My name is Ava Plofsky and I am a junior at Natick High School. I belong to Temple Israel in Natick, attended Camp Tel Noar for several years and traveled to Israel with BBYO this past summer. I am always looking for Jewish communities to join, peers that I can relate to and a place to belong. When I joined Jewish Teen Initiative (JTI) this year, I felt that I had found all three.

I first heard of JTI through a friend who was a member of the Peer Engagement cohort. They focus on reaching out to Jewish teens and connecting them to various Jewish opportunities in their community. The Peer Engagement cohort, partnered with CJP and Hillel, are trained in leadership development, relational engagement, values identification and design thinking. Without her outreach I never would have heard about the fellowship, which pulls from different schools/temples and is open to grades 10-12. 

Upon further questioning, I learned that JTI had two other cohorts: Peer Wellness and Teen Safe. Each meets in person once a month and aims to connect Jewish teens and foster inclusion in the Jewish community. I chose to join the Peer Wellness cohort, focused on having conversations about mental health and removing stigmas surrounding various mental health issues. This cohort, partnered with Bamidbar Therapy, undergoes extensive mental health training, which helps us confront stigmas surrounding mental health issues. Additionally, the fellows create their own educational workshops on topics on mental health and wellness that interest them.

The third and final cohort is the Teen Safe cohort, who are partnered with JF&CS. They aim to build awareness around teen dating abuse and toxic relationships through workshops, blog posts and social media content created by the fellows. No matter which cohort you choose, you are sure to connect with other Jewish teens and foster change in your selected area!

We began the year with a kickoff event in September at Level 99 in the Natick Mall. The three cohorts joined together to get to know each other and have fun. For the most part, the monthly meetings are just for your cohort, so starting the year off all together helped build stronger bonds across JTI as whole. JTI provides the opportunity to meet other Jewish teens across the Greater Boston area. Fellows come from 56 different cities/towns, 82 different schools and 54 different synagogues! This broad network widens your Jewish community and allows you to make connections with so many different people. Joining Jewish communities is always particularly special because there is a feeling of relatability among Jewish teens who feel at home with one another and are going through similar experiences. Now, more than ever, with everything going on in Israel and increasing antisemitism in the U.S., it is becoming even more imperative that we surround ourselves with strong Jewish communities to help lift us up. 

JTI has given me an opportunity to connect with other Jewish teens and explore my interest in mental health. I have found peers to relate to and developed strategies that I can apply in my day to day life at school and in social situations. Not only has JTI taught me about mental health, it has also helped me grow confidence when speaking on this topic. Although all three cohorts focus on different topics, we all come together to develop our networking skills and wellness awareness through engagement training and mental health first aid training. 

Through joining JTI, I have developed relationships that I know will last and built a foundation of people that I can rely on as I head off to college in a year!

To learn more, click here and register.

Ava Plofsky is a junior at Natick High School. She is involved in field hockey and unified track and enjoys hanging out with her friends and family. She is a member of Temple Israel of Natick and will be going to Israel this summer with BBYO.

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