NCSY, a division of the Orthodox Union (OU) — the nation’s oldest and largest umbrella organization for the North American Orthodox Jewish community — named Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy as the winner of its annual Jewish Unity Mentoring Program (JUMP) competition.
With the goal of making halachah as accessible as possible while still conveying the halachot in an interesting and captivating way, high school students at Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy (Rockville, Maryland) launched Helpful Halacha, a text-messaging initiative whereby these students send out interesting halachot every week day. After canvassing their schoolmates about which topics within halachah they were most interested in, the students decided to focus on halachot related to davening, lashon ha’ra, and Shabbat.
JUMP is the NCSY national leadership program that trains and empowers high-school students from all over the United States to become leaders. Participants are given the tools and training to make positive changes in their schools and communities, while broadening their understanding of local and global issues facing the Jewish people today. This year, 17 high-school teams participated in the competition, including four public-school teams. Teams were challenged to respond to issues facing the Jewish community in the realms of Jewish education or Jewish advocacy.
The JUMP program kicked off with a two-day conference at the end of October 2018. The teams then built and launched their initiatives over the next few months and submitted them for review by the end of February 2019. NCSY then chose five teams as finalists based on how clear their chosen track was, how well they responded to issues in the respective communities, and the timeliness of their submissions.
In addition to Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy, four other finalists were chosen from the original 17 team applicants:
Stella K. Abraham (SKA) High School for Girls launched a campaign revolving around emunah, finding faith, and overcoming struggles. They planned a yom iyun with top speakers such as Charlie Harary, Rabbi Judah Mischel, and others to discuss what emunah means to them and how they find it in their daily lives. Understanding that emunah needs to trickle down to their daily lives, the students created an emunah WhatsApp group open to anyone around the world who wants to strengthen their emunah and understand more about this topic. They also created an “Emunah magazine” with the idea of providing more inspirational stories and explanations of emunah. Building upon the success, the team created an emunah book club that takes place weekly during the school’s club hour. During the club meetings, the students read books about emunah and become inspired through the book itself and through the comments and questions they discuss during their meets. They also created a school-wide WhatsApp group called “Emunah Inspiration” where student receive messages daily with videos, pictures, and quotes providing daily inspiration.
Davis Renov Stahler (DRS) Yeshiva High School focused on the topic of kedushah — making yourself holy — and applying it to their lives as high-school teenagers. Their campaign included a father–son yom iyun and community-wide Shabbaton. More than 700 fathers, sons, and even some mothers attended the inspiring yom iyun. Their Shabbaton was unlike any other — any 11th- and 12th- grade boy in the yeshiva high-school community was invited to come and spend Shabbos and learn about kedushah.
Hebrew Academy Montreal (Côte Saint-Luc, Québec) focused on inclusion advocacy with #WeAllBelong. Ida Crown Jewish Academy (Skokie, Illinois) worked with Student to Student, being trained to give presentations about Judaism to non-Jewish public and private schools, with a curriculum that spans the Jewish lifecycle, Shabbat, kashrut, Israel, the Holocaust, and Jewish holidays.
Finalists’ projects were judged by Orthodox Union Executive Vice President and Chief Professional Officer Allen Fagin; Evan Bernstein, New York / New Jersey regional director of the Anti-Defamation League (program co-sponsor); Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP Partner and NY NCSY Board Member Phil Rosen; Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield Vice President of Marketing and Director of Community Engagement at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, Rachel Kraus; and UJA-Federation of New York Deputy Chief Planning Officer Hindy Poupko.
Projects were judged based on replicability/scalability, project execution, creativity, and their written proposals.
“The JUMP program calls on our teens to be active communal participants, to recognize needs, and formulate creative solutions to address them,” said Fagin. “The finalists rose to that challenge with ingenuity and resourcefulness. We are so proud of our young social entrepreneurs, wish them continued success, and look forward to seeing their future accomplishments.”
“The JUMP Program was created in order to provide leadership opportunities for high-school students who are looking for innovative solutions to issues facing Jewish youth,” added NCSY’s managing director, Rina Emerson. “We’ve been running the competition for more than 10 years, and each year we are impressed with the inventive approaches these students take to solve issues that their peers are grappling with.”
“NCSY’s JUMP program has provided a platform for hundreds of our youth to cultivate a sense of commitment to others and to address issues facing their immediate communities. No doubt this experience will encourage and empower them to continue to develop creative communal programming as they become adult members of the larger Jewish community,” added Orthodox Union President Moishe Bane.