The Strength of Diversity

Four diverse Portland teens beat out a host of larger teams to win this year’s national JUMP championship, NCSY’s five- month program created to give yeshiva day school students leadership training and broader understanding of global issues facing the Jewish people. Portland’s team drew members from various public high schools. Co-captains Raizel O’Brien and Allya Yourish were joined by Nofar Movshovich and Whitney Kagan. “Out of 15 teams, four made it to the boardroom (finals), which was beyond our wildest dreams,” says Allya, 17, a senior at Lincoln High School. “We’re not from a Jewish high school. We’re a mishmash of teens from different levels of Jewish practice, different political beliefs and different high schools. I’m really proud of our team.” Raizel and Nofar are juniors at Wilson High School, and Whitney is a junior at Beaverton’s School of Science and Technology. All are 16.

“The Portland JUMP club was amazing this year and very deserving of winning first place,” says Carol Rhine, chief operat- ing officer at New York NCSY and director of JUMP. “The creativity, passion, initiative and hard work that each team invested were truly outstanding and inspiring.” “Portland JUMP certainly won the hearts and respect of the judges and their peers,” says Rhine. “Their creativity and out of the box thinking, fueled by their drive and motivation to carry out their tasks surpassed all expectations. As newcomers to the JUMP program, these
four girls, under the guidance of Meira Spivak, their JUMP mentor, embraced their role as leaders.”

JUMP begins with a two-day seminar in New York, where teams participate in hands-on workshops, leadership training and activity planning, explains Rhine. At the culmination of the seminar, the participants are given the “Apprentice Challenge” to develop three events and a fundraiser that each group of students must create over the next five months in their own communities. Twenty weeks later finalist schools present executive summaries of their Apprentice Challenges to a panel of judges in the “boardroom” in New York City. The final four JUMP teams were Stella K. Abraham High School for Girls (SKA) of Hewlett Bay Park, Long Island; Portland NCSY of Oregon; Yeshiva Atlanta of Georgia; and the RASG Hebrew Academy of Miami Beach.

After much debate the three judges – Phil Rosen, partner at Weil, Gotshal & Manges LLP; David Friedman, partner at Kasowitz, Benson, Torres & Friedman LLP; and Charlie Harary, chief executive officer of H3 Capital LLC and founder of Milvado Inc. – awarded trophies to Portland NCSY and SKA. Winners also received a complimentary meal at the upscale OU-certified restaurant Le Marais. Judges suggested that two of the Portland teens’ four projects – a “Support Israel” city bus advertisement campaign and Shabbat Box – could be replicated nationwide. “Shabbat Boxes was designed to reach out to unaffiliated Jews to give them resources and information necessary to expe- rience the joy and tradition of Shabbat,” says Rhine. “What is amazing is that these four girls who created this project looked into their own backgrounds and came up with an idea they knew personally would benefit these families. The judges were especially excited about this project and we have discussed this becoming part of a regular weekly program, given proper funding and logistics.”

Of the ad campaign, Rhine says, “Given the political attention of the present Middle East situation, the Pro Israel Bus Ads program that Portland JUMP created and executed behind the project, to proactively not use negativity to combat negativity, but to respond positively, bringing attention and accentuating all the good that Israel has given to the world through her innovations and inventions, is a testimony to true leadership.” The Portlanders’ other projects were a program with seniors at Rose Schnitzer Manor and a children’s program at Super Sunday, Jewish Federation of Greater Portland’s annual phonathon. They brought so many NCSY members to that project that they won the coveted Golden Phone award and the $1,000 prize for providing the most volunteers.

That $1,000, plus fundraising projects and the $360 in seed money the Portlanders won at the initial JUMP program last November, provided funds for the Support Israel bus ads and for 50 Shabbat-Box sets for families served by Jewish Family and Child Service. Raizel, who took the lead on the bus ad project, says that contest judges Harary and Rosen were particularly taken with the ad campaign.
“Both judges … loved the idea of developing positive ads,” says Raizel, who adds her goal was to create nonpolitical ads that would cast Israel in a positive light.

The resulting posters, which were placed on 25 buses for five weeks, featured products developed in Israel under the headline “Thank You Israel.” Products featured on the posters include the microchip, cell phone, Kindle reader, drip irrigation and cherry tomatoes, among other innovations. Raizel worked with Angerine Aldridge and a graphic designer at Lamar Advertising to create the ads. “I wanted to look at these amazing things that come out of Israel that will get people to realize how important and influential Israel is in American life,” says Raizel, who made a formal presentation to TriMet before the ads where placed on the buses.

Raizel, whose parents Bayla and Tony O’Brien have been involved in Chabad ever since they married, has been active in NCSY since eighth grade and now serves on the NCSY board and participates in the Jewish Student Union at Wilson High. It was at the JSU that Raizel convinced Nofar to join JUMP. Nofar says her parents, Lili and Yitzchac, are “not so much religious … we do what their parents did and their grandparents could not do and now we can.” She explains that only five members of her mother’s family survived the Holocaust; Lili and her parents moved from Hungary to Israel after World War
II. Born in Israel, Nofar has lived in the United States for 10 years, the last two in Portland. Though she couldn’t go to New York with the team, she participated in every project and helped with fundraising. Nofar says, “I was really happy our hard work paid off. I’m sorry I couldn’t celebrate in New York.”

Since her grandparents are so far away, Nofar says she especially enjoyed the JUMP project at RSM, where the teens lead a havdallah service and interviewed seniors. “I really connected with three of them (RSM residents),” says Nofar. “They reminded me of my grandparents, and they had cool stories. I want to go back so they can elaborate.” Whitney says the RSM project was very meaningful to her, too. “It was really nice to get to know the elders in our community,” she says. “They have so much knowledge to share, but we don’t often give them the chance.”

Whitney is the daughter of Martin and Sharon Kagan. She says she usually goes to Chabad of Hillsboro for holidays, but her father goes to Congregation Kesser Israel and took her to services there to introduce her to NCSY Oregon Director Meira Spivak. “Meira called me out and introduced me to all the people and I was hooked,” says Whitney. Allya, who attends Havurah Shalom when she has time, says she thinks the team members’ diverse backgrounds helped them come up with creative ideas.

For instance, her idea for Shabbat Box arose from her desire to help others find what she didn’t have at home. She says her parents, David Yourish and Lynette Feder, were both raised in observant households, but have negative memories from their strict upbringing and now do not celebrate Judaism at home. After becoming involved in Lincoln’s JSU, where she now serves as president, Allya’s interest in Jewish traditions expanded. “It’s embarrassing to go to synagogue if you’re not connected,” she explains. “People are speaking a language you don’t understand and doing things you don’t understand. So we wanted our Shabbat Boxes to be completely non-threatening.” The boxes include tea candles, mini bottles of grape juice and challah rolls, along with the blessings in Hebrew, English and transliteration – “everything needed for a Shabbat celebration at home,” says Allya. “I wanted to bring to others what I have found myself lacking.”

Originally Portland JUMP called the project “Illuminate,” a name they may return to if they expand the project for a national model. “I’d like to implement sponsorships so a family could sponsor another family to celebrate Shabbat,” says Allya. The first 50 boxes cost $5 each, but buying in bulk could reduce costs. When Allya took a box home, she says she had a nice experi- ence lighting candles with her parents. Since Portland has a large unaffiliated Jewish population, she hopes to help other youth share that experience with their families.

Meira says that fits right in with NCSY’s goal “to inspire the Jewish future … and to find ways for teens to feel more Jewishly connected.” Meira says Allya’s growing involvement recently provided the highlight of Portland’s NCSY Shabbaton. Allya became a bat mitzvah at the weekend gathering and shared the celebration with 100 participants. Of the JUMP championship, Meira comments: “I was really happy for them. They put in so much work and have come a long way. It’s amazing as public school kids, they beat out kids with greater Jewish educations. I’m proud NCSY has been able to facilitate that for them. They don’t have to feel at a Jewish disadvantage just because they go to a public school.”

That was exactly what struck Whitney when her team won.

“I was in shock at first,” she says. “I looked at the other teams and they came from Jewish schools and had so many people.” Portland’s projects may not have been as big, but Whitney says, “We made an impact with what we had. The judges said, ‘You made such an impact on your community. It could change lives.’ They didn’t really know Portland, and they were impressed with how a small group from public schools achieved so much.” Whitney concludes: “Even though we are teenagers and don’t have a mass following, we can make a difference in our community – we just have to try.”

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