Unlike most things in quarantine, my involvement with the Strong Women Fellows has not slowed or even skipped a beat. In the past month, I’ve helped facilitate three meetings to create our annual end-of-the-year video in collaboration with VOX ATL, a nonprofit organization centered around uncensored (but edited!) content for teens by teens. This included shooting videos, writing emails, and figuring out which room in my house was quietest for Zoom calls. 

This whole experience has been a far cry from what I’ve found at school; in one class, I haven’t even seen or talked to my teacher since the shut-down began. This means no calls, no recordings, nothing — just a few weekly assignments to do ourselves. Suffice to say, I don’t lean back on my community at school for support. Luckily, I have another option. 

When I initially applied for this Fellowship in 2018, I had no idea what to expect. For one thing, it was brand-new; I was part of the first cohort of Strong Woman and there certainly wasn’t a video for me to watch and see what I was getting myself into! Secondly, I didn’t have a prominent Jewish community in the suburbs where I lived (hence why I applied), and I didn’t know if I would arrive at meetings as an outsider or not. There are few times in my life where I can say with absolute joy that I was wrong, and this is one of them. Everything was done with the fellows in mind and in top priority; the date and location of each meeting changed monthly to accommodate everyone’s busy schedules. To me, it meant I matter, and furthermore so do my opinions. You see, this past year, a middle-ground was found with meetings on Sunday afternoon in a central location (I was very happy to learn I wouldn’t have to drive downtown on a weekday anymore). 

The reason for the change says everything about the program: They asked what we thought, and they listened. It’s the same motto that drives VOX and after spending an afternoon filming there last year, it’s the reason why both my brother and I joined as teen staff. And it’s the reason I spend my quarantine with VOX and Srtong Women extraordinaire’s Rachel Alterman Wallack, Tibria Brown, Emma Mac, Annie Fortnow, and the rest of the Fellows, working on a video that encapsulates everyone’s experience. We spent hours discussing ways to incorporate different aspects of the program, from the journals we write in at the end of each meeting to the guest speakers we listened to. We tackled filming at home and learning how to be our best camerawomen — no easy feat, I might add! Keeping the camera steady has never seemed so difficult. 

 Although most of my life has come to a halt, the Strong Women Fellowship continues to keep me connected, one Zoom call at a time. 

Interested in next year’s Strong Women Fellowship? Apply here: https://jumpsparkatl.org/events/strong-women-fellowship/

On Saturday May 9th, Riverwood students and teachers had the privilege of hearing the inspiring words of Representative Lucy Mcbath (D-GA) on a Zoom call. The call was organized by Riverwood’s Students Demand Action club, started by 11th graders Tess Berman and Sydney Fox. Students Demand Action is a part of Everytown for Gun Safety. Led completely by students, Students Demand Action functions to host events, educate the community, and communicate with legislators to promote gun safety. Tess and Sydney were motivated to start the club following the horrific shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. When the government ceased to take action following the tragedy, the girls realized it was their job to enact change.

Elected in 2018, Congresswoman Mcbath is the Representative from Georgia’s 6th district. As a victim of gun violence, she works with Everytown and Students Demand Action to tackle America’s daunting gun issue. In the Zoom call, the Congresswoman shared the story of her son, Jordan Davis, who was shot and killed while unarmed in 2012. The Representative proceeded to empower the students by encouraging them to believe that they have the power to enact change, just as she has. She stressed the importance of young voices in promoting progress.

JF&CS’ goal is to build a community of empowered lives and there is no better time to contribute to this goal than Mental Health Awareness month. Started in May 1949 by Mental Health America, the goal of Mental Health Awareness month has always been to bring light to those living with mental illness. To fight stigma, educate the public, and advocate for policies that support people with mental illness and their families.

Approximately one in five teens (ages 12-18) has a diagnosable mental health disorder. In these unprecedented times we are seeing increased depression and anxiety among teens due to sadness, isolation, loneliness, and uncertainty. To support the teens in our community, JF&CS clinicians are offering several groups to specifically support teens and their families. Groups include: Teen Girls, High School Seniors, and Parenting in a Pandemic: Teen and Tweens.

Social interactions, friendships and activities are of primary importance for teens, their sense of self and development. Due to COVID-19 socialization has been greatly impacted. Much of what is challenging for teens today is the inability to physically socialize in school, playing sports, extracurricular activities and just the plain old hanging out that teens do. These groups are a place for teens to process feelings and find support among their peers who may be sharing similar experiences during this time of uncertainty and change.

In an ongoing effort to support teens in our community, Rebecca Brown, LCSW and Jaime Stepansky, LMSW, certified instructors, offer Youth Mental Health First Aid courses. Mental Health First Aid is a skills-based training course that teaches adult participants about mental health and substance-use issues in youth and teens.

Here are a few tips from Mental Health First Aid to help teens cope during COVID-19:

  1. Maintain a daily routine with consistent sleep, activity and study patterns.
  2. Stay connected with others, and try to find moments of humor.
  3. Talk to people you feel comfortable with about your feelings or worries, then give yourself permission to stop worrying.
  4. Look for patterns or be aware of situations that make you feel particularly worried or anxious. When you’re in these situations, try relaxation or distraction techniques or ask a family member or friend to help.
  5. Limit the amount of time you spend talking about or watching/listening to news media or social media if you are finding information about the COVID-19 situation overwhelming or distressing.
  6. Do hobbies or activities that you enjoy, calm you down or focus your mind and body. These could be arts and crafts, physical activity, listening to music, reading, journaling, watching TV or movies, or chatting with friends by phone, videoconference or text.
  7. Take time for yourself.
  8. Be kind to yourself and each other. We’ll work through this together.

For more information about JF&CS clinical services contact Amy Maslia at 770-677-9474 or email at therapy@jfcsatl.org. To learn more about or participate in a Youth Mental Health First Aid training please contact Rebecca Brown at rbrown@jfcsatl.org.

In 2019-20, Moving Traditions has been thrilled to partner with JumpSpark to bring our innovative programs to the Atlanta Jewish community to build the wellbeing and Jewish identity of youth.

Now, our lives have been interrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.  We face isolation and fear for the health of those we love.  Jewish youth especially are seeing their social lives shut down, as they are confined to their homes with their parents and behind their screens.

Moving Traditions is taking steps to help parents and Jewish educators address the needs of the moment.

In mid-March, Moving Traditions began to release a series of COVID-19 resources, including a new session for our Rosh Hodesh, Shevet and Tzelem teen groups, Teens and Coronavirus: Living Life During a Pandemic, focusing on balancing self-care and the responsibility to care for others; avoiding scapegoating in times of fear; touch and consent; and the importance of seeking out joy.

The session follows Moving Traditions usual approach, combining ancient Jewish wisdom with the latest in social-emotional learning and teen culture to explore the important issues of the day. As always—and even in our online adaptations—we use a variety of modalities to create safety, intimacy, fun, and meaning-making. And we are training our educator-partners to adapt to our new online world through webinars and one-to-one coaching.

As a synagogue educator recently wrote, “We have taken our Rosh Hodesh and Shevet groups online and the families and teens are really thankful. In fact, our 10th-grade boys’ Shevet group has requested to meet twice a month while we are all at home, and we have agreed and that’s what they are doing.”

In late April, we just released another new session, this time for parents and their preteens and teens. Entitled,  “How to Connect When You’re Never Apart,” the session is designed to be implemented with a Zoom platform, and is available to all Jewish educators.

With families spending more time together under one roof than ever before, the “How to Connect” session gives parents and children the opportunity to come together—even if on their own screens—to talk to one another in real-time about the gifts and challenges of this new normal. The session provides the opportunity for each person to reflect on and share with their family members their communication styles and needs and explores strategies for truly connecting with one another.

Looking ahead to the next 3-6 months, the Moving Traditions team is conducting rapid needs assessment interviews in order to revise and clarify how we can best meet the needs of Jewish youth, educators, and institutions going forward, given how our lives are so fundamentally changing. 

We look forward to continuing to partner with JumpSpark and the Atlanta Jewish community, as together we support Jewish youth and families through this crisis—and into resilience, wellbeing, and connection.

Please join us for our Taste of Moving Traditions Webinar: Join JumpSpark virtually on May 13 at 1 pm for an experiential webinar to learn about Moving Traditions and the impact that, together, we can have on Jewish youth in Atlanta. During this “Taste of Moving Traditions,” we will give you insight into their Pathway of programs, including B’nai Mitzvah programs and Teen Groups. This is a great opportunity to learn about bringing this flexible community-building program to your community in a time when teens need that sense of connection. Moving Traditions programming can be implemented online or in-person.

Register here: http://movingtraditions.formstack.com/forms/tasteofmt

Established in 2005, Moving Traditions launched with a Teen Group program for girls, Rosh Hodesh, and has since created Shevet for boys and Tzelem for transgender and non-binary teens. Our new B’nai Mitzvah program helps 6th and 7th graders and their parents develop strong communication and empathy as they prepare to become and parent a teen, and the Carol Lowenstein Moving Traditions B’nai Mitzvah Training Institute prepares clergy and educators to lead meaningful, Jewish conversations to help families navigate this important “coming of age” time of life. Together, the Moving Traditions B’nai Mitzvah program and Teen Groups comprise the Pathway to Flourishing Jewish Teens.

Their latest training initiative, CultureShift, prepares camp leaders to train their counselors and staff to challenge sexism, sexual harassment, and assault at camp, and to promote healthy relationships rooted in safety, respect, and equity.

To date, Moving Traditions has emboldened 25,265 teens, trained 2,023 adults as B’nai Mitzvah program leaders and Teen Group mentors, and partnered with more than 400 congregations, JCCs and other Jewish entities across North America. We operate six staffed regions in Boston, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, New York, and Philadelphia.

Hi! My name is Noa Young. I am a ninth grader at North Springs High School, where I am part of the drama department. Outside of school, I am an active member of my BBYO chapter, B’yachad, love to hang out with friends, listen to music, and of course go to the Strong Women’s Fellowship!

This past summer, I remember my mom asking me whether I wanted to be a part of the Strong Women’s Fellowship in the upcoming year. Usually, when my mom asks me to do this type of thing, I assume it will be boring and not something I truly want to do. This fellowship was different. I consider myself to be a feminist, and I knew this fellowship would give me the opportunity to speak with others with similar views as me in an appropriate setting. I told my mom I would love to.

Going to the first meeting in September, I was not sure what to expect. But, reconnecting with girls I hadn’t seen in a long time, eating the best snacks, playing great icebreaker games, and talking about womenhood, exceeded my expectations. I absolutely loved the meeting and could not wait to go back the following months.

This year, I had the opportunity to hear so many incredible women speak about their life, each special and important in their own ways. Specifically, I was extremely moved by Whitney Fisch. Whitney Fisch is a high school counselor, teen advocate, and food blogger. She talked about body positivity, love of food, and how healthy comes in all body types. Different from other speakers, I felt Whitney connected with each of the girls on a personal level, having us close our eyes and feeding us statements like, “raise your hand if you have ever wished your body looked different.”

After, she told us the number of girls who raised their hands, usually being almost everyone. Her words inspired me and opened my eyes that all bodies are beautiful, healthy, and special. At the end of the meeting, we got to decorate journals for ourselves. Whitney came to my table and I remember just talking to her about how much we loved her presentation and how inspired we all were. To this day, I follow her on Instagram, have a little slip of paper she gave to us all hanging on my family’s refrigerator, and whenever I hear others talking about wanting to change or not loving their bodies, I “Whitney Fisch It” and tell them the words she inspired us all with.

Without this fellowship this year, my outlooks on life would be different. I now feel more confident not only through the words I speak, but with my body, mind, and self.

Interested in being the 2020-2021 Cohort of Strong Women Fellowship… Apply Here!

“Jewish communal life is as significant for our youth as it is for our adults, so at Temple Beth Tikvah, we strive to keep opportunities for community for our youth going even after being picked up in religious school carpool. Our youth group programming includes a wide variety of age-appropriate activities, some Jewish in nature, some secular in nature. All are fun and serve to bring our children together as Jews. We offer youth events for every age, divided into appropriate groups in order to personalize events to be engaging, entertain and educational.” -Temple Beth Tikvah

In the middle of March, I was about three-quarters of the way through my term as my youth group’s (House of Tikvah Temple Youth, or HOTTY) President, and, as a senior in high school, I was looking forward to my last few events as a board member and participant. However, my expectations for the remainder of the year were shattered when the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in the cancellation of, well, everything. Though we knew the year wouldn’t end as we had planned it would, the board acted quickly to develop plans for virtual programming and maintain the momentum we had created throughout the year. For the past month, HOTTY has hosted at least one event each week, all through the power of the Internet.

Our events have ranged from virtual lounge nights to game nights, from movie nights to Instagram live classes, from virtual escape rooms to virtual tea parties. Lounge nights give our members the opportunity to simply catch up, as they would at our standard in-person lounge nights. We eat, laugh, and make plans for weekly challenges involving making all food in only a mug. Actually, that last part only happened at one of our virtual lounge nights, but it wouldn’t surprise me if an equally inventive topic arose at the next.

The series of Instagram live classes has included a tutorial on turning a used water bottle into a birdfeeder, led by our Social Action Vice President, an art class, led by our Religious and Cultural Vice President, and a dance class dedicated solely toTikTok dances, led by me. Needless to say, members have certainly been entertained. Our Elections and Game Night allowed members not only to elect next year’s board, but also to play a variety of interactive, virtual games and connect in a different and lightly competitive way. Though the virtual escape room and virtual tea party have yet to occur, I look forward to watching HOTTY grow closer during these atypical events.

Despite the challenge posed by COVID-19, HOTTY has refused to let it impact the strength of our community. We adapted to the circumstances and found new, innovative ways to continue engaging with each other and with our Judaism. COVID-19 has made the development of interpersonal relationships hard, sure, but not impossible. Finding ways to work around the unfortunate situation at hand has allowed us to grow stronger and more resilient as a young, Jewish community, and I find that these traits will pave the way for a generation of strong, resilient Jewish adults.