They arrived from New York City; Long Island; New Jersey; Atlanta, Georgia; Boca Raton, Florida; Toronto, Ontario; and Rockville, Maryland. They were high school teens who attended MTA, HANC, Midreshet Shalhevet High School, Atlanta Jewish Academy, DRS, Yeshivat Or Chaim-Ulpanat Orot, Ezra Academy, Ma’ayanot, Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, Shulamith High School for Girls, Katz Yeshiva High School of South Florida, HAFTR, TABC, SKA and Yeshiva of Flatbush. From November 10 to November 12, more than 100 high school students attended NCSY’s 2019-2020 JUMP Create-A-Thon at the Crowne Plaza in Stamford, Connecticut, where they gathered to learn about existing chesed programs, explore areas that needed attention and create ideas for new initiatives.
Rabbi Jacob Bernstein, the director of day school programming at NY NCSY, who introduced the program in his gregarious, energetic style, explained that the main purpose of the three-day gathering “was to inspire teens to use their creativity and passion to formulate a solution to a real-world issue impacting teens today.” JUMP encourages teens to take matters into their own hands, because they, too, can make incredible contributions to their communities.
Rabbi Josh Grajower, director of day school engagement for NY NCSY, expanded on this theme and added that JUMP empowers teenagers to be leaders and make a difference in their own communities. “Our teenagers are generally the consumers of all the creative efforts of adults to make positive change within our communities, but we at NCSY strongly believe teenagers can be the catalysts of major change and growth within our communities. JUMP gives teenagers the time, space, resources and confidence to be able to make a difference.”
Founded by Phil Rosen, partner, Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP; member, NY NCSY board, JUMP is a program that has been running for over 10 years, but this is the first year to combine a “Hack-A-Thon” model and boardroom element as parts of the event. The JUMP Create-A-Thon models today’s innovation ecosystem with a goal toward creating and maintaining long-term effective solutions to issues like substance abuse, mental illness, education and chesed, all emphasized in the program. Typically, the teens work on their projects and initiatives from their home cities. However, modeling a Hack-A-Thon, this year’s JUMP challenged the teens to construct their programs and initiatives in 13 hours. The Fundamentals Workshop enabled teens to learn how to leverage different skills for their projects.
As Rabbi Bernstein shared, “Within 48 hours, 14 teams from across the U.S. and Canada gathered and produced from scratch solutions to issues and problems they are facing in their communities. Over the course of the Create-A-Thon, teens highlighted a problem, developed a solution and began implementation.”
Sela Ratner, a student at Atlanta Jewish Academy, tries to make chesed a priority in her life. In addition to being the school’s yearbook editor; producer of Chagiga, the school’s all-girls play “by women for women”; playing volleyball; and volunteering for Friendship Circle, where she serves as president, Ratner attended the JUMP gathering with high expectations.
She shared that “The conference was extremely valuable and I learned that I’m never too young to identify a problem and work on a solution. JUMP was inspiring because I was witnessing and creating new initiatives that can really make a difference. As Jewish teens, we are becoming great leaders and JUMP gives us the tools to cultivate that within.” She was excited to meet the mentors, educators, rabbis and professionals at the program. She attended important panel discussions and learned how to reach a goal without getting sidetracked.
Alexa Szegedi, education associate in the NCSY education department, explained that JUMP attracts teens that seek leadership opportunities. “JUMP quite literally challenges complacency and calls on the teens to step up and discover both their voice and role in their communities. JUMP also offers a unique learning opportunity for teens to learn and hear from other teens. It’s energizing to see so many teens devoted to making the Jewish community a better place together.”
A highlight of the event for the teens was meeting Rachel Goldzal, who attends Ma’ayanot high school in New Jersey and is the first person ever to win on the food network’s cooking-show competition, Chopped, while keeping it kosher!
As a Syrian Jew who attends Yeshiva of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School in Brooklyn, Rebecca Sitt shared that she was delighted to learn about Ashkenazi schools and cultures and that she hopes to continue to learn more about different communities. She attended JUMP because she wants to develop her leadership skills and continue to be involved in chesed opportunities.
Yitzy Shaykevich attends MTA, where he is on the Model UN Team, Model Congress Team and Debate Team, and is a member of the Political Action Club. He is devoted to NCSY, where he is on the regional board. He has worked with NCSY on building houses and other chesed projects. For Shaykevich, “Chesed opportunities are always very important because they allow you to realize how fortunate you are. JUMP empowers teenagers to be able to take steps to enhancing Jewish life.” The conference provided the chance for him to learn skills, both in establishing non-profits and in working with his peers.
The themes of “inspire, educate and train” resonated throughout the sessions as teens were inspired to see themselves as creative innovators capable of making lasting and impactful change. Teens were educated in methods of developing necessary skills to implement their creative solutions in the real world, such as setting goals, making pitches, balancing budgets, fundraising, marketing and more. JUMP fosters enthusiasm toward tackling difficult but manageable projects and motivates continued effort.
Rabbi Bernstein summarized the goals of JUMP: “We support teens as they find themselves by finding solutions to the problems around them.”
For Leora Cohn, a student at Katz Yeshiva High School in Florida, the JUMP event provided the opportunity for teens to learn about struggles within the Jewish community and the importance of working together to find solutions. She explained, “There are many challenges and failures that we are faced with and we need to do a lot of planning if we want to better the future.” Cohn is on the NCSY regional board where she is the Israeli advocacy ambassador, in addition to serving as the technical editor of her high school yearbook and weekly newsletter. Cohn shared that she learned the significance of chesed from our ancestors, especially Abraham, and commented, “Chesed is the way for me to connect with my Judaism by helping the larger community around me. In addition, it is a way for me to give back to my community.”
By Yvette Finkelstein