One of my favorite events I went on with the Jewish Teen Initiative (JTI) was the Loon overnight ski trip. I went with one of my friends who was also a JTI peer inclusion fellow so that I wouldn’t be alone. When I got there, I knew this was going to be a fun event. It was hard to start a conversation with some people, but once I found a subject we were passionate about, conversations could last forever. One really popular topic was, “Who is better—Superman or Batman?”
Once we got there, we did a few icebreakers, and I realized how much the kids there looked up to me. I knew I had to take on a leadership role and set an example for the younger kids on the trip. A lot of them were middle schoolers, and I was a junior in high school at the time. After the intro games, we had a little time before dinner. I looked around the room and found some board games for us to play. Some of the kids didn’t seem comfortable yet, so I picked a game to play with them until they warmed up to the crowd. I loved seeing everyone involved so soon after the event started.
The next day was the skiing day. I’m not a big skier, so I went tubing with a couple of other kids. My job, along with the group chaperone, was to make sure they stayed safe and had fun. We had a blast! Once we ran out of time on the tubes, we went back to the lodge to wait for the skiers to finish. I could immediately tell that one kid did not like the loud noise and all the people. I offered to take him downstairs where we could walk around for a while. We found a small candy shop and looked around until it was quieter upstairs.
That event changed the way I thought of inclusion. I didn’t know how powerful it could be until I saw it in action, and saw myself taking those steps to include other people. My training as a JTI Peer Leadership Fellow constantly comes up in my life today. In my homeroom, there’s a kid who has a disability. I like him a lot because he’s funny and comes from a very different background than me. He grew up in Texas! I like talking to him because he has interesting stuff to say. Some of my classmates have trouble holding a conversation with him. But because of the work I’ve done as a Peer Inclusion Fellow with JTI, I’ve been able to make a new friend in a homeroom I’ve been in for four years.
Jonah Michel is a senior at Newton North High School. He is an active part of the school’s theater program, enjoying roles in both the fall and winter shows. Jonah plays on the baseball team and is an active member of the Temple Beth Elohim youth community. He has also been going to Camp Tel Noar for seven years.
This post is part of a series of reflections and insights from the JTI Peer Inclusion Fellows. Part of Jewish Teen Initiative of Greater Boston’s signature Peer Leadership Fellows program, Peer Inclusion Fellows are helping to make our community more connected and inclusive for all Jewish teens.