Aiming for Wistful
WFF Rachael Fried (Class 4)
Whenever we have an adult volunteer or guest facilitator come to the JQY space, I almost always hear the same sentiment – one that I often find myself thinking as well- “I can’t imagine how different my life would have been if I had had this when I was their age” or, “Wow, I am so jealous that these kids get to have this.”
“I work to build the resources I did not get to have when I was growing up,” is a sentence I find myself saying over and over again – to friends, to funders, and even to random people I meet at kiddush. I grew up closeted and Orthodox, thinking I must be the only person in the world like me. Though there were some organizations and groups that were beginning to emerge at the time, I didn’t know about most of them and didn’t quite fit the target demographic of those I did know.
Fast forward many years later, and today I am the Executive Director of JQY (Jewish Queer Youth) where our mission is to support and empower LGBTQ youth with a focus on those who come from Orthodox, Chassidic, and Sephardic/Mizrahi homes. Our flagship program is our weekly Drop-in Center, open to anyone ages 13-23 where they can come meet others like them, check in with licensed social workers who bring a specific set of cultural competencies, participate in specialized programming, enjoy a hot kosher dinner, be part of a community, and know that they are not alone.
Upon coming out to someone in my family, I was told that I was lucky to be born into the generation that I was born into. I would never have to know the struggles of those who came before me because I was born into a different society after them. Because I came after those who advocated successfully for a better life for people like me.
How can I feel both grateful for being born into this time and yet still feel wistful about the increased opportunities afforded to today’s youth? Juxtaposing these two apparently conflicting sentiments led me to realize that this is actually a sign of success. Wistful is the way each individual should feel if our advocacy is effective and we are making the progress that allows each new generation to thrive greater than the last. If we do things right, each generation will be wistful about the opportunities and resources of those who come after them, and each will feel luckier and more blessed than those who came before them.
When I finally found my footing in the queer community, so many of the spaces in which I found myself were places of healing, which is exactly what I needed after being closeted and feeling hopeless and isolated for so many years. It is my great aspiration that for the youth who come to JQY, the support they receive proves not only healing, but preventative. Our goal is to equip our participants with the tools and the support networks they need in order to build resilience and to empower them to live their fullest selves, unapologetically. We strive to shield them from the pain and isolation that so many of my peers and I, and those who came before us, needed to experience. If we do our job well, perhaps they will not need the same level of healing in the future as those who preceded them.
I know that I stand on the shoulders of giants in this work, and I am so grateful to all those who enabled me to be myself, out loud, and to do this work today. Today, more than looking at future generations with sadness and with a longing for what could have been for me, I look to the future with joy and optimism for what else could be. Who knows what miracles our current JQYers will be able to make happen in the future. And when I look up to those who came before, I hope they are proud of what they see…and maybe even a little bit wistful.