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My First Month In Yokneam

By JumpSpark

Shalom! My name is Zoe, I’m 18 years old, and I’m from Atlanta, Georgia. I currently live in Yokneam Illit in a communal apartment with six other people and am a Shinshinit, which means I’m participating in a “year of service”. In the mornings, I work in a high school and help students with English and in the afternoons, I help out in a community center. As a shinshinit, I get the amazing opportunity to live and connect with Israelis and create a positive impact in my community. 

I’ve had several “wow moments,” but I think one of my favorites was on our first “komuna Shabbat,” which is when once a month, we all stay in the apartment and spend a Shabbat together. On Friday morning, we made a group trip to the mall, and while we were there, we found a puzzle shop. Now I’m sure you can only imagine how difficult it is for seven people to choose a puzzle. Everyone wanted a different puzzle, and we all disagreed on how much was reasonable to spend on a puzzle. But after a little time, we were able to discuss and compromise, and find two puzzles that we all were happy with. Then we went home, cooked and ate a beautiful Shabbat dinner, and had a very intense, very exciting puzzle competition (not to brag or anything, but my team won). Just the thought that we could all compromise and work together to find a solution really blew my mind. The situation could have turned ugly, but instead I think it strengthened our connection as a team. I’m really happy to be here in Yokneam, and I can’t wait to continue to grow and learn and experience more “wow moments.”

Final Learnings From Our Engagement Manager

By JumpSpark

“I hope to gain a better understanding of what obstacles woman must deal with every day and how to become a better leader to impact my community.” 

“I hope to further my leadership experience and learn new ways to take part in society and speak up about important issues.” 

These were just a few of the sentiments shared from Strong Women Fellowship applicants for the 2019-20 cohort, a group of teens I would get to know well and have the privilege of working with to grow the Fellowship into the robust, action-oriented leadership program it is today. I remember sitting in the JumpSpark office when I first started my role as the Engagement Manager of JumpSpark, feeling so much hope for the future of our country. I found myself feeling inspired by the drive and passion I saw in these teen leaders to change the world for the better. 

Two years later, as I wrap up my final days on the JumpSpark team before leaving for graduate school at Brandeis University’s Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program, I find myself reflecting on what I have learned. I continue to look forward to the future with hope and possibility having now seen what our teen leaders and those that support them are capable of achieving. I am excited to share some of the learnings from the role that I will continue to use well into the future. 

Teens Feel Seen and Heard Through Meaningful Action 

One of JumpSpark’s goals is to amplify teen voice in our community, and last year, I had the opportunity to dig into what this meant through participating in UpStart’s Change Accelerator program. Through focus groups and interviews with our Strong Women Fellows, I discovered that these teens would feel seen and heard through taking action to create positive change in the world using their unique skills and passions. I found that it is easy for one to feel disillusioned by the weight of the world’s problems and unsure of how to use their voice for change. During the Strong Women Fellowship, teens hear from speakers and gain new passions that they strongly desire to amplify in the world. Building in new opportunities for action will allow the teens to have a positive impact in the communities we serve and help the teens feel seen and heard as stewards of our changing world. 

This year, the Strong Women Fellowship will incorporate action into every speaker event, from advocating for LGBTQ+ justice to volunteering at a women’s shelter. Taking these actions will allow for these teens to amplify their efforts as budding Jewish changemakers. 

Collaboration Makes Us Stronger 

Throughout my time at JumpSpark, I have had the opportunity to watch our Community Partner Network of teen-serving professionals grow and gain strength. I witnessed a shift in our community towards more collaboration, towards people calling on others in similar roles for support on programs and combining forces to create high-quality Jewish opportunities for teens. I myself leaned on collaboration to support so many of our initiatives, thinking strategically about who we could partner with to reach more teens and build stronger programs. Throughout the rest of my career, I will embrace collaboration in creating new initiatives, knowing that it leads to more robust opportunities. 

JumpSpark is excited to continue strengthening the network of Jewish youth professionals in Atlanta. The Community Partner Network is beginning its third year with spots for 40 partners, and JumpSpark will be hosting convenings with professional development and networking opportunities twice a month to encourage collaboration and relationship building in the field. 

Parent and Teen Engagement are Interconnected 

One of the first findings that struck me from JumpSpark’s data and evaluation efforts was the interconnectedness of parent and teen Jewish engagement – if we engage parents Jewishly, their teen is more likely to get involved in Jewish opportunities and vice versa. Throughout my time at JumpSpark, I have seen this finding play out. Just the other day, my coworker shared about a parent she engaged with through one of our parent programs who then enrolled her teens in Jewish programming as well. Because of anecdotes like these, I see the value in parent engagement as a tool to further teen engagement, too. 

This year, we are excited to continue supporting parents through a variety of initiatives, like Project Launch for parents of teens just entering their next phase after high school and PhD in Parenting sessions for parents of younger teens. These powerful tools for engagement raise the bar for the family unit as a whole, and I will be excited to see what other new and innovative initiatives crop up for parent engagement at JumpSpark. 

Teens are Today’s Changemakers 

I have heard time and time again that teens are our future leaders. After my two years working with teens at JumpSpark, however, I can definitively say that teens are the leaders of NOW. Teen initiatives across the world are making waves and creating positive change. I have watched right here in Atlanta as teens themselves contributed to creating innovative Jewish programming and strengthening our Jewish community. I witnessed countless teen initiatives crop up to support those most vulnerable during the pandemic. I continue to be inspired every day by the teens in our community and throughout the world, and I am so grateful to have been able to play apart along some of these teens’ journeys. Look around – teens are making change today, leading us into a future that is more inclusive and just. 

All of these learnings and more will continue to guide my Jewish professional journey for the rest of my career – I am excited to take all of the lessons garnered from the teens, parents and professionals I have had the privilege to work with at JumpSpark to my graduate studies in Jewish Professional Leadership and beyond. I am so grateful to JumpSpark and the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta for guiding me on my Jewish journey and shaping me into the Jewish leader I am today. L’hitraot Atlanta, see you soon. 

Jewish Teens Guide To Understanding the Current Israeli-Palestinian Crisis

By JumpSpark

Resources and opportunities for connection and conversation for Jewish teens, parents, educators and professionals.

The current situation in Israel is complex and there are many narratives, viewpoints and resources filling our news and social media channels. Jewish Teen Initiative at CJP has compiled a collection of resources to help you learn about the evolving situation, which will be updated as new opportunities and resources become available.Join our Email List SIGN UP.

This article was originally published in Jewish Boston Teens.

What Is Happening?

Understanding Context and Bias

Exploring Our Relationship With Israel

Reflections and Hope for Peace


An Atlanta foundation bets big on the Israel gap year

By JumpSpark

30 Jewish teens will receive gap-year subsidies of at least $10,000 next year

As the number of American students in Israel on gap-year programs between high school and college began to jump during the pandemic, an Atlanta foundation was taking careful note.

Now, the Zalik Family Foundation and the Jewish Federation of Greater Atlanta are trying to sustain that “COVID bump” by making the gap-year experience more affordable.

“It’s basically a fifth year of college,” said Kelly Cohen, until recently the director of JumpSpark, the Atlanta federation’s center for teen programming.

Religiously observant communities in North America have long made a practice of sending high school graduates to spend a year studying at a yeshiva or seminary, but the practice was less common outside them, said Sheryl Korelitz, director of gap-year recruitment at Masa Israel Journey, which supports providers of long-term Israel trips for people ages 18-30 and is funded by the government of Israel and the Jewish Agency. In the 2019-2020 academic year, about 3,000 North American teens studied in religious settings, while 634 participated in other kinds of programs, such as the Young Judaea Year Course, which offers classroom study and volunteer experience, or the Nativ Leadership Program, offered by the Conservative movement.

Familiarity with the concept extended beyond the relatively small group of families that participated, however, said Korelitz, who was working at the time as a guidance counselor for Farber Hebrew Day School-Yeshivat Akiva in Southfield, Mich. When incoming freshmen realized last spring that they would be starting their college careers on Zoom, the idea of spending the year in Israel instead started to gain broader appeal.  

“People started scrambling,” she said, and the number of students from North America participating in the 30 non-religious gap-year programs Masa offers jumped by about 40%, to 1,100.

The pandemic limited the experience in some ways, Korelitz said. Groups of students had to quarantine upon entering Israel, and couldn’t travel freely throughout the country. Sites of cultural and historic interest were closed. However, many of the students became involved in anti-COVID volunteer work, such as putting together vaccination packets, which they found meaningful, she added.

The Jewish Community Response and Impact Fund (JCRIF), formed in the early days of the pandemic, responded to the opportunity to help those families and nurture their relationship to Israel by creating the JCRIF Gap Year in Israel Stimulus Fund, which gave funding to gap-year programs and scholarships to participants.

Inspired by JCRIF, the Zalik family came to JumpSpark with the idea of creating a local Atlanta program that would be easy to replicate in other communities, Cohen said.

Helen and David Zalik, the foundation’s principals, similarly said they wanted to harness the impact of the pandemic to create more enthusiasm for the gap-year experience, which they had long believed makes a lasting impact on students’ lives, enhances their readiness for college and will also improve Israel’s image on campus.

“If successful in Atlanta, we hope to help expand this model to other communities,” they said in an email.

In 2019, 12 students from the area participated in gap-year programs; during the pandemic, that number rose to 19, Cohen said.

To grow it further, JumpSpark did research through an internet survey and follow-up phone calls to families who tended to send their children straight to college, and asked them what they thought about the possibility of a year in Israel after high school.

“It wasn’t on their radar,” Cohen said. “There’s this hyper-focus on college admissions. Everything is about building your brand and your resume and going to school right away. But we knew we could disrupt that.”

JumpSpark also asked how much financial support was necessary to make the experience a fiscal possibility, and found that $10,000 was the right-sized subsidy. A gap year costs between $14,000 and $25,000, said Korelitz. Many federations give scholarships or subsidies for gap years, but the Zalik Family Foundation’s is the biggest, she added.

The foundation agreed to fund 30 subsidies; if a student agrees to add a service component, the subsidy rises to $15,000.

JumpSpark will apply to the Zalik Family Foundation to renew the grant, and now the question is whether the program will be taken up by funders in other cities, Cohen said.

“Because of the size of Atlanta we’re very much right-sized to do a pilot,” she said. “This work is replicable, but you have to have funding behind it.”

This article was originally published in eJewishPhilanthopy.

Root One Israel Teen Travel Takes Off

By JumpSpark

Root One, the major new $20 million national initiative announced by The Marcus Foundation in Atlanta to pump new life into teen trips to Israel, is off to a strong start.

Despite all the uncertainties connected with international travel during the pandemic, the program, announced in September, is running at full capacity and is being built out for future growth.

As the program approaches the midpoint of its first year almost all of the 5,000 individual grants for teen travel in 2021 have been snapped up.

They each provide a $3,000 voucher to defray the cost of the trip for 10th, 11th and 12th graders, leaving families to come up with $1,500 additional that’s needed for the multi- week program.

According to The Marcus Foundation there’s been a 58 percent increase in participation this year, over the number of teen travelers in 2019. But the numbers only tell part of the story. For Rabbi Yoni Kaiser-Blueth, who developed Root One at The Marcus Foundation, there a qualitative goal as well.Rabbi Yoni Kaiser-Blueth, who developed the Root grant, has been a Hillel leader at George Washington University.

“We really want to build out a pipeline of teens that is connected to the next stage of Jewish life. The hope is that by getting kids to experience Israel at a deeper level, that when they get to college, they’ll have the ability to advocate for and to be part of the pro-Israel community on college campuses.”

To build participation, the program partnered last fall with five of the major organizations that are involved with programming for Jewish adolescents: United Synagogue Youth, Ramah Israel, Union of Reform Judaism/NFTY, Orthodox NCSY and B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, which represent a broad cross section of Jewish life. That has since been expanded to over 20 organizations nationally. They have all been brought together to help prepare young people for a rich experience in Israel, according to Rabbi Kaiser-Blueth.

“We want to create a marketplace of content providers so that each organization can select a menu of modules or topics that they want for their teams. We want them all to be engaged with their participants in the months leading up to their trip.”

Among those who are coming up with new educational initiatives is Atlanta’s JumpSpark Atlanta organization, which is itself a new way to more fully engage teens in Jewish communal life. In January the group hosted “Teaching Israel in 2021” to help give 84 Jewish educators in Atlanta who participated the confidence and tools to move forward.

Kelly Cohen, JumpSpark’s executive director, said, “A lot of educators get very nervous around teaching Israel, talking about Israel. And we really want to help give them the skills and the resources to feel confident in teaching about Israel, talking about Israel and promoting teen Israel travel.”

JumpSpark is about to launch a new Root One teen program. It’s called the Amplifying Israel Team Fellowship in which four teams of young people who are involved in the Israel trips are partnering with teens in a sister city in Israel, It’s a way JumpSpark’s Cohen hopes to boost the number of young people going to Israel next year by 90 percent. She sees Root One as not just to build partnerships in Israel but to help create a more dynamic future.

“These Israel programs are really building a whole army of folks on the ground who will be speaking from their own experience. Having gone on these Israel trips, they will help to recruit others to go on Israel trips. Peer-to-peer engagement has been a very successful model for us in moving the needle of engagement among teens here.”

According to the executive director of the national Root One program, Simon Amiel, who spent 13 years developing campus programs for Hillel, Root One is about a wide range of options for teens.

Marcus Foundation’s Renay Blumenthal has a long history in Atlanta philanthropy.

“There’s tremendous opportunity for us to further deepen their growth in Jewish life, and so we look at that as the arc of the Israel experience. So that’s where our investment primary lies, in the entire arc of the Israel experience.”

For The Marcus Foundation, the grant for the first year is just a down-payment on helping to build a long-term commitment by a large community of funders and nonprofits to take the program to its next level.

As foundation vice president Renay Blumenthal sees it, Root One has the potential to loom large in the future of Jewish life.

“For Bernie Marcus, who established The Marcus Foundation, philanthropy is not just about writing checks for things. He wants to transform things. He wants to create change. And I think that’s what he feels like he’s doing. The ultimate goal of this program is to change the trajectory of Jewish connection, Jewish identity and connection to Israel for our youth, and have kids be prepared before they step foot on college campuses.”

This article was originally published in the Atlanta Jewish Times. Read it here.

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