The day schools closed for the coronavirus pandemic was supposed to be Tamara Rubin’s last day as a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School. The next few months before graduation would bring a much-anticipated internship, a school trip to Poland and Israel and then the culmination of her school career – graduation.
Lara Shein, a sophomore at the Bryn Mawr School, was looking forward to her brother’s bar mitzvah in April. Although the pandemic would soon upend the planned celebration, it would still take place. In fact, the Zoom bar mitzvah and special meal with family brought new meaning to this Jewish rite of passage.
For these two high school students, and Ben Suffel, a junior at Franklin High, this year was unlike anything they had anticipated when they began their high school years. In some ways, this new normal has changed the way they look at life. In other ways, it has deepened their relationships with family.
And, for each of these teens, their shared experiences participating in the various programs at 4Front, the teen hub which is housed at the JCC, has brought connection, meaning and a shared sense of purpose.
The three students speak out about the programs, how they have changed to meet the new realities and how the current coronavirus pandemic is shaping who they are.
When we first met, we formed small groups, met with business mentors, and collaborated on ideas for a social innovation project. Our group was interested in creating a virtual reality simulator. In addition to the Baltimore group, there was a group of teens in Ashkelon (Baltimore’s partner city), who were part of the program. In December, we traveled to Israel and we spent time with them.
We also explored the country through a unique lens, which included tech visits.
Our idea was that the virtual reality simulator would be for people who were nervous learning to drive. After we pitched it, we merged with another group who was working on environmental sustainability, creating bags and bracelets from recycled material in the Baltimore City trash wheel.
Because of the new needs of the community, we decided to pivot again and make masks from leftover shirts and other clothes and donate them to friends and family. We created an Instagram page and are donating the masks to the community.
We actually get together more frequently over Zoom and talk about how life is going. We debrief about our projects and our family, how we are adjusting and what we are doing. It’s nice to talk to people and nice to have this added company.
I’ve learned to be more grateful for what I have and to reflect on how lucky I am. Moving forward, this experience, as well as my work with 4Front, has made me want to see what I can do to help the community. On a personal level, I’ve also learned that I am good at adapting to change and finding ways to take time for myself.
We learned about business and social innovation and I made friends with students from other schools whom I may never have met.
I’m looking forward to getting back to school and life. I never thought I would say this but I miss my school and the community there.
Yes. We learned about fundraising and creating our own fundraisers to raise money for people experiencing homelessness.
We had to completely rethink our fundraising. Last year the group held a big fundraiser – a basketball tournament – which we obviously couldn’t do. It’s so much easier to fundraise in person. We had to come up with new ideas that could be held online.
We did a poker fundraiser and we held trivia nights online where our friends could win money and the remainder went to our charities.
We couldn’t go on site visits so we had to do them virtually. We zoomed with each other about the grant proposals. We met twice online to talk about the final decision about where the money should go.
Before I started, I wasn’t involved in social justice or community-based projects. When I applied I thought this would be a great way to meet people and do service. It spiraled into a love for social justice and it’s something I’d like to pursue as a career.
It made me appreciate how difficult life can be for so many people. Having to stay home made me realize how lucky I am. When I need to escape, I can go for a drive, to someone else’s house, anywhere if I need a break. The reality is there are many people, many teens, who don’t have anywhere to escape. Even when they are not quarantined, there isn’t anywhere safe to go.
I’m hoping my first year of college isn’t virtual and that I will be able to go on my gap year. And, mostly I hope they will find a vaccine soon.
Our goal is to engage other Jewish teens in Jewish programming that is interesting to them. We talk to them about what they are interested in, how they perceive their Jewish identity and how they want to be involved Jewishly in the community. I learned about Jewish organizations that I never heard of before and it has enhanced my understanding of the community.
How did the program change in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic?
Before we met in person. I miss the contact with other people. Now we communicate through Zoom or text as a group. It’s a little different, but I’m glad I have another way to stay engaged with other people when there isn’t as much to do.
I love reaching out to other teens.
There is still work to be done so the peer leaders talk about what we need to do. I love having assignments and reaching out to other people. It’s fulfilling, especially when you are sitting around home, not doing much.
I always was very organized and now I really don’t have much of a routine. I’ve learned to enjoy sitting around relaxing and I think I’ve become a more “go with the flow” person.
I am looking forward to being able to see all my friends and family in a more normal and relaxed setting.
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