Shira Pemstein

Eighteen internship days. Six leadership training days. Five justice issue days. 29 total days working in the Teen JUST-US Boston 2020 program.

Throughout the six weeks that we have been working and learning together, I have learned and grown in so many ways: I know what it is like to be in the working world, I have a better understanding of the different social justice issues around us every day, and I have heard directly from people who face injustices about how they have struggled with these hardships. Every day I learn something new and different. I cannot imagine what it would have been like if we were in-person. I feel that I probably would have learned even more than I already have if we went on the field trips that had been planned, or worked onsite at internships, or even met each other face to face at some point. Even though we have not been able to do many of those things, I have taken so much away from this experience, and I am hopeful that other Jewish teens in the Boston area  are able to take part in this program as it grows and changes.

Once it was clear to me that the summer would be affected by COVID-19, I was worried that the Teen JUST-US program would not be able to go forward, especially since this would be its first year. I was surprised to find out that, while not in-person, we would still be meeting virtually and taking part in the experiences that we were so excited to be a part of before the world shut down. While I was pleasantly surprised by the flexibility of Amy and Tyler, our program’s leaders, I was slightly disappointed because I believed I would miss out on one of the main things that I had hoped to get out of the summer. I was excited to make new friends who both were Jewish, like me, and who were interested in working and learning how to create a more just society. I was worried that being virtual would make it harder to get closer to others, and I would not build the friendships that I had been hoping to build.

I was wrong. Not only have I made friends with most, if not everyone, in my cohort, I feel that doing this virtually has connected us in a way that we might not have connected while in-person. I cannot quite describe it, but being in so many different breakout rooms, most of which were random, has given me the opportunity to speak with more group members and to learn about their beliefs.  If we were in-person, I imagine that we would have tried to be in small groups with different members of the larger group, but that it would be less random than it is on Zoom.

Being in the Teen JUST-US Boston cohort for 2020 has given me the opportunity to learn and grow as an activist and has offered me a look into the working world. I have learned different communication strategies, conflict resolution tips and much more. Teen JUST-US has opened my eyes to many of the injustices that exist in the world and in America with regard to healthcare, race, poverty, and so much more. These insights, as well as my work with Teen JUST-US, have helped me expand both my perspectives and my skill set, and I am excited to use these tools to continue to fight injustices in the world as I move on to college and beyond.

Shira Pemstein
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