With the Jewish New Year upon us, we asked five young adult leaders in our community to get real with us and reflect on the past, present and future. We chatted with Emily Zoback, 30, a practice manager at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute; Matt Bonney-Cohen, 32, senior program coordinator for crisis leadership and state and local government executive programs at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University; Ashley Arnold, 30, associate director of Eser at Hebrew College; Pete Ziegler, 32, a vice president at Procaccianti Companies, a national real-estate investment and management firm with a focus on hotelsand Alexis Salomone, 32, assistant director of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University, about everything from gratitude and current events to apologies and personal goals.

What’s one thing you’re especially grateful for this year?

“I’m grateful for my health and the health of those close to me. I’m surrounded by terminal illness at work every day, and unfortunately I know several people in my extended circles who have lost people close to them. It keeps things in perspective for me and allows me to appreciate the little things, not sweat the small things and really embrace the big things.”
—Emily

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to live freely and publicly as a Jew, which is unfortunately not the case for many of our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world.”
—Matt

“My mentors. This year I’ve taken on a new job and commitment to more serious Jewish learning, and I couldn’t have done it without the many people in my life who took time out of their busy days to chat or grab a cup of coffee.”
—Ashley

“I think I’ve got everything I need in life so I’m a pretty grateful guy. I’m fortunate to have a supportive family, solid job and live in a great city. I’ve been fortunate to have social, religious and business connections. Boston has certainly provided me with all of those over the past year, and I know it will continue to provide more in years to come.”
—Pete

“I am especially grateful for my friends and family and the support they give me. The past year has been quite overloaded and crazy with some big life changes—a new job, a 10-month fellowship with CJP, running a small business and my wedding. Throughout the year I needed to lean on the people closest to me. I feel quite lucky that I have some great friends and loving family to help me when I need support.”
— Alexis

What’s something significant that happened to you this year? How has it impacted you?

“I was fortunate enough to staff a CJP Birthright Israel trip last winter. Having the opportunity to travel to Israel for the second time was incredible in and of itself, but co-staffing the trip was an experience like no other. We had a group that was willing to engage and reflect, which made the 10 days quite special. Our guide was a wealth of knowledge and unbelievably invested in ensuring the best possible experience for the entire group. I formed lasting bonds and experienced Israel in a different way than I had on my own Birthright trip. Helping to lead a group that size requires a lot of patience and organization, especially in a country over 5,000 miles away where safety is a priority. I learned a lot about myself and my limits—how to acknowledge them, stretch them and articulate them. There’s something about group travel and learning that allows for introspection and growth; I’m grateful for such a strong group and for the entire experience, which allowed for all of this, and more.”
—Emily

“I got married in July, and the wedding week was more joyous and festive than my wife, Elizabeth, and I could have ever hoped for. We are incredibly proud of the way we spent our time planning for our marriage, in addition to planning the wedding. Big ups go to Rabbi Dan Judson, who officiated our wedding, and whose book, “Meeting at the Well: A Jewish Spiritual Guide to Being Engaged,” should be a must-read for all engaged Jewish couples.”
—Matt

“In July I took on a new role as associate director of Eser, a program connecting adults in their 20s and 30s to Jewish texts through meaningful conversation. The program is run by Hebrew College and funded by CJP. Through this amazing opportunity I have the privilege of working with a team of enthusiastic volunteers, educators and staff who are excited to create a community of young adults who make the time to discuss the big issues in our lives. It’s invigorating to do what I love with a group of my peers.”
—Ashley

“While I couldn’t convince my sister to move to Boston from Manhattan, I’d say that seeing her marry a wonderful guy in a beautiful Jewish wedding ceremony was something significant that happened this year. I’m very excited for what’s to come.”
—Pete

“I got married in July! My husband and I have been together for nine years, so there were a lot of jokes from friends and family about us knowing exactly what we were getting. But the act of getting married in front of our community, and the commitment it represents for me, has indeed changed the way I interact with and think about our relationship. We now have a marriage to tend to, and a legal and visible reflection of our commitment to each other. I am delighted to be married to my husband, and I still feel giddy about it every day, but I also did not anticipate all the feelings I would have when I went through the process of changing my name. I have always liked the idea of sharing a last name with my husband, and I was happy to go the traditional route of taking his name, but the process of changing it has been very emotional for me. I am still me, regardless of the name I have, but losing ‘Gewertz’ has felt a bit like losing my past and my history, not to mention a recognizably Jewish last name. My new, visibly Italian last name further complicates my feelings of loss.”
— Alexis

A lot’s happened in Boston and the world this year. Describe an event that has affected you.

“The presidential election is hugely important and has certainly affected me in more ways than I realized. Having the first female nominee of a major U.S. political party is a big deal. In their endorsement, The New York Times stated that Hillary Clinton has displayed her ‘intellect, experience, toughness and courage over a career of almost continuous public service, often as the first or only woman in the arena.’ As a woman, there’s an indescribable sense of gratification and awe watching a hugely qualified female on such an enormous stage carrying herself with poise, confidence and professionalism, despite everything negative being thrown her way. Having this example and precedent set for generations to come has filled me with pride and hope, and it’s only the beginning.”
—Emily

“The tragic and senseless murder of Ezra Schwartz hit me particularly hard. Any of us could have been Ezra, so it was appropriate that so many people in our community—those who knew him and those who didn’t—attended his funeral and offered words of comfort and consolation to his parents and siblings.”
—Matt

“The ongoing crisis in Syria, attacks across the world, including in Belgium, France and Turkey, and the stabbings in Israel have taken countless lives and made deep cuts in the fabric of our society. Our inability to understand and process these attacks has affected national politics and international relations. Terrorism has changed the way we live by eroding our sense of security, faith in others and hope for a brighter future. My hope for the next year is that we can come together as a global community in strength and unity against hate and intolerance.”
—Ashley

“The attack at Pulse nightclub in Orlando was particularly tough to swallow this year. The continued senseless terror attacks on innocent civilians, both inside and outside our country, are frightening. The amount of attacks we’ve seen recently—both lone-wolf attacks and coordinated attacks by terror organizations—threatens our way of life. Sadly, it’s become so common that it all blends together until the next attack occurs. We need to eliminate bigotry and terrorist ideologies.”
—Pete

“The rise of Islamophobia is quite disturbing to me, and this was crystallized in the statements made by Donald Trump about creating a registry of all Muslims in America. The stark similarity to the experience of Jews in pre-Holocaust Germany has forced me to start paying close attention to the rise in hate speech and bigotry, particularly directed at Muslims. One of the ways I connect with my Judaism is through prioritizing social justice and certain values, and I want to be sure that I’m paying attention even when others outside of my immediate community are threatened by bigotry.”
— Alexis

In thinking about the year, what’s something you’re sorry for?

“I am sorry if I have inadvertently hurt anyone this year. I tend to keep a very busy schedule and fast pace, so while I try to be conscious of how my behaviors affect others, I’m sure there are times when I could be more aware of this.”
—Emily

“I’m sorry for all the moments I lost my patience and either acted or spoke before thinking. A colleague of mine has a great sign at her desk that says, ‘Relationship before task,’ and that’s often something I forget.”
—Matt

“I’m sorry for not making enough time for others, both those I’m close to and those I don’t even know.”
—Ashley

“I need to be more understanding of the issues facing others and more compassionate. Oftentimes I just think that everything will be OK, and I try to be solutions-oriented. Instead of needing to find a solution to every problem, it’s important for me to take some time to understand what others are saying and be the shoulder to lean on, or an ear to just listen.”
—Pete

“I’m sorry for the ways in which I got too blinded by my own stress and perceived busy-ness to be present for my friends and loved ones.”
— Alexis

During the High Holidays, what’s the most spiritually fulfilling thing you do to reflect and “wipe the slate clean” for next year?

“Since my dad passed away, my family and I try to take time to reflect each year by visiting the cemetery and having our own silent conversations with him. It’s a time for me to catch my dad up on my life and channel his sage-like advice for the coming year. It’s a time to reflect inward and look ahead.”
—Emily

“The Washington Square Minyan offers the most spirited and powerful prayer experience in town. There’s something incredibly unique about the commitment everyone in the community makes to create such an intentional space for personal reflection and hope for teshuva (return), not only of repentance, but of return to the people we all should—and can—be.”
—Matt

“The Jewish sages teach that we should take a spiritual account of our actions for the year. This usually requires setting aside time for reflection, for either prayer or meditation, weeks ahead of Rosh Hashanah. While this sounds lovely, realistically it’s a challenge to find the time. This year I’m trying to follow the advice of Alan Lew from his book, “This Is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation,” to focus on one thing. As Rabbi Lew writes, ‘Everything we do is an expression of the entire truth of our lives.’”
—Ashley

“I use it as a time to set myself up for the year to come. I try to commit myself to be a bit more spiritual every year. I love Shabbat dinners; it’s an incredible chance to remove yourself from technology, the commotion of the world, politics, etc. You can actually use it as a time to think, talk and focus on those in your company without distractions.”
—Pete

“I find it meaningful to fast for Yom Kippur. I love food, and I’m inclined to getting ‘hangry,’ so it’s a real commitment when I fast. But I find that it gives me a sense of clarity and stillness that feels special and sacred. It helps me just stop and reflect on my shortcomings and what I want to do to change in the coming year.”
— Alexis

What’s one of your personal goals for next year?

“I ran my first 5K—ever!—this past year. Over the course of the next year, I hope to continue setting small goals like this to give myself something to work toward every few months. I’d love to train for a few more 5K races, improving my time for each event. Having these small, incremental goals allows me to achieve a sense of fulfillment.”
—Emily

“One of my personal goals for next year is to listen more carefully. I think I’ve gotten better in this regard in recent years, but it’s an area where I still have room for improvement.”
—Matt

“My personal goal for next year is to have more new faces at my Shabbat table. I love cooking, hosting and sharing stories over the table, but it can be a lot of work to prepare. Fortunately, the work almost always pays off! It’s just tough to remember that fact after a busy week. Next year I’m planning ahead and extending a wide invitation.”
—Ashley

“I have two goals—one personal and one for Boston’s young adult Jewish community. First, I’d like to find my soulmate and life companion, someone who knows how to enjoy life like I do. Second, my goal for the community is to further engage them. As co-chair of CJP’s Chai Society, I’d like to encourage others to get involved in Jewish life in Boston, just as I did five years ago. I want them to be a part of it and see the power of CJP and the impact it has on those in our community, both here and abroad.”
—Pete

“I want to learn how to be less hard on myself, particularly when I disappoint myself or others. I can get so bogged down by being hard on myself when I make a mistake that it stops being productive and starts getting in my way. I want to improve in all the ways I can, without berating myself too much when I fall short.”
— Alexis

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