Learning & Leading
By Mae-Lou Zaleski, Danvers HS, 2018
For the past seven months, I and fourteen other JTI Sloane Peer Leadership Fellows have been working to increase the involvement of Jewish teens in the North Shore and beyond. This fellowship has taught us the importance of being actively Jewish and how much fun it can be. Most specifically, we have learned why our work is critical for the future and growth of Judaism. Although we have all had our successes within increasing involvement of teens in the Jewish community, there have been many challenges faced. During our first seminar, we were informed that the involvement of teens in the Jewish community significantly decreases post Bar/Bat Mitzvah for a variety of reasons: an absence of desire to be active in the Jewish community, loss of faith, and/or lack of education about the plethora of opportunities the Jewish community can provide for teens all over the world.
Initially, it was a challenge to think of ways we could influence our peers to become active the community, and soon discovered we could not simply get people to join through promising that “Judaism is fun!” We discovered education was the strongest tool we have and utilize it in every conversation we have in order to overcome every challenge we face. We educate our peers on why it is important to be part of the Jewish community, what different organizations and activities they can get involved with, how accepting the Jewish community are to everyone, how much fun feeling and being accepted into a diverse community, and much more.
Through the fellowship, I have discovered a new side of the Jewish community. Aside from going to temple twice a week growing up, I didn’t have any exposure to the Jewish community outside of my microscopic Hebrew school class and weekly services. I was not aware that attending temple is not the only way to be an active member of the Jewish community, unlike what I assumed. I have discovered many other teens had this perception of involvement in the community as well. I am surrounding myself with a diverse Jewish community from children to adults. I found a welcoming and heartwarming community that will accept me for who I am solely due to the fact I am proud to be Jewish. Although we share the major trait of being Jewish, it is a diverse community of different races, ethnicities, genders, sexualities, individual morals, and activity in the Jewish community. I discovered a vibrant and accepting community that will welcome anyone with arms wide open.
My “fellow fellows” and I learned that our similarity of being active and proud to be Jewish can lead to stable, fulfilling, and trusting friendships. Through this fellowship, I’ve created a newfound siblinghood through the Jewish community I continue to grow and surround myself with, and love every part of it.
Although the main goal of the fellowship is increasing other teen’s activity in the Jewish community for our peers, it has greatly increased my activity as well as my love for being Jewish. I’m able to relate to other inactive teens because, after my Bat Mitzvah, I was ready to stop my activity in the Jewish community completely. However, after a teen trip to Israel, I found a newfound passion to be an active member of the Jewish community and was inspired to get others involved. I realized how much fun it is and how much I love creating new relationships with other Jewish teens.
Through my newfound activeness in the Jewish community and journey as a fellow, I have rediscovered why being Jewish is an important part of who I am. I learned at the end of the day what we believe as individuals connect us more than physical similarities ever could. I am endlessly grateful for the experiences and education I have received over the past seven months, and am proud to call myself a JTI Sloane Peer Leadership Fellow.
Mae-Lou was a 2016-17 North Shore Cohort 1 Peer Leadership Fellow.