MARBLEHEAD – A couple of Marblehead High seniors, Lucy New and Sofia Vatnik, say they are not shy about talking in front of others or talking about their Jewish life.
So the pair have started a podcast call LowKey Convos they hope will connect with others.
“We’ll keep it low-key,” says Vatnik during their promo episode. “Let’s schmooze.”
The girls hope their conversations about “topics that matter, current events, and ways that you can connect with the community” will connect with other teens so they can feel like they are “part of the fam.”
It’s the first podcast to come out of the Jewish Teen Initiative, which is now part of Combined Jewish Philanthropies, a program that has its roots on the North Shore going back to 2008, and now serves teens in the MetroWest as well as the North Shore.
“We’re proud of Lucy and Sofia for creating a compelling and fun podcast to share their perspectives and connect with their peers,” said Brett Lubarsky, JTI’s director. “Lucy and Sofia are showing how the Jewish Teen Initiative — and JewishBostonTeens.com — empowers and inspires teens. We are excited to amplify their voices and the voices of many other teens in our community through JewishBostonTeens.com — the go-to place for all things #JewishBostonTeens — including upcoming events, stories, resources and much more for teens, parents and the professionals who serve them.”
In an interview via Zoom last week, Lubarsky, New and Vatnik spoke about what they are trying to accomplish with LowKey Convos. Vatnik attends Temple Sinai in Marblehead and New goes to Temple Emanu-El, also in Marblehead.
The young women are both 17 and serve as JTI Peer Leadership Senior Fellows, meaning they are leaders in a program which involves reaching out to their peers to better engage them with the Jewish community. The girls are also active with the Lappin Foundation’s Teen Antisemitism Task Force.
As of this writing, the close friends, “two girls who like to talk,” have recorded a couple of episodes. The first had the teens dishing about how they cope with stress, given teens are dealing with mental health issues around the pandemic and virtual school. The girls, who have been trained on ways to tackle stress, talk about practicing yoga, headspace meditation, walking outside, driving, journaling, or listening to their favorite tunes from Tate McRae or Shawn Mendes.
Their second episode was themed for Purim, complete with a brief summation of the Megillah, talk about their favorite hamantashen flavors with links on their blog to recipes.
New spoke about how she was supposed to go to school in Israel this winter and experience Purim celebrations there, but due to the pandemic, her trip was delayed. In fact, her trip has been delayed three times, something she has gotten used to, she said. “I’m just lucky to get there, and I guess the saddest part is I quarantined, and then I had to re-quarantine, and then my trip was delayed, and I have to quarantine again, but right now I’m technically out of quarantine,” she said during the podcast.
Her goal now is to be able to experience Passover in Israel, with plans to share her experiences on the podcast. The girls managed to tie the theme of Vatnik’s disappointment at her friend’s going away for an extended period of time, back to Purim’s themes of making the best out of a bad situation and the importance of doing acts of kindness.
So how did the podcast come about? Lubarsky said the teens, who are senior fellows, which means they are in the second year of the program, were challenged with coming up with new ways to connect with their peers. New said they are Peer Inclusion Fellows, meaning they have also learned about making experiences more inclusive for others.
“This year, one of our main focuses is mental health,” New said. They were brainstorming ways they could spread what they have learned to help other teens cope and the idea of making a podcast came up. “We are already friends, and we enjoy doing projects together,” said New. “That would be a fun challenge to take on, and we were excited to work on it with Brett.”
“I feel like Lucy and I always have intellectual conversations,” Vatnik said, “and we wanted to share those with other teens and see what they think. So, we were like, why don’t we record what we say and organize it and make it available to everyone so our thoughts can be out there and we can help someone. We wanted this to, A., entertain people; and B., help them spread the word, but also connect with others.”
New said they plan to produce one episode a month, including Jewish related topics and other topics not related to the religion. They plan to theme the April podcast around Passover.
They hope to include other Peer Leadership Fellows in future episodes.
Does Judaism inform their podcast?
“Yeah, we are connecting all of our topics back to Judaism,” said New. While not everything they talk about is Jewish-related, they plan on making connections back to their Jewish culture and lives, and themes from the Torah.
Where did the podcast’s name come from? Lubarsky said when the pandemic hit, they had conversations about how they could zero in on what they could do to help support their community. Last year, the JTI fellows created a LowKey Convos series for teens to be able to help them connect and talk about stuff that matters to them, “and this [Podcast] was a really exciting way to amplify that.”
So far, the girls like what they have produced.
“I really like listening to what we have created,” Vatnik said. “It’s really cool … when we have been working on it for so long and then when it finally came out, to be able to listen to it on Spotify and Apple, that was really cool, especially for all the hard work we put into it.”
Many of their friends have also provided positive feedback, she said. While they don’t have thousands of listeners, their first podcast drew 200 views. “And if you take all of those people individually, that’s 200 people that could have heard your message and taken something away. So, even if one person gains a new coping strategy or, like, learns something new or smiles, that is our goal. We are not looking to have millions of views.”
New said the work that went into producing even one episode was a challenge, including technical issues, working with an editor, and coming up with interesting topics, but the end result was rewarding, given how friends and family have reached out, which is the point of the podcast in a time when it’s hard to make connections.
“But I’ve connected with so many different friends and family who are, like, reaching out and asking questions,” New said. “Even this morning my dad was like, ‘Oh, I listened to your episode last night, I learned so many new things about you.’”