By Carol Rhine
At New York NCSY’s JUMP Leadership Conference, over 100 teens from across New York and throughout the country transformed an inconspicuous conference center on Long Island into one of the most vibrant Jewish-leadership think tanks. NCSY JUMP is a national leadership program that trains Jewish high-school students to innovate and build within their communities while broadening their understanding of global issues in general and those facing the Jewish people in particular. Through collaborative and educational programs, the teams develop critical skills like problem-solving, team-building, public speaking, marketing, and fundraising, while at the same time networking with peers from across the country.
Teams came from a range of New York schools, including Midreshet Shalhevet, Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls, Yeshiva University High School for Boys, and Hebrew Academy of Nassau County, and from around the country, including Scheck Hillel Community School, Rabbi Alexander S. Gross Hebrew Academy, David Posnack Jewish Day School, Donna Klein Jewish Academy from Florida, and numerous others from Columbus, Ohio; Seattle, Washington; and Savannah, Georgia.
The core focus of the conference is to launch the JUMP Challenge Competition. Each of the four challenges is designed to develop and build critical aspects of leadership that can be applied throughout life, specifically while serving the Jewish community. Over the next four months, JUMP teams, with their mentors, will create, plan, and execute four events for their schools and communities. Leaders from the community helped bring to light the issues JUMP teams will choose from in planning their enlightening events.
Poverty Awareness. Alex Rapaport, founder and executive director of Masbia, a New York network of kosher soup kitchens, spoke to the teens about the need for a place people can go if they do not have enough money to feed themselves and their families. He showed pictures that sent powerful messages of the reality of poverty and explained that poverty does not discriminate; as a result of life’s many challenges, poverty can affect anyone. Following his presentation, the students were given the task to create and maintain a real-life budget for their “family unit” as they were split into groups and given specific guidelines and financial responsibilities. They were then handed randomly selected “life happens” cards, describing events that shook their financial stability, and they were forced to adapt and adjust, managing the financial challenges that a real-life family would encounter. In presenting their results, many admitted that they now had a better understanding and appreciation for what their parents do for them and what it takes to manage a household.
Fundraising. The teams heard from several young activists and entrepreneurs, close enough in age to be considered almost peers to them. Jennifer April, Aharon Watson, and Jason Katz shared their personal experiences and their passion for working with people and organizations in local and global Jewish communities. They also presented specific strategies for identifying needs, developing plans to address those needs, and achieving desired goals. After the presentation, students had the opportunity to interact with each of the speakers one-on-one as well, which allowed for more personal and thoughtful conversations.
Israel advocacy. Through a partnership with Jerusalem Online U., JUMP was fortunate to show students the premiere screening of an amazing new documentary titled “Beneath the Helmet.” Opponents of Israel paint a grim picture of Israel’s men and women in uniform. The film shows the human face of Israeli soldiers and highlights five brave young Israeli high-school graduates as they enter and travel through basic training, preparing to serve in the IDF and defend their country. We were extremely privileged to have as our guest Aviv Regev, one of the soldiers in the film. His personal account of his experience in the army and beyond was incredibly moving and inspiring to everyone present, and his warmth and endearing personality made a lasting impact. He reminded the students that “a lie left unchallenged soon becomes the truth,” which further motivated the students to work with this challenge and become advocates on behalf of the Israeli soldiers to the world. In addition, Ze’ev Ben Shachar, education director of Jerusalem U., addressed the students, empowering them to act when they feel passionate about a cause.
The Dangers of Texting and Driving. For this topic, the presentation began with the request for everyone in the room to shut off their phones and pass them to their mentors. This simple request proved to be difficult for many students who struggled with the feeling of disconnection. The question “why is it so difficult to shut off your phone?” sparked a lively and heated discussion for the whole group as well as within the individual teams. The students were extremely thoughtful and honest with their responses. Some reflected that perhaps because they were disconnected from everyone beyond the surrounding four walls, they were better able to stop and think about the impact smartphones have in their lives. For many, checking their phones has become a habit, and they do it without even realizing it. For others, texting has become addictive to the extent that some expressed honest fear at the control it had on their lives. The students viewed a powerful video displaying the potential impact of just five seconds of driving while distracted by text or e-mail. On the spot, students began generating insightful suggestions how to avoid these behaviors whether as a driver or as a passenger with a texting driver.
Although the teams appeared outwardly different, they found that when it came to delineating challenges in today’s Jewish community, the issues seemed to transcend the diverse spectrum the teams represented, and the diversity was replaced by a unified sense of resolve to innovate, create, and solve.
The JUMP teams left the two-day conference ready to hit the ground running. The Challenge Competition culminates in March 2015, when the four highest-scoring teams will be invited back to New York for a “Boardroom Showdown,” where they will present a summary of their accomplishments to a panel of judges and a winner is awarded the coveted JUMP Championship trophy.
If past years are any indication, schools and communities that sponsor JUMP teams can look forward to an array of amazing events and programs that the JUMP teams will create, plan, and execute. The sense of empowerment, confidence, and motivation that these budding leaders will develop through this year will stay with them and inspire them to realize that they can and will make a difference not just in today’s Jewish world, but the Jewish world they will be fully responsible for in the future.
Carol Rhine is the director of JUMP and chief operating officer of NY NCSY. For more information about JUMP, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.