Let's Talk About "Nice"

October 1, 2020
Tess Mendelson

Chevy Chase, Maryland, United States

Class of 2021

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I checked the box “Jewish” on my college applications. Even if I hadn’t, it would have been obvious to the colleges I’m applying to that I’m Jewish. I go to a Jewish Day School, grew up at a Jewish summer camp, and am involved in multiple Jewish youth groups. I’ve been blessed with the Jewish education I’ve received. I can read, write and speak in Hebrew; I know BBYO’s Menorah Pledge Principles by heart. Yet, I feel that my Jewish education has fallen short in some aspects of my life. And it’s not that my teachers or staff members don’t have the knowledge to teach me what I need to know, because they do. We are taught to scream “Dayenu! Enough!” at the Passover table, but sometimes we are unsure of how to say “enough” or “no” when placed in an uncomfortable situation. How can Jewish youth groups, institutions, and organizations teach more about healthy relationships, consent, bodily autonomy, and boundaries?  

Imagine what our community could look like if we spent less time talking about “Nice Jewish Boys” and “Nice Jewish Girls” and more time talking about what being “nice” meant. This is a huge opportunity for us as Jewish teens to lead the way in creating the kind of community that we’re proud to be a part of.

In all the organizations we’re involved in, we cultivate a culture of tight-knit relationships which is a very powerful thing. If we can continue to work together, we can leverage relationships to build a culture of respect and consent. Teens, staff members, and camp counselors should feel comfortable sharing information and having conversations with one another; that’s the beauty of these organizations. We should use these relationships to dialogue and partner together in problem-solving.

And really, it’s not about the problem anymore, it’s about the solution. We need to take action now. JWI (Jewish Women International) has partnered with BBYO to create a plethora of resources to get Jewish teens talking. So, let’s talk.

We as teens in the Jewish community can cultivate a more positive culture within the organizations we participate in. It starts with relationships, platonic or not. The way we treat each other and the way we set boundaries for ourselves and others matters. The new Yes and Know and Choose Respect programs created by JWI for BBYO are designed to help chapters and teens learn how to set and respect boundaries. It’s not just about respect when it comes to hooking up at events or dating. It’s about respect in all aspects of our lives. It’s about fostering open communication. It’s about cultivating healthy connections. It’s about supporting survivors and knowing how to identify abusive/harmful behavior. We value brotherhood and sisterhood so much, and our healthy friendships with one another are the foundation of our community.

I’ve seen the power this movement has, especially on social media. Pairing up with JWI for a social media campaign is the perfect way to spread the word (share what you’re doing with the #BBYO❤️healthyrealtionships hashtag!). It is about talking, educating, raising awareness, and taking action.

The organizations we participate in and relationships we have with one another are our most important resources at this moment. With these resources from JWI and BBYO, I am confident we can be trailblazers for other Jewish organizations working to build and promote a culture of respect.

Tess Mendelson is a BBG from Northern Region East: DC Council and is an editor for her school's yearbook.

All views expressed on content written for The Shofar represent the opinions and thoughts of the individual authors. The author biography represents the author at the time in which they were in BBYO.

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