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Our Experience at our Kol Koleinu Retreat by Talia Polish and Rosie Smith

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I scrolled through a list Jewish groups on my computer, skimming the screen. I paused when I saw Kol Koleinu. A Jewish, feminist group? I did some research, and it seemed right up my alley: this was a place where I could meet others that shared similar values with me, and it was also an opportunity to make actual change. So, along with people from all over the US, we both applied to be involved in the change-making fellowship for teen Jewish feminists. We were put into a group of 13 girls all the way from Miami, to, of course, Chicago. Our first meeting was a 24-hour experience designed to start off the program; I didn't know what to expect. I was nervous, had never met these people, and was worried about forming connections. Was I going to feel brave enough to find my voice to discuss issues and share my honest opinions? Would my ideas be appreciated? Would my voice be heard?

Kol Koleinu photo 1

Finally, after a flurry of COVID tests, email, and logistical communication, it was time for the retreat. I was one of the first to arrive at the temple we were staying at, and I remember my heart pounding and  thoughts circulating through my head. Would the other girls be nice, or cliquey and judgemental? Would this be a space where I could make meaningful change? But within minutes of interacting with the people around me, I soon realized my worries were irrational. 

Kol Koleinu photo 2

We excitedly exchanged music tastes, anecdotes of our trips to the temple, and more. It took no time to get to know one another, and within an hour, we all felt significantly more familiar with the group. If someone was looking at how we interacted, they would’ve never guessed we had known each other for less than a day. 

The instant connection was one I’ve never felt before and I can imagine it was because we had so much in common. We were each passionate about feminism, our Jewish identities, and social change. Never has another group of people made me feel more comfortable, more stimulated and excited to talk about things from social change and Jewish identity to our favorite form of potato. Yes, a real question I felt necessary to bring up which brought about some passionate and unique answers. 

Kol Koleinu photo 3

That weekend I not only formed meaningful lifelong connections with girls I would have otherwise never known, but I also engaged in conversation that was exhilarating. I opened up about things I would have never felt comfortable talking to anyone else about before. We all shared stories connected to our identity, whether our journey to becoming a feminist, or antisemitism we had experienced that had shaped our Jewish identity. Swapping stories made me realize that I wasn't alone in any way, I wasn't alone in the hate I had experienced, or in the passion I felt to create change. In a way, it felt surreal. This was a chance to get away from our normal, stressful school life, and it was refreshing to be with a group of new people that we didn’t normally spend time with.

Now that we’re no longer able to be physically together, we’ve stayed in touch through social media and zoom calls, and we excitedly await our next in-person retreat at OSRUI. In the next few months, we’ll begin creating our social change projects that involve issues we’re passionate about. Kol Koleinu has been such a wonderful experience so far, and we are excited to have this opportunity to create change and continue fostering this community with this group of girls! We are grateful to Moving Traditions for creating this Jewish platform to sponsor education programs for teens, allowing us to delve deeper into our passion for social change.

About the Authors:

Rosie Smith

Rosie Smith (she/her) is a senior at Deerfield High School. She plays the clarinet, is a member of the warrior marching band, and participates in pit and pep band. She volunteers at Gigi's Playhouse: Down Syndrome Achievement Center where she tutors literacy. Over her summers she works as a camp counselor for kids aged 5-7. Rosie is a member of Temple Jeremiah. For fun Rosie enjoys reading, baking, listening to Taylor Swift and hanging out with friends.

Talia Polish

Talia Polish (she/her) is a sophomore at Evanston Township High School where she plays flute and is a yearbook editor. Outside of school, she is a member of the Actors Gymnasium Teen Ensemble, through which she teaches, learns, and performs circus arts. She is a member of North Shore Congregation Israel where she participates in the youth group, is a teen tutor for b’nei mitzvah students, and assistant teaches second grade religious school. Talia enjoys baking, swimming in the lake, and spending time with friends and family!