous, I welcome you to email me directly and have a conversation.

82% of responses to the 2017-18 survey of Jewish Educators & Professionals in Atlanta said JumpSpark Professional added to their job satisfaction and built community. We want to build on that success by continuing to bring teen professionals together for meaningful networking and professional development. Please join us on Mon. Nov. 5th for a Networking Breakfast to unpack the data responses from the survey and envision how to use this data to shape the future of JumpSpark Pro and the Jewish teen landscape.

Thank you,

Film Sheds Light On Teen Anxiety

By JumpSpark

By Bob Bahr
First published in the Atlanta Jewish Times › 

Last year Nanci Rosing’s son, Alex, was finishing up his bar mitzvah study and preparing for a celebratory trip to Alaska when his mother noticed a significant change in his personality. Although Alex was a good student and well-liked by his teachers and classmates at The Davis Academy, when he came home from school each day he was a different person.

He spent most of his time alone, in front of an iPad or computer screen, rarely speaking or interacting with his parents or an older brother, uninterested in sports or other after school activities.

For Nanci Rosing and her husband, Mark, the change in behavior was a red flag.

“His teacher and counselors were seeing a different kid than we saw at home,” she says, “but he wouldn’t admit to being anxious or upset. He would just say he was OK, but he wasn’t. We didn’t know how to help him.”

What she didn’t immediately realize was that her son was one of the millions of American children and adolescents who suffer from chronic anxiety disorders. While a certain amount of anxiety is normal in children and adults and is an important component of our survival instinct, anxiety disorders are the nation’s most common mental illness, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. It estimates that one in eight American children suffers from serious anxiety.

It may take the form of sudden panic attacks or separation anxiety, an obsessive-compulsive and post-traumatic stress disorder, or in the case of Alex Rosing, severe anxiety associated with fear of social situations during which he was expected to interact with others in an unfamiliar situation.

An estimated 80 percent of young people with a diagnosable anxiety disorder were not getting treatment, according to a 2016 study of mental health in children by the Child Mind Institute. The reasons varied, but in many cases, parents just don’t recognize their child is in trouble.

Jenny Howe, a psychotherapist who helps teens overcome anxiety, narrates the film, Angst. She will lead a discussion at the MJCCA Aug. 19 with parents and professionals.

Jenny Howe is a psychotherapist with nearly 20 years of experience working with troubled youth. She said early treatment can sometimes head off much more serious problems later.

“Often anxiety is an indication that there are other mental health issues happening that may not have been diagnosed yet. So if treated early, it can often be preventable for a lot of other mental health issues.”

Later this month a new program at the Marcus JCC sponsored by JumpSpark, a teen initiative, and a number of community organizations, aims to raise awareness about the danger of chronic anxiety in teenagers here, and how parents can get more involved in dealing with the problem.

The schedule features a pair of film screenings and discussions of a recent documentary, “Angst,” which examines the causes and effects of anxiety in teens and young adults and how parents can work with their children to get help.

The discussion will launch a yearlong series of programs for Jewish teens and their parents presented by JumpSpark, which is beginning the second year of a five-year program in Atlanta.

It is supported by a $2.1 million grant from the Jim Joseph Foundation to develop a Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Initiative.  The grant is to enable Atlanta teens to explore, through a Jewish lens, their experiences in the community.

The executive director of JumpSpark is Kelly Cohen, who formerly worked at The Davis Academy. She believes that this year’s kickoff program is particularly important.

“We felt that dealing with teen anxiety was an important conversation to have right at the beginning of school year so that everyone has an awareness of the resources and tools to help teens navigate the anxieties of what it means to be a teen today.”

The “Angst” documentary highlights, in part, the experiences of Michael Phelps. During his legendary career as an Olympic swimmer he won a record-breaking 28 medals, more than any other single athlete in the history of the games.

What many people don’t know was how Phelps struggled several times along his Olympic career with serious issues of chronic anxiety and depression.

He was quoted recently as saying, “I remember sitting in my room for four or five days not wanting to be alive, not talking with anyone. That was the struggle for me … I reached that point where I finally realized I couldn’t do it alone.”

Athletes may be more prone to mental pressures than the general population, according to a 2012 study of German athletes by the Technical University in Munich. The same may also be true for teens in the Jewish community.

“There’s an expectation of success that goes along with the ethnicity,” said Howe, who narrates the documentary and will help lead a discussion after the screening.

“Kids — and I’ve worked with a lot of Jewish kids – believe that in order to be loved, whether this is rational or not, they need to be successful, they need to perform.”

But those considerations are in addition to other influences, such as the internet and social media, which make growing up so stressful in modern society.

“Anxiety,” she notes, “has been on the rise over the last 10 years. Because of the influence of social media, teens have the ability to compare themselves constantly to others that in previous years, they didn’t know before.  So, with all these comparisons there is the possibility that, instantly, they feel inferior.”

Nanci and Mark Rosing’s concerns about the seriousness of their son’s anxiety disorder led them last summer to an 11-week program in Utah specially designed for young people with treatable anxiety.

During the past school year, Alex has been a student at WayPoint Academy in Huntsville, Utah, a residential program that works with young people under professional supervision to tackle the challenges of anxiety.

It was a major commitment, in many ways, but Nanci feels it paid off.

“He engages, he looks in someone’s eyes and talks to them. You can see a sense of confidence. He can now do a lot of things that would even make me uncomfortable. He’s learned a skill that hopefully he can bring home.”

He’s coming home this month to resume his studies at The Weber School, to face what his parents feel will be a much brighter future and finish up work on that bar mitzvah he never had.

“Angst – Raising Awareness Around Anxiety” will be presented by JumpSpark at the Marcus JCC theater, Sunday Aug. 19 from 3:00 to 5:00 p.m. for parents and professionals and on Wednesday, Aug. 22 from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. for teens. For tickets and more information,

Learning with Our Feet

By JumpSpark

By Aaron Levi
First published at AaronLeviCurricula › and eJewish Philanthropy ›

I find myself at the intersection of Auburn Avenue and Jackson Street in Southeast Atlanta. Known as “Sweet Auburn,” this neighborhood was once the beating heart of Atlanta’s thriving African-American community and where Dr. King grew up. Nearly two dozen Jewish educators, professionals, and lay leaders huddle against the unseasonably frigid April weather in the MLK Jr. National Historical Park for Learning with Your Feet, an event organized by the Experiential Jewish Education Network and JumpSpark Professional.

In front stands Billy Planer, founder and director of Etgar 36, which offers social justice tours across the South that explore history, politics, and activism. Planer is a passionate Jewish educator who begins by challenging the standard narrative that “Jews were heavily involved in the Civil Rights movement” before adding, “Black-Jewish relations were not exactly as tight as we like to think.”

While many Northern Jews volunteered to register voters, participated in demonstrations, and marched in protests, “Jews,” he says, “stood on both sides of the [Edmund Pettus] bridge in Selma” in 1965. Southern Jews often stayed silent about Civil Rights for a variety of reasons, the most notable of which was, of course, the Leo Frank Case in 1913 and the Temple bombing in 1958. Frank’s hanging traumatized Jews in the New South, engendering a strong desire to blend in. The Temple bombing was specifically designed to discourage Atlanta’s Jews from engaging in the emerging Civil Rights movement.

Historic Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, GA

We walk across the street to the beautifully restored Ebenezer Baptist Church. The chapel strikes a perfect balance of intimacy and awe. Listening to Dr. King’s voice on a recorded sermon, I feel a deep connection to his legacy and mourn the absence of such a visionary leader whom we so desperately need today.

From there, our group travels via street car to downtown Atlanta to meet Julie Rhoad, The Names Project Foundation president and CEO. Rhoads cut her teeth as a stage manager in New York City during the early 1980s when the AIDS epidemic was considered a risk only for the “4 H’s”: Haitians, hemophiliacs, homosexuals, and heroin addicts.

“My friends were not considered human beings,” Rhoads recalls with watery eyes. “Their lives were disposable.”

For most of his presidency, President Ronald Reagan refused to act on, let alone acknowledge, this epidemic, so AIDS activists devised a way to “humanize the other and show that the AIDS epidemic was [and is] a human not a statistical tragedy,” says Rhoads. Enter the AIDS Memorial Quilt in 1987. Memorializing those lost in a quilt enshrines their legacies using the best traditions of American folk art.

The first quilt block I noticed prominently displays Hebrew letters commemorating the passing of Tamar Zinger, Amos Gutman, and Ittai. One of the 3-feet by 6-feet panels – roughly the size of a coffin – says in Hebrew: “To every person there is a name.” Written by the Hebrew poet Zelda, the poem whispers, “To every person there is a name/Derived from his celebrations/And his occupation. /To every person there is a name/Presented by the seasons/And his blindness.”

I strike up a conversation with Jennifer Rich, executive director of the historic Congregation Mickve Israel in Savannah, GA. As we discuss how today’s experiences apply to our work, Rich says, “Our community can help bridge the generations. We can bring Judaism to life by having difficult conversations about important issues. Judaism’s not only about what’s Kosher or non-Kosher or who reads the Torah. Jewish sources and our heritage of social justice are gifts we can use to help others. Synagogues can be a part of that, or [I fear] they’ll disappear.”

African Americans created a self-sustaining bubble in Sweet Auburn that uplifted and supported their community. And, yet, Atlanta’s progress thwarted what overt racism could not: In the 1950’s, Atlanta paved Interstates 75 and 85. By intentionally cleaving the business and cultural district from the neighborhood, the city’s officials created an economic vacuum that devastated the community. This painful history is integrally linked to Atlanta’s present as well as the entire nation’s future. As the city revitalizes, how we balance growth with inclusivity, accessibility, and equity will affect the city’s fabric and the Jewish community for decades to come.

A half-century has passed since the assassination of Dr. King, yet many of the social and economic issues for which he struggled still remain unresolved. Feel-good versions of history, the Civil Rights movement, and even what’s considered “progress” tend to blind us to the structural inequalities rending our society. Without seeing America as it is, we will never shape it into what it could be. Just as Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel once prayed with his feet to activate the nation’s conscience, today I learn with my feet as a reminder that Jewish education can contribute to a New New South by integrating and practicing the radical ideas expressed in the Torah, the Declaration of Independence, and the inspiring legacy of social justice activists.

Aaron Levi is a freelance curriculum developer and independent officiant of Jewish ceremonies. Aaron lives in Atlanta, GA with his wife and daughter and loves to read, write, play music, paint and cook.

The Experiential Jewish Education Network increases the impact and unlocks the potential of Jewish educators. It provides opportunities for learning, connection and collaboration that strengthen the skills and networks of its members and connects them to the best practices and ideas in the field. Find out more

The EJE Network is generously supported by the Jim Joseph Foundation and is a proud partner of Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, The Leadership Commons of the William Davidson School at the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Center for the Jewish Future at Yeshiva University.

JumpSpark Professional, a JumpSpark program, offers networking and professional development opportunities to Jewish education professionals in Atlanta. JumpSpark, part of the Jim Joseph Foundation’s Teen Funder Collaborative, is an initiative to raise Jewish teen engagement in Atlanta through experiential education and immersive, interest-based experiences.

Innovation Key to Seminar for Youth Professionals

By JumpSpark

By Rich Walter and Hope Chernak
First published on December 15, 2017 in the Atlanta Jewish Times ›

Rifling through a pile of random objects in a Tel Aviv youth hostel, 13 Atlanta youth professionals and one Israeli Reform rabbi listened to the words of their teacher, artist Hanoch Piven..

“We all have the ability to look at the world in a different way, a playful way,” Piven said.

Participants in the JumpSpark Professional seminar in Israel show the self-portraits they made with found materials.

As he spoke, those 14 participants selected from among the crushed soda cans, oddly shaped buttons, children’s toys, dried pasta and unraveled cassette tapes. We were using our creativity and objects others had discarded to create self-portraits representing who we were as educators and individuals.

Looking at our work in new and innovative ways was the overall theme of the eight-day seminar in Israel. Sponsored by the new Atlanta Jewish Teen Initiative through its professional network, JumpSpark Professional, the experience brought together local youth educators representing congregations, youth movements, summer camps and arts organizations.

AJTI is the result of Atlanta’s selection as one of 10 cities to participate in the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative, which brings national and local funders together to develop, nurture and scale new approaches to teen engagement.

The seminar was conceived and led by AJTI Executive Director Hope Chernak. Seeking a bold way to engage teen educators, she knew that Israel is the best place for inspiring these professionals to grow and innovate.

Rabbis Gabby Dagan and Na’ama Dafni-Kellen of the Leo Baeck Education Center and Congregation Ohel Avraham in Haifa served as her Israeli counterparts in planning and leading the program.

Chernak was also deeply invested in creating local partnerships to serve the group, both during its time in Israel and upon its return. She turned to the Center for Israel Education, which provided Rich Walter as a scholar in residence. Walter offered historical context and strategies for engaging learners with Israel in diverse ways.

For Molly Okun, the director of teen learning and engagement at Temple Sinai, a key takeaway is that “there are many ways to be a Jewish educator, and I found innovative ways to infuse Israel education into my programs. I am more comfortable with using a variety of modalities to teach about Israel after this trip.”

AJTI plans to build on the success of the trip to expand JumpSpark Professional to offer opportunities for personal and professional growth, networking and collaboration. CIE will continue to work with AJTI to offer Israel enrichment for Atlanta Jewish professionals.

Rich Walter is the associate director for Israel education at the Center for Israel Education. Hope Chernak is the former executive director of JumpSpark, formerly called the Atlanta Jewish Teen Initiative.

Navigating Concepts Presented In The Show “13 Reasons Why”

By JumpSpark

By Dr. Betsy Stone and Hope Chernak

Our teens are looking for on-ramps for conversations with adults in a safe
space. “13 Reasons Why” can be used as a tool to discuss difficult
situations and behaviors that often come up in conversations with teens
today as well as played out in the hallways of their schools. Teens that
haven’t seen the show are also impacted by the experiences and
information they are hearing about the show with their friends and with
social media.

Here are some basic ideas that should guide you when speaking to teens:
If you initiate the conversation, remember to then let your teen carry the conversation (LISTEN).

  1. Listening is a long-term proposition. To really listen, you have a listen over an extended period of time. That means sitting with someone without other ideas racing around in your head.
  2. Listening to feelings DOES NOT involve trying to talk someone out of their feelings. Just because you wouldn’t be hurt or scared doesn’t mean that a student isn’t hurt or scared. Respect the feelings people share with you. It’s one of the kindest and most powerful reactions you can have to someone sharing with
  3. You don’t know how anyone else feels. You know how you feel. When you tell someone you know how they feel, you’re actually telling them that you’re not listening.
  4. Problem solving isn’t listening. When someone wants help with a problem, offer help. But most people don’t want help until they have shared their feelings about complicated problems. And they get to decide what’s a complicated problem.
  5. Sometimes the things you hear upset you. That’s reasonable. Who can you go to for your sounding board and support? Will they listen?
  6. Don’t promise that you will keep secrets. Sometimes you can’t.
  7. Sometimes the things you hear seem dangerous. If you’re worried about danger, you can’t leave the teen alone and you need to get help ASAP. Who is your go-to person? How would you contact them?
  8. Take your time. You don’t have to have answers to every question. “let me think” or “let me get back to you” are perfectly reasonable ways to let yourself calm down enough to think.

Other tips:

  • Remember to ask open ended questions.
  • It is important to allow our teens to have the space for dialogue and let them fill in the gaps instead of us speaking the entire time.
  • Use language that is appropriate for the teen that you are speaking to (e.g. age, maturity, intellect).
  • Possible questions to ask teens about “13 Reasons Why”:
    • What parts of the book /or show they found interesting?
    • What parts of the book/or show they found difficult or bothered you?
    • What parts of the book do you think adults will find difficult?
    • What do you think was missing from the show?
    • What are your friends discussing about the show?
    • Let your teen carry the conversation.
    • Be supportive and follow up with appropriate questions.
    • What if you don’t understand something that is portrayed in the show?
    • Be honest.
    • Ask your teen what they think about the questions they posed to you (e.g., “I don’t get that/What’s that all about?”).
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