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.

When compiling the list, we enjoyed learning more about each other’s cultures and we hope you enjoy reading our list of pop culture phrases too!

This list has been compiled by our April Amplifying Israel Teen Fellows: Rian Gordon, Atlanta and Noa Boguslavsky and Tamir Shaginyan, Yokneam, Israel.

Hebrew Phrases:

“Al hapanim” – על הפנים- when something is really bad and not fun.

Example- I’m really bored… this concert is “al hapanim.”

“Sababa” – סבבה – okay or “cool”

Example- “sababa”, I’ll be there tonight.

“Chai beseret” – חי בסרט – something you call someone when he is “dreaming” or not connect to reality (in free translation it is- living in a movie).

“Met al ze”- מת על זה- when you wanna say you really love something (in free translation- “im dying on it”). Example- this food is great! “Ani met al ze”!

“Para para” – פרה פרה – very similar to- “one step at a time” (a bit weird, but in free translation it means- “cow cow”).

Nadir-נדיר  “awesome”

Sahi -סאחי “someone boring and simple”

Ani Pipi-אני פיפי “It’s so funny, I can pee out of laughter.״

English Phrases:

“That slaps” – when something is excellent or amazing!

Example: That song slaps!

“Break a leg”- A way to wish someone good luck before a performance of some kind.

“She’s so sweet, she told me to break a leg on stage tonight.”

“I’m down”- I agree or am interested.

“Wanna go to the movies?” “Ya I’m down.”

YOLO- “You only live once”

“I know I shouldnt eat the whole pizza by myself but YOLO.” 

“For real” – to speak honestly

“That was scary for real.”

Drip- extreme coolness, style

“You got some nice drip.”

‘Who Knows One?’ sees its post-pandemic life in fundraising — and maybe matchmaking

The pandemic’s restrictions on social life have inspired new ways of connecting, from virtual birthday parties to Zoom speed-dating to digital simchas. In the Jewish community, they’ve given rise to a gamified version of “Jewish geography,” a favorite pastime of youth group alums, campers and others who have been active in Jewish social circles. Created by Micah Hart, “Who Knows One?” is named for the Passover Seder song of the same name, and was inspired by an ESPN show Hart watched in which the hosts competed to see who could get the most famous person to join a Zoom call. “It just sort of dawned on me. We were all at home, we had nothing else to do,” he told eJewishPhilanthropy.  

A resident of Atlanta, Hart is the son of Macy Hart, a longtime director of the Henry S. Jacobs Camp, a Union for Reform Judaism camp in Utica, Miss., and the founder of the Goldring/Woldenberg Institute for Southern Jewish Life. He had lost his job as head of social media for the restaurant franchise Buffalo Wild Wings early in the pandemic, and as a lifelong fan of Jewish geography, in which at least two people identify who they know in common, he realized that it could be enjoyable as a filmed contest. He also felt he had the skills to try to make it happen due to his professional background as a creator of digital content. Now, “Who Knows One?” is Hart’s full time job.

The show, which runs on Wednesday and Saturday nights on Facebook Live, premiered last April 25; it has taken several forms in 150 showings since then, including a March Madness-type tournament called “Elijah’s Cup” that ran through Passover, but the basic premise remains the same: The hosts announce the name of a Jewish person unknown to the competitors, and the contestants or (or in some cases, teams of contestants) work to locate that person and bring him or her onto the Zoom call by building a chain of connections using only clues from the hosts — no help from the internet allowed. When the game ends quickly, Hart and his co-hosts bring in a second individual. “There’s a lot of improv in the show,” Hart said. “We know where we’re starting and ending but nothing about the middle, and the more off the rails it goes, the more entertaining it is.” Hart can’t estimate the total number of people who have been exposed to the show because audience numbers vary widely, but a regular Wednesday or Saturday night show can attract up to 4,000 viewers, split about equally between those who watch live and those who tune in later.

The regular shows occasionally generate revenue in the form of sponsorships, but the bulk of the business is what Hart calls “community games.”  Those can take the form of  a “fun-raiser,” in which a group pays him to host a show as a fun way for them to spend time together online, or a “fundraiser.” Organizations from the World Union for of Progressive Judaism to a slew of summer camps to the Melton School of Adult Jewish Learning have all raised money on “Who Knows One?” and Hart, for his part, charges a flat fee, although upgrade packages are also available. One Jewish group — JumpSpark, a source of Jewish programming for teens in Atlanta — used the show as both a fundraiser and an educational experience. Four teens competed on a JumpSpark-sponsored show, which raised more than $3,000, said a spokeswoman. The students each chose an individual cause to support, and friends and family contributed to a pool of funds. All four causes — Project Merry Mitzvah, Camp Jenny, the Anti-Defamation League and Repair the World — received donations from that pool, although Repair the World received the most, as its sponsor won the game. “I appreciated the platform it provided me to reconnect with other teens and family friends I hadn’t spoken to in a while,” said Abby Limor of Temple Beth Tikvah, one of the participants. 

As Hart has gained experience in hosting the fundraisers, he’s devised additional ways to raise money; the audience can “buy” extra clues for the contestant they support, for example. He has a brain trust with whom he bounces ideas around, and audience suggestions have also helped shape the show — the name of the show was a viewer’s idea, he said. But he’s also worked for the Atlanta Hawks and the NBA, and his professional background helps, too, as he turns the project into more of a business. “Most of my life was about figuring out how to make money from digital content in a way that’s not intrusive for an audience,” he said.

Hart aims for an unpretentious vibe he calls “soul-nourishing” — the whole enterprise leans heavily into the come-as-you-are aesthetic of pandemic-era Zoom. Recommended attire is loungewear, although some contestants sport “Who Knows One?”-branded swag in the form of red headbands. The show also tries to be inclusive and to avoid assuming that every American Jew is Ashkenazi and fair-skinned, Hart said. He replaced a tie-breaker round that depended on finding someone with a “typically” Jewish name, for example, with one that focuses on occupations and home addresses.

As people get vaccinated and are able to safely gather again in person, demand for “Who Knows One?” could drop, Hart said. In that case, he will consider cutting the Saturday night show. However, he believes that the communal need for connection satisfied by the show predated coronavirus, although the pandemic exacerbated it. “We’re all isolated from each other, and that’s true in the pandemic era, but it already existed,” he said. “We accumulate people throughout our lives that we care about — from camp, school, college, previous jobs — as we get older, the ability to spend time with those people just melts.”

He’s considering several possible mechanisms to grow the show, including more community games. He’s toying with the idea of taking the show live, in the style of NPR’s “Wait, Wait, Don’t Tell Me,” and has developed some customers outside the Jewish community, such as the American College of Emergency Physicians. “Desi Chain,” which plays on a Hindi term for people of Indian origin or descent, is a “sister show” to “Who Knows One?” Another possibility: a dating show, which Hart says someone asks him to do at least once a week. “I know the interest is there,” he said. “I have not figured out how to do that. People are still pretty isolated. But I think it’s possible, coming out of the pandemic, that some sparks could potentially fly.”

This article was originally published in eJewishPhilanthropy.

Rachel Binderman and Rebecca Kann, Strong Women Fellows, co-authored this article originally published in VOXATL.

Food brings people together — families, friends, and strangers alike. Food brings together communities from all backgrounds and has the ability to bond people over a home-cooked dish. Some of our fondest memories are around meals, and food engages some of our strongest senses: smell, and taste.

For Rachel, food has always been a huge part of her family and Jewish identity. For as long as she can remember, her family sat around our dinner table every Friday night, sang the prayers, lit the candles, and ate Mom’s delicious challah. As she got older, this tradition became less frequent until COVID hit. If you ask her mom, that was the upside to COVID, having the whole family home every Friday night. Since last March they have had dinner together every Friday night. As teenagers, we often would rather hang out with our friends on Friday nights, but her family’s weekly Friday night dinners allow us to spend one special night together. 

We continued to have these conversations about our family’s traditions when Julia Levy spoke with JumpSpark’s Strong Women Fellowship this spring. By day, Julia Levy leads internal communications at a startup, and pursues her side projects passions at night. She co-founded a podcast with her father called Peach and Prosperity, which discusses stories around economics, and cultural and historical stories about the Atlanta area. Julia recently spoke at TedXEmory about her various projects and how she manages to keep up with her passions, including Tradition Kitchens which she began with her mother, making kitchens into a learning space around Judaism and other cultures.

During the meeting, Julia and her Kitchen Ambassadors — Ruby, Brianna, and Lauren — talked about their experiences with the community that has been built through Tradition Kitchens. Tradition Kitchens’ classes originally took place in people’s homes throughout the Atlanta area. However, due to the pandemic, that all changed. Tradition Kitchens now has online classes you can stream or watch the recordings. They also go farther than just discussing food; they talk about the significance around the food and the history behind it. For example, for Black History month, Karon, a friend of Julia’s, made fried chicken tenders with biscuits while talking about restaurants with stories from the Civil Rights Movement. The best thing about the program is that it is volunteer-based, so anybody is able to partake as either a student ready to learn more about different cuisines or as a teacher sharing your favorite recipes. Food is a way for people to bond and gives people the opportunity to learn more about other cultures. In cities such as Atlanta there is a wide variety of people that eat different foods. There is a great opportunity for learning and laughter at Tradition Kitchens.

Rachel Binderman is an 11th grader at The Weber School, and Rebecca Kann is an 11th grader at Pace Academy. Both are Peer Leaders for JumpSpark’s Strong Women Fellowship.

The 2020-2021 school year has not been the easiest for anyone. Around the world, students have had to adapt to learning virtually. Many students have yet to go back to their school building since March of 2020, including me. 

Every day I wake up at 7:20 am and get myself dressed and my parents drive me to my friend’s house. We go to her basement where we have two tables set up across the room from each other. We each sit at our own table. We log on to class every morning at 8:20 and have four 70 minute classes. We make lunch and eat outside so get some fresh air. 

For lunch we keep kosher and we usually log on to our Jewish Culture Club meetings. At these meetings we have a rabbi teach us about each weeks torah portion. The torah portions bring up many interesting conversations.  We usually have some music playing to make it a little more fun as we sit and listen to our classes. 

Usually during the day I also talk to some of my camp friends. I attend a Jewish summer camp in the mountains of Georgia. Last summer was supposed to be our last summer as campers but Covid cancelled camp. So our unit has stayed connected virtually and are really looking forward to Israel this summer.

Doing school with a friend has caused less anxiety and stress by giving us some social interaction. Virtual school is not easy but I have adapted and made myself successful.

Each day for me starts when I take my dog ​​for a walk. Because of the pandemic I study some days though Zoom and some in school. So, I wake up every morning according to the way I study that day. Today I’ll tell you about my typical Sundays. American teens may not realize it, but Israelis go to school on Sunday! Our weekend is on Friday and Saturday  because Shabbat is part of our culture and Sunday is just a regular day! 

School on Sundays starts at 7:45 a.m. so I wake up at 6:20 and take my dog​​ for a walk. When we get back, I quickly get ready for school, eat something and go out. I usually go to school on foot because it’s close to my house. My first class is English literature. English is a language I really like, so I enjoy studying it. After the English class I have a free period that I usually use to finish homework that I didn’t have time to do, eat or just sit and talk to friends. Next I have a two-hour math class and three hours of physics. I study the Bible in school, but other than that, I am not a very religious person. I enjoy hearing different interpretations of the Bible stories since some of these solutions make more sense. 

I finish school at 2:50 p.m. When I get back home I eat lunch and watch Netflix or read a book until 4-5 p.m., do my homework if I have any, and after that I usually hang out with friends or go back to watch Netflix. Because of the Coronavirus I don’t have a lot of options for activities after school so my week is usually the same. At about 8:00 p.m. I have dinner with my family, then at 11/12 at night I go to bed. Sunday is a relatively free day for me, so in addition on Tuesdays for example I have an entrepreneurship and computer science course, and on Fridays I usually go to the sea to surf.