Rabbi Tarfon teaches us in Pirkei Avot:

The day is short, the task is long, and workers are indolent, and the masters are insistent.

He goes on to say:

It is not your responsibility to finish the work [of perfecting the world], but your are not free to desist from it either (2:16).

Our Rabbis of the Talmud experienced burnout.

Faun Zarge, a burnout and resilience specialist from Boston MA was the guest presenter at our recent JumpSpark/Jewish Education Collaborative professional development evening. In her 60 minute presentation, she shared with us tools and techniques on how to avoid burnout in this unique year, as well as in general.

As Jewish professionals, we spend most of our time giving to others, often forgetting to fill our own vessels so we can continue the work we do.

She began by sharing her definition of burnout: Too many demands, too few resources, and not enough time for recovery. This is clearly the experiences of professionals who work for Jewish organizations.

Ms. Zarge asked the participants to reflect and write down three things that are most important to us. When answers where shared, what was revealed was that too few of us put ourselves first. Avoiding burnout must begin with taking time for recovery.  It is imperative that we schedule into our day. This time is just as important as working on your budget or planning the next virtual class or training for teachers. According to Zarge, we are obligated to do self-care. According to Rabbi Tarfon, we are not even obligated to complete our work, but we are obligated to take care of ourselves. 

Zarge went on to offer concrete things we can do to keep our fire burning.

Commit for 10 days to do something that will bring us joy and less stress:

  • Set a reminder in your phone to get up and walk
  • Take Facebook off your phone if all the “doom scrolling” is a distraction
  • Calling a loved one or friend you have not spoken to for awhile
  • Eating healthy

Ms. Zarge asked participants to share time management techniques.  Things like chunking activities, grouping together similar tasks, like phone calls, answering emails, writing, figuring out your best time of day to be productive.  Zarge shared research that the ideal commute time is 16 minutes – this is hard to believe coming from Atlanta- nevertheless, she recommended using our newly acquired 16 minutes (due to the pandemic) in our days to do something else.  We could use it to work out, prep dinner for the evening, call a parent. 

These professional development evenings with JumpSpark and the Jewish Education Collaborative are helpful and enriching. We learn together, we see that we are not alone nor isolated with our challenges. There are colleagues experiencing similar challenges. Learning and sharing together alleviates burnout as well.

2000 years ago, there was a Jewish professional who warned against burnout, and offered one simple technique: do a little at time.  No need to feel overwhelmed by the task.  Break it down.  In the year 2020, Faun Zarge shared many more techniques and shared ways we can take care of ourselves and keep on doing great work for our community. 

My name is Rachel Binderman and I am a junior on a High School program called  Alexander Muss High School in Israel. At the beginning of my sophomore year I decided to sign up for AMHSI. When COVID struck I was worried that the program would not continue, but thankfully it worked out and I am now sitting  in the land of Israel. Right now is a crazy time to be traveling anywhere, especially across the world. Although there are many uncertainties while traveling I felt that going to Israel was still the best decision I could have made. The fact that JumpSpark helped me get here is even more special because it has been a huge part of my high school experience through the Strong Women Fellowship. I have gotten to take the skills I learned from them to Israel with me.

When I first decided to go to Israel it was because I have always felt a deep connection to my Jewish identity, but not Israel. I came in search of a deeper connection to the land my ancestors once struggled to keep and treasured so dearly. When I settled on going on AMHSI I knew this was the right program for me. It gives me the experience to learn about the land in an interactive way and meet Jewish  teens from around the world with many of the same interests as me.

When I first got to AMHSI I was in quarantine, or bidud in Hebrew, for 2 weeks. It was scary going into it knowing that I would be stuck in a room with strangers for 2 weeks. The first day was rough but  by the second day these 3 girls became some of my best friends. We had many online classes learning about Israeli culture through art, music, and movies. Even in quarantine we were always busy with fun activities. I already felt the power that Israel has even though I was unable to leave the campus. 

The day that we got out of bidud we were already off to our first trip (tiyul). We stayed at a kibbutz and during the 3 days that we  were there we went hiking on Mount Gilboa, went to natural springs, and the beach. After this  trip the country went on lockdown so we were stuck on campus but even that was amazing. We learned about Israel and had fun activities planned by our teachers and madrichim. We got close at the program during this  time and even were able to get special permission to travel. We got to go on special volunteering trips at farms around Israel to help the farmers in need. After about 3 weeks lockdown started to ease up and we were able to go back on tiyulim

We have been on many tiyulim since then and each one gets better and better. We learn about the history of Israel and the Jewish people while also having fun with our friends. I am so privileged to be able to travel around a country half way across the world during this time of uncertainty and I am grateful for every second. We have been to the North, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, and small cities in between and I can not wait to keep exploring this beautiful land. I am so grateful for my experience here so far and I hope other high school students consider applying for this amazing program.

Caroline Rothstein, an internationally touring writer, spoken word poet and performer, spoke to a group of Atlanta teens about your own personal gods, Judaism in today, self-love, anti-semitism, and reincarnation, inspiring us to take her words into our lives and realize a greater truth in the world we face as young and Jewish women. 

Rothstein has performed poetry, recited speeches, and led workshops at colleges, schools, community organizations, and other performance spaces. She was able to present to us in an interactive, non-toxic, yet inspiring space — even on Zoom. 

Last fall, we had an amazing opportunity to get to know Rothstein prior to the JumpSpark Strong Women Fellowship full-group meeting. We learned how to effectively interact in a safe space on topics she planned to bring to the Jewish teens across Atlanta who come together (now virtually) to empower, learn from, and educate each other so we could take her experiences to benefit our own.

As soon as the famous “ding-dong” went off in the Zoom call, we were immediately struck by Caroline’s energy and presence. Despite being virtual, her contagious smile translated extremely well and lit up the (virtual) workspace. She immediately made us feel welcome and relieved for the discussion. She asked how everyone was doing on the call, and it felt so natural to speak with her. 

Quite frankly, prior to the call, we figured we would probably talk about whatever the speaker-of-the-month wanted to talk about, having the common somewhat-awkward Zoom call atmosphere. But Caroline was different. Instead of having an already prepared and rigid event, we were able to discuss with her what we thought the event should be about. We kicked off our discussion by talking broadly about matters we think are vital to discuss today, with ideas like body image and racial injustices. 

Caroline did not just hear, but listened to the actual words we were saying. It felt extremely personable that we were able to guide and facilitate the focus of the event, while understanding that with the constantly changing world, the subject matter could change. 

Around two days prior to the large-group meeting, Caroline sent us an email, pretty much checking in, asking if we thought the topic we had decided on was still applicable and was tailored appropriately for the culture of the world. Caroline teaches us how to observe the world around us and illustrate the idea of recognition of our surroundings. The flexibility Caroline taught and encouraged helped this group of teens to understand how omnipresent issues in the world are ever changing.

During the full group event, Caroline shared her poems and performed spoken word. She was able to convey a message and strong feelings through each poem. We could see how strong she is, as she was able to be so vulnerable through her poetry. 

We also did a couple writing exercises. We loved the letter we wrote to ourselves. Miriam wrote about how sometimes in her busy life she needs to take a moment to think and have a peaceful moment.

“Dear Miriam of the past, Life may be hectic so it’s alright to take a bit more time for yourself sometimes. Stay in your bed longer if you want or do a 15 step skincare routine.”

Overall, Caroline was an amazing speaker, and we’d love to hear more of her poems in the future. She left us with the feeling that it is OK to be every single part of ourselves, no matter the circumstances or how different you are. Because of Caroline, in the future, we feel that we will be able to do what we want in our professional and personal lives.

The Strong Women Fellowship meeting with Caroline Rothstein ended with sharing take-aways from the session.

Miriam Raggs is a 10th grader at The Weber School and Noa Young is a 10th grader at North Springs High School. Both are second-year Fellows and Peer Leaders for the JumpSpark Strong Women Fellowship.

Read the original article published in VoxAtl here.

By Sarah Brown, originally published in the Forward, December 30, 2020

Sarah Dowling and Justin Meszler may not be old enough to vote, but they’re making an impact in the upcoming Georgia Senate runoff election.

“Everyone deserves to have their voice represented in government,” Dowling said.

Dowling and Meszler, both 16, are youth volunteers and organizers for “Every Voice, Every Vote,” the Reform movement’s national, non-partisan civic engagement campaign. The campaign focuses on combating voter suppression, mobilizing young voters ages 18-29, and encouraging 100% voter turnout from Reform synagogues and communities around the country.

The state is the site of two runoff races for the U.S. Senate, which on Jan. 5 will determine which party will control the U.S. Senate. If Democrats win both seats, the Senate will be evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote.

Dowling, a Georgia resident, recently led a voter registration drive at her school in Atlanta. She registered more than 20 voters and handed out more than 400 voter guides, complete with information about voter registration and early voting.

“It’s up to people to decide whether the current people in power represent their values, or whether the people who are running now against them represent their values. This election allows people to have a voice, and that’s why it’s so important,” Dowling said, taking a quick break from organizing a “phone banking party” for teens planning to call older congregants.

Sarah Dowling hands out voter registration guides at her high school by the Forward
Sarah Dowling hands out voter registration guides at her high school (photo courtesy of Sarah Dowling)

The movement’s campaign, run out of its Religious Action Center, began as a national effort during the general election, then concentrated its efforts in Georgia by setting up a partnership with JumpSpark, a Jewish youth programming organization in Atlanta.

“When it became very apparent that there was going to be this runoff, we started thinking almost immediately about how we were going to organize the teens in our community and get out the teen vote,” said JumpSpark’s director, Kelly Cohen.

Reform Jewish teens including Sarah Dowling holding a voter registration drive at their school in Atlanta. by the Forward
Courtesy of Sarah DowlingReform Jewish teens including Sarah Dowling holding a voter registration drive at their school in Atlanta.

Meszler, a high school junior, lives in Massachusetts and has been involved in the Religious Action Center’s effort since the general election. He participated in a group that has sent close to 10,000 postcards encouraging people to vote throughout the 2020 election cycle and including the Georgia runoff.

He has also organized phone banking events through the Religious Action Center, and its partner, the Center for Common Ground, which aim to connect specifically with people of color in states with high levels of voter suppression.

Now, Meszler’s efforts are focused entirely on Georgia.

“It’s obvious that young people are so good at calling attention to an issue, shining a spotlight on it, and not taking that spotlight off, even in the middle of a pandemic,” said Logan Zinman Gerber, the national teen campaign organizer for the Religious Action Center.

Voter registration has surged in the state since the Supreme Court’s decision on Shelby vs. Holder in 2013, which invalidated a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by giving nine states more leeway in changing their election laws without federal preclearance. But the increase in registered voters has outpaced the number of available polling locations, and the problem is especially acute in predominant Black precincts.

According to data collected by Georgia Public Broadcasting/ProPublica, the average wait time after 7 p.m. across Georgia was 51 minutes in polling places that were 90% or more nonwhite, but only 6 minutes in polling places that were 90% white.

Voter registration guides created by Dowling and other Reform Jewish students for the voter registration drive by the Forward
Courtesy of Sarah DowlingVoter registration guides created by Dowling and other Reform Jewish students for the voter registration drive

For Meszler and Dowling, passion for civic engagement and social action is rooted in Jewish values.

“Through this work of making sure that everyone’s voice is heard, I feel in a way that I am practicing my Judaism,” Meszler said. “Everything that I’ve done in social action has been tied to Judaism.”

Dowling cited the Jewish values of tikkun olam, repairing the world, and tzedek tzedek tirdof, which means “justice, justice you shall pursue,” as guiding principles that motivate her to participate and engage others.

“I feel like voting is our main way as citizens of repairing the world. A vote is a way of pursuing justice for the people who either are underrepresented, or who can’t vote,” said Dowling. “If we elect leaders who we think reflect our own values, we play a role in shaping the world that we want to see.”

As the runoff approaches, the Religious Action Center and teens from the youth civic engagement campaign are redoubling efforts and continuing to try to reach as many eligible voters as possible.

“Check in with your friends and family in Georgia, see if they’ve voted or if they have plans to vote,” Dowling said. “You have the biggest impact on the people in your life, and it is so easy to just reach out to people.