Jenna Sailor and Peyton Schwartz, Strong Women Fellows, co-authored this article, originally published in VOXATL.
Sara Zoldan, who has taken up the profession of being a health and dating coach, is showing people all over the world how to become more confident in themselves and their bodies, as well as aiding women of all shapes and sizes in finding their perfect partners. You may be thinking, how is she helping people all over the world if she doesn’t travel for work that often? Well, the answer is her Instagram. By using her platform on social media, Sara is able to reach people everywhere with her health and romance advice and knowledge, which allows her compassionate and accommodating aura to be felt by many.
Sara’s interest in health was first piqued shortly after she moved to California from Toronto at the age of 21. She decided to take on Crossfit in order to achieve a healthier body. She describes her physical struggles during her first session: “I start running around the block and halfway through I’m down to a total crawl. I get back to the gym huffing and puffing, and thank God I had my asthma inhaler with me because I needed it.” However, she said that afterwards Crossfit was all she could talk about. Zoldan became immersed in the Crossfit world, eventually becoming a Crossfit coach herself. Up until COVID-19, she helped others to reach their health goals, teaching them that they didn’t have to look a certain way to be considered healthy, and Zoldan practiced what she preached. Crossfit played a huge role in Sara’s journey toward becoming her healthiest and happiest self.
This winter, Zoldan talked to JumpSpark’s Strong Women Fellowship, a group of Jewish teens from all over Atlanta, about her experiences in the realm of fitness and body image, both the good and the bad. Sarah has coached many young women in finding love regardless of their size. She educated us: impressionable young women on how to feel good about ourselves with the unreachable beauty standards of today’s world. She helped us identify why we may associate negative things with our bodies, or think badly of them: Getting weighed in PE and at the doctor’s office, being criticized by our parents, and seeing all of the perfect bodies on our Instagram feeds were just a few of the underlying reasons for our perceptions of ourselves. With Zoldan’s guidance, we were able to realize that most of us feel very similarly when it comes to our bodies, and we are influenced by many of the same things.
One of the most empowering things we did in this session was listening to the song “Scars to Your Beautiful” by Alessia Cara. As a group, we took a moment to really feel the weight and meanings of the lyrics, such as: “And you don’t have to change a thing the world could change its heart.”
The activity that stuck with Jenna the most was when we went into breakout rooms and thought of the things on social media that make us happy versus the ones that don’t make us feel as good. Zoldan explained that our confidence is extremely sensitive to social media. For example, seeing countless touched-up images of girls with flawless bodies pushes negative, intrusive thoughts into our minds; whereas, seeing a picture of a funny cat will increase confidence and make us laugh. The overall message of this activity was to demonstrate how destructive self-comparison can be and to shed light on the number one catalyst of it: social media.
Zoldan is changing the way women view themselves and leading by example in how to love oneself in order to project that love to others. She has helped us to recognize the very demanding beauty standards in society, and honor our own individual beauty — even if it does not conform to those standards. Ultimately, our meeting with Sara Zoldan provided us with a lot of insight on how to create and maintain a good relationship with our minds and our bodies.
Peyton Schwartz, 15, is a sophomore at Pope High School in Marietta, GA, who enjoys listening to music and spending time with friends.
Jenna Sailor, 15, is a sophomore at Dunwoody High School in Dunwoody, GA.
As a Jewish educator, I encourage a Gap Year experience to many of the High School teens I work with. It is an experience that is unparalleled for the growth and development of a young person. Not only in their Jewish identity, but in all aspects of life.
Your four-year university experience can wait.
Get rid of the attitude that “I want to just get on with my path, so I can finish and move to the next phase.”
Friends, this is part of your path. It not a GAP in your path. It is part of your journey.
When we were looking into this opportunity for my first child, the director of Nativ, Yossi Garr, said “It is not a year off. It is a year on.” That has stuck with me ever since.
As a parent, I could not be more satisfied and feel truly fortunate that I was able to provide this experience for both of my children, currently aged 26 and 23.
I had mixed feelings of excitement and sadness as we were at the airport as they were embarking upon their year experience in Israel. I will never forget the shifting around of items in their huge bags to make sure that each weighed 50 lbs. or under! But that is an article for a different time!
I felt they were safe, secure, and very well taken care of the entire time they were there. We kept in contact with each other with ease. Back a few decades ago, when I was away in Israel for a year, I clearly remember lining up at the pay phone with a token each week to call my parents! Thankfully, times are vastly different now, and we can talk to our children in a variety of ways.
Every time I heard my WhatsApp tone on my phone, I would know it was Natan (or 3 years later, Ilana) sharing news or just saying hi.
I lived vicariously through their excursions and experiences. We were fortunate to be able to visit each of our children while they were there, and they proudly and confidently showed us around. It was a joy seeing my children acting as tour guides in Israel.
Confidence and growth. Those were the most evident outcomes I witnessed in my children.
And they have friends for life. Shared backgrounds and a shared immersive experience created bonds that cannot be broken. I remember my daughter telling me that these people “just get her. They are like me.” Hearing and seeing them interact with their Nativ friends all these years later is evidence of the value of these relationships.
I will never forget when we were moving my son into his Freshman dorm room at the University of Michigan, he said to us how easy it was. He said “I have already done this. I have learned how to live on my own, cooked my own meals, made my way through a new city. I am looking at these other first year students and feel so much older and experienced then they are.”
Both my son and daughter have become impressive leaders in their respective communities. Of course, there are other things that contribute to these qualities, but the experience they had during their year in Israel between High School and College is a big influence.
I was born in Israel and I live in Israel so naturally I’m Israeli and I’m proud. Living in Israel has its ups and downs but after reading the paper and watching the news about the life of Jews in other countries it seems to me that I live in a wonderful place without antisemitism and prejudice.
In Israel we are all Jews that is what I see at school when I look around me. Of course there are other nationalities and religions in Israel but still Israel is a country for Jews. It is like an oasis in the middle of the desert.
In Israel being a Jew is not unique. My family and I eat kosher food and don’t mix dairy products with meat. We do it even without thinking and without special intention. When we go to the supermarket the meat we buy is kosher and so are the rest of the groceries. On Shabbat my parents don’t work and we don’t have school because Israel is a Jewish country. Sometimes we need to intensify the fact that we are Jewish so we do that with special little rituals like the ritual of the challah baking on Friday morning.
I’m not religious, but on Friday mornings I like to get up early in the morning and bake challah bread with my mother. This is a small but an important ritual that takes place in my house. The challah baking ritual began even before I was born with my sister, Maya. Now that my sister is in the army, I find myself baking the challah with my mother only almost every Friday. This ritual got me closer to my mother and when we sit together to eat Friday night dinner we look proudly at our challahs, knowing that we did something special for the Shabbat.
Before this past year, one of my favorite Jewish traditions was going to Synagogue on Saturdays. I would dress up, grab my beloved Siddur I received from my bar mitzvah, and spend 3-4 hours praying in Hebrew, listening to the Rabbi’s Dvar Torah, and gossiping with fellow members of the congregation, all for the reward of some truly incredible bagels and lox. However, with the start of this pandemic, this ritual hasn’t really been possible, so I’ve had to find other ways to connect to Judaism. I go to The Weber Jewish Community High School in Sandy Springs, Georgia. It’s an egalitarian school, so prayer isn’t mandatory. I don’t usually go; they’re very early and as a 17-year old kid, my self-inflicted sleep deprivation makes anything in the early morning pretty difficult.
I go to classes like Hebrew and Modern Jewish History. I’m lucky to have those classes and it’s been great to express my Judaism through learning and studying. I believe connecting with my Jewish community and learning about Judaism are just as important as praying or reading Torah. Since one of those things can’t be traditionally done as I’m stuck at home, I’ve been connecting and studying like never before. I’m involved in organizations like BBYO and Young Judaea, as well as the AJC and the Jumpspark fellowship program. These really are the highlights of my week; They offer a break from the monotony of school, homework, video games, exercise, and sleep.
One that stands out, however, is the Jumpspark program. With Jumpspark, I work with Israeli teens just like me to tell our stories of Jewish identity in America and Israel. I’ve learned a lot about Israel from my Israeli friends in Jumpspark or otherwise. My work in Israel advocacy is one of my most beloved connections to other Jews in Israel, but talking to Israeli friends helps me get new perspectives, and they’re all wonderful, interesting people. My greatest friends live at home, in the USA. I connect with other Jews in the US, as many others do, through groups like BBYO. I’m the Mazkir, AKA communications czar, for my local BBYO chapter. It’s a good bit of work but incredibly rewarding, when we can all get together in zoom or in an open park and just hang out. In lieu of in-person religious involvement, I’ve found meaning and depth in just connecting with other Jews.
Judaism is the main part of my identity. I think the reasons for that are: that in my close community everyone celebrates the holidays whatever their beliefs, my family does kiddush every week before Friday dinner. Also, my grandfather was a holocaust survivor and his story impacted the way I see Judaism and my need to be part of Jewish people.
For me, being an Israeli means contributing to the community, speaking Hebrew, and celebrating our civilian holidays like Independence Day.
Judaism and Israeli history are really woven together in my school work. In school every morning we stand to Hatikvah. Through school we travel across Israel and learn stories from history or the Torah. Also in history class, I am learning about the Holocaust and that has made such an impact on my Jewish identity. A couple of years ago my school took my class to Mount Herzl Cemetery. Mount Herzl Cemetery is the site of Israel’s national cemetery and other memorial and educational facilities. There we learned about the people that lost their lives for Israel. It was very emotional and gave me a new perspective on what it means to be an Israeli.
Outside of school I volunteer for Krembo Wings (https://www.krembo.org.il/en/), a youth movement for children with and without disabilities. Youth movements are the way that a lot of teenagers contribute to the community here in Israel.
Although being Jewish is the main part of my Jewish identity, I also spend time reading, meeting friends, drawing, or doing homework.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org. Limited spots are still available for the 2021-2022 Full year and Fall semester programs.