Skip to main content

$10K Scholarships Available For Gap Year In Israel. Apply Now!

By JumpSpark

This article was originally published in Fed5, a publication of the Jewish Federaiton of Greater Atlanta. Read the original article here.

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.

Make Your Own Path On A Gap Year

By JumpSpark

You’re on a path. If you’re like most, that path includes going to school, building your resume, working to get good grades, getting into a good college, picking a major, and hopefully landing a rewarding and lucrative job. It’s a proven and certainly expected path, but… it’s not always the right one for everyone.

Nowadays, many students choose to take time “off” before heading to college. A gap year after high school enables you to focus on your education outside the classroom, experience a different culture, learn a new language, and become a global citizen. You will meet a network of like-minded people who will become lifelong friends. And you will develop skills in areas of interest to you and maybe discover interests you didn’t even know you had.

Studies show that students who take a gap year are more successful in college. In fact, admissions directors report that they prefer students who have taken or plan to take a gap year, as these students tend to be more mature and focused, better leaders, and adept at managing their time and money, travel and roommates before they ever step foot on campus. And after college, your gap experience will continue to be an advantage as employers will appreciate the courage, service-mindedness, global awareness, and teamwork that you acquired through your extended overseas experience.

For Jewish students, one of the most exciting options is a year in Israel. In Israel, you can explore your heritage and connect with locals while you volunteer, intern, study, travel, and deepen your Jewish identity. You will live in the “Start Up Nation,” learning about the early pioneers and about advancements that continue to improve the world. And you will inevitably forge your own path that will be more meaningful and uniquely enriching.

Jewish National Fund’s Gap Year, Frontier Israel, is one such program. With the benefit of JNF’s vast resources, Frontier Israel participants spend extended time living, volunteering, and learning in the north, the center, and the south of Israel. Each Frontier has a different feel, different culture, and different experiences, and each is amazing in its own way! Live like an Israeli, explore the country, help others, and make your own path on Frontier Israel. For more information, please contact me at Limited spots are still available for the 2021-2022 Full year and Fall semester programs.

My Israel Gap Year Experience

By JumpSpark

I’m forever grateful for the experience of having participated in an Israel gap year and the perspective that year gave me.  While on Year Course I learned so much about myself, my Jewish identity and my place in the world.  I learned that I am capable – I had to navigate an unfamiliar society, including new currency, language and expectations.  Did I misstep? Yes! So many times, but I learned, grew and gained confidence in myself.  I came to understand that Israel, while unfamiliar, was also a home for me.  The friendships formed through those experiences endure through today. I came to understand what it meant to be a part of something you believe in and I felt like my contributions were important.  I didn’t know it then, but these lessons would shape the person I was to become. 

I remember people would ask why I wanted to “take a year off” before college.  I never felt like it was a year off.  I felt like it was a year to grow and experience life! I learned so much by immersing myself in Israel for those months.  I lived with a moshav family in the Golan Heights and reflected on what it means to be a community.  I worked in the community gan (preschool) in the Arad absorption center and learned to welcome someone with a genuine smile because words were not available.  I became a braver more confident version of myself.  I rode buses back and forth across Israel- by the time I arrived in Athens the UGA buses were a cinch.  I managed my expenses in sheckels, so keeping track of dollars was manageable. I made choices how to celebrate and observe Jewish traditions with my community and found my own joy in these experiences.  The lessons from my gap year experience inspired me, taught me and prepared me for a life of adventure and service founded in Jewish values.  I am truly grateful for those experiences.  

Tracey Grant/JumpSpark Think Tank member   

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.

Spark Note: Helping Jewish Youth Find Joy and Connection in Challenging Times

By JumpSpark

In 2019-20, Moving Traditions has been thrilled to partner with JumpSpark to bring our innovative programs to the Atlanta Jewish community to build the wellbeing and Jewish identity of youth.

Now, our lives have been interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.  We face isolation and fear for the health of those we love.  Jewish youth especially are seeing their social lives shut down, as they are confined to their homes with their parents and behind their screens.

Moving Traditions is taking steps to help parents and Jewish educators address the needs of the moment.

In mid-March, Moving Traditions began to release a series of COVID-19 resources, including a new session for our Rosh Hodesh, Shevet and Tzelem teen groups, Teens and Coronavirus: Living Life During a Pandemic, focusing on balancing self-care and the responsibility to care for others; avoiding scapegoating in times of fear; touch and consent; and the importance of seeking out joy.

The session follows Moving Traditions usual approach, combining ancient Jewish wisdom with the latest in social-emotional learning and teen culture to explore the important issues of the day. As always—and even in our online adaptations—we use a variety of modalities to create safety, intimacy, fun, and meaning-making. And we are training our educator-partners to adapt to our new online world through webinars and one-to-one coaching.

As a synagogue educator recently wrote, “We have taken our Rosh Hodesh and Shevet groups online and the families and teens are really thankful. In fact, our 10th-grade boys’ Shevet group has requested to meet twice a month while we are all at home, and we have agreed and that’s what they are doing.”

In late April, we just released another new session, this time for parents and their preteens and teens. Entitled,  “How to Connect When You’re Never Apart,” the session is designed to be implemented with a Zoom platform, and is available to all Jewish educators.

With families spending more time together under one roof than ever before, the “How to Connect” session gives parents and children the opportunity to come together—even if on their own screens—to talk to one another in real-time about the gifts and challenges of this new normal. The session provides the opportunity for each person to reflect on and share with their family members their communication styles and needs and explores strategies for truly connecting with one another.

Looking ahead to the next 3-6 months, the Moving Traditions team is conducting rapid needs assessment interviews in order to revise and clarify how we can best meet the needs of Jewish youth, educators, and institutions going forward, given how our lives are so fundamentally changing. 

We look forward to continuing to partner with JumpSpark and the Atlanta Jewish community, as together we support Jewish youth and families through this crisis—and into resilience, wellbeing, and connection.

Please join us for our Taste of Moving Traditions Webinar: Join JumpSpark virtually on May 13 at 1 pm for an experiential webinar to learn about Moving Traditions and the impact that, together, we can have on Jewish youth in Atlanta. During this “Taste of Moving Traditions,” we will give you insight into their Pathway of programs, including B’nai Mitzvah programs and Teen Groups. This is a great opportunity to learn about bringing this flexible community-building program to your community in a time when teens need that sense of connection. Moving Traditions programming can be implemented online or in-person.

Register here:

Established in 2005, Moving Traditions launched with a Teen Group program for girls, Rosh Hodesh, and has since created Shevet for boys and Tzelem for transgender and non-binary teens. Our new B’nai Mitzvah program helps 6th and 7th graders and their parents develop strong communication and empathy as they prepare to become and parent a teen, and the Carol Lowenstein Moving Traditions B’nai Mitzvah Training Institute prepares clergy and educators to lead meaningful, Jewish conversations to help families navigate this important “coming of age” time of life. Together, the Moving Traditions B’nai Mitzvah program and Teen Groups comprise the Pathway to Flourishing Jewish Teens.

Their latest training initiative, CultureShift, prepares camp leaders to train their counselors and staff to challenge sexism, sexual harassment, and assault at camp, and to promote healthy relationships rooted in safety, respect, and equity.

To date, Moving Traditions has emboldened 25,265 teens, trained 2,023 adults as B’nai Mitzvah program leaders and Teen Group mentors, and partnered with more than 400 congregations, JCCs and other Jewish entities across North America. We operate six staffed regions in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia.

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

Atlanta Anti-Semitism Summit Educates And Empowers Community

By JumpSpark

“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.

Teens and Parents Wrestle with Anti-Semitism

By JumpSpark

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!” •

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,

Close Menu