When talking about our experiences we often think of them in sights and smells, locations, events that happened, or people we talked to. What doesn’t come up quite as often is our memory of the sounds we hear in the spaces we inhabit. One of the sounds that marked a cohort day in Teen JUST-US was clapping, or its softer cousin, snapping. You would hear clapping every time one of us shared an accomplishment in our daily check-ins, whether it was rustling up the courage to have a coffee meeting with an unknown coworker for the first time, or finishing a big project, or simply if someone got through a stressful day okay. You would hear clapping in discussions, when someone shared a deeply personal perspective or a heartfelt statement. You would hear clapping at our gratitude circles on Shabbat, when one of us shared their thanks for one of their peers or our wonderful staff, Justin, Rachel, and Amy. I know that our little round of applause or snaps quickly became a ritual, but I don’t remember how it started. It was a spontaneous tradition, one all seventeen of us mutually agreed upon without ever discussing it. It’s an incredible feeling, to hear and feel that the other humans in the room are rooting for you, cheering on your success and celebrating your resilience in adversity. Sometime around week four, I began to take a step back and notice the snaps and claps that reverberated throughout the day. I found myself surprised, it’s a curious thing—how quickly I had taken for granted that act of camaraderie, respect, and support for each other.
That one ritual serves as an analogy for our Teen JUST-US community as a whole. Having had some unfortunate previous experiences during the pandemic, when I wrote my application for the program, I expressed my desire to find a space where I could work on social justice issues that was enjoyable and fun, a desire only natural for a teenager I should think. When we walked in the door that first Wednesday, we didn’t know each other and we didn’t know what to expect from the program. What we did know is that we had all applied to Teen JUST-US and presumably wanted to be there, and that we had all just gone through two days at our internship sites. It turns out that those two connections were all we needed. There was almost no awkwardness, as I had expected there would be, and I didn’t feel isolated, as I feared I would be. I found I could and did talk to anyone and everyone in the cohort over our six weeks together. The instant sense of community and bonding we experienced is unlike anything I have found anywhere else in my life. In retrospect it makes a lot of sense. The fact that we were all interning somewhere with similar parameters, for some even in the same organizations, meant that we all had a common experience to connect with. The fact that we had all seen each other before, albeit on Zoom, didn’t hurt either. What helped most of all, however, is that we all, by the nature of that first shared item, having applied to this particular internship in the first place, cared about social justice, cared about Tikkun Olam, and were empathetic individuals. Heading into the next year I am going to miss this community most of all because its uniqueness is worth treasuring. It is a very rare thing indeed to find oneself in a place where you are genuinely applauded for having shared a presentation at a company meeting or finished painting a mural. Behind that applause, or those snaps—if the moment calls for a more respectful tone—is affection and kinship. We found ourselves on a journey together, through the relative chaos of interning during a pandemic, which was for many of us, including myself, our first internship ever, and where we were always cheering each other on.