Coupled with the strain of the coronavirus pandemic, the Jewish community is bringing attention to the power of “Collective Compassion” to National Mental Health Awareness Month.

Created by Jewish Teens Thrive, a project of the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative, it is a national response to the growing wellness needs of teens.

Dozens of events and experiences, many in partnership with artists and organizations, draw on the power of Jewish creativity, culture, learning and values to support teens and the adults who care about them.

“Adolescence is a turbulent time, and COVID-19 is leaving many teens and their families reeling by creating a heightened sense of uncertainty, confusion and loss,” says Sara Allen, executive director of the Jewish Teen Education and Engagement Funder Collaborative. “We aim to both call attention to these challenges and offer teens and adults new self-care practices they can use all year long, and a deeper understanding of the many dimensions of mental health.”

The program is free and accessible to anyone.

Highlights include “Creativity for Coping,” a resilience-building workshop series led by Jewish artists, including “Storytelling for Sanity,” an intimate concert and open mic with musicians, movement exercises and guidance on inventing new rituals to mark loss; “Finding Purpose and Meaning” with tool kits for mental-health Shabbats, integrating gratitude into daily lives and philanthropy pop-ups for teens to support local wellness organizations; “Education and Awareness” with screenside chats and live Q&As with experts, panels and training with youth professionals, and curated books and quarantine playlists.

“Addressing and supporting issues of teen wellness has always been a foundation of our work in our Los Angeles Teen Initiative,” explains Shira Rosenblatt, associate chief program officer at the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. “We know Jewish community, ritual and values have a tremendous amount to offer to support and inspire families and educators in this increasingly critical area. The current COVID-19 crisis only makes this issue that much more dynamic and essential.”

Those who work with teens are familiar with the statistics: One in five teens has had a serious mental-health disorder; 50 percent of all mental illness begin by age 15; and among ages 15 to 24, suicide is the second-leading cause of death.

“In this moment, we turn to each other and our Jewish tradition with the belief that unity is strength,” says Allen. “We are inspired by the ‘Collective Compassion’ of our community as we come together to raise awareness, build resilience, and ultimately, thrive.”

The initiative is supported by BBYO, the Blue Dove Foundation, Jewish Teen Funders Network, Jewish Teen Education & Engagement Professionals’ Network, Here Now, the URJ, the Mitsui Collective, Moving Traditions and the Jewish Federation of Metro Detroit.

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