When we logged on for our first Slingshot Fellowship Zoom on December 11th, 2020 for a “Hanukkah Hang,” we weren’t sure what to expect from the Fellowship experience or what being a part of a “pod” would entail. However, we were excited by the opportunity to build new relationships, expand our networks, and find community with other Jewish young adults across the country, an opportunity that had become rare since the start of the pandemic. For months we had been isolated – working from home or taking graduate school classes online – and our social interactions were incredibly limited, especially with new people.
After that first call, we were placed into pods of three or four Fellows. Our pod is primarily based in New York City and very passionate about tackling issues related to food access, healthcare inequality, and other social injustices within our communities.
Jumping into difficult and intimate conversations about these critical issues as near-strangers early on in our relationships was intimidating, but it soon enabled us to feel connected on a far deeper level. After many zoom calls and group texts, we were able to finally meet in person for the first time in June of 2021. Over bagels and many cups of coffee (and a few of our dogs making surprise guest appearances), we talked about current social issues, organizations we were excited by, our respective mentors whom we had recently been paired with as a part of the Fellowship, the results from the 360 Leadership Assessment we did for the first retreat, and more.
Since then, we’ve been able to get together for several Shabbat dinners and give one another career and philanthropic advice over latke tacos, colorful pancakes, and homemade pizza (clearly, our pod loves food). We regularly send relevant articles, podcasts, events, conferences, dog pictures, and our wordle scores to each other.
Because of this bond – and the deliberate and structured space Slingshot created for us – we are also now able to have challenging and invigorating discussions about privilege, wealth, inequality, social justice, and advocacy. Through our unique but often converging backgrounds, we learn together and push one another to think more critically and thoughtfully about how we can better approach our work and be more effective changemakers.
What started as a formal pairing through Slingshot, has morphed into an expanded network and social circle with meaningful, lifelong friendships. We are all so grateful and cannot wait to continue working and growing together, throughout the final months of the Fellowship and beyond.
Haley Schusterman, Sara Lerner, Melanie Lowenstein, and Ben Weinberg are one of three Pods in the inaugural Slingshot Fellowship.