Have Fun! Building something from scratch is a ton of hard work and time, so it is important to remember why you are doing this along the way. Take time to reflect, time to be proud of yourself for how far you’ve come, and most importantly, participate in the parts of the program that are fun and make it all worth it!
As part of my series about young people who are making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Chana Yerushalmi.
Chana Yerushalmi is the 23-year-old lead of Brush Hour. Growing up Orthodox in Brooklyn, NY, Chana dreamed of connecting with people outside of her community. Curious about what they’d have in common, she landed on Brush Hour, a safe space where diverse students could come together and combat stereotypes through art and mindfulness.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
Thank you for having me, it’s a pleasure! I grew up as part of the religious Orthodox community in Brooklyn. I have my family and my friends from school, but living in Brooklyn, you’re exposed to very diverse sets of people, and I felt like we had no way to connect, bond, or see past the surface.
How do you define “Making A Difference”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?
For me, making a difference means changing a long-held, preconceived notion from its roots. If you’re able to reach someone new and make a positive idea take hold replacing the original negative bias, it’s life-changing and truly meaningful.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the main part of our interview. You are currently leading an organization that aims to make a social impact. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Absolutely. So much of the conflict we’re seeing in today’s culture is about how different from one another or how alienated people can feel. Our mission is connecting people who might not normally have had a chance to meet and seeing preconceptions melt away. That’s what happens during our Brush Hour classes, as people find out that they have more in common and are maybe less alone than they previously thought. Students leave these classes and bring these learnings back to their own families, friends, and communities, and slowly but surely we can make a larger impact.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
I am passionate about my community and my faith, but I am also open-minded and curious about the outside world. I wanted to connect to people beyond those I grew up with or know from my neighborhood.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. We don’t always get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
So much recent media attention, for example the hit shows on Netflix which discuss or “expose” the Orthodox religion, have such a biased, one-sided view of my own experience. I don’t want other people perceiving me based on a show they’ve seen, I wanted to bring my peers together to write our own narrative instead. I also know we’re not the only community facing such stigma and that’s why I wanted Brush Hour to be a space just for teens where we’re able to leverage the idealism and innovation of youth, and break down stereotypes teenager to teenager.
Without saying specific names, can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted or helped by your cause?
Of course. We actually just received a beautiful testimony from a student after completing a full year of Brush Hour activities. Here is an excerpt as I think this student says it beautifully, “This has been an amazing opportunity for growth — not only for myself, but also impacting those around us… it has been so impactful seeing what impression Brush Hour has made. Whether it was the painting — used as an outlet and means of expression for many, or just being involved and seeing girls, not that much different than them, live and lead a life of meaning, to whom they can look up to as role models, was an incredible experience.”
Fantastic. Here is the main question of the interview. What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each).
#1 Think Big! This project started in my own community, with young women like myself, “Brooklyn Jewish High School Girls Sharing Their Passion for Shabbat Through Art”. And Shabbat is about rest, a moment of silence for your mind. But so many students are in need of this type of outlet: for social reasons, for mental wellbeing, for community-building. So now it’s time to go bigger and we’re hoping to expand this program into public schools in the tri-state region. We even provide all the art supplies so people at any level and demographic can partake!
#2 You Can’t Do It Alone. I’m the type of person who takes initiative and like to take charge. But running this program, with all of the logistics, is a ton of work! So surround yourself with people you trust, people you can lean on as thought-partners so it doesn’t all fall on your shoulders.
#3 Don’t Doubt Yourself. It is so hard when you’re young and have a big idea to know if what you’re doing is right. But it is so important to trust your gut and at least give new things a try. It’s been validating for me to see how big this idea has gotten!
#4 Get a Mentor. The advice of my mentor, Rabbi Mendy, and his belief in this program has made all the difference and has encouraged me to keep going.
#5 Have Fun! Building something from scratch is a ton of hard work and time, so it is important to remember why you are doing this along the way. Take time to reflect, time to be proud of yourself for how far you’ve come, and most importantly, participate in the parts of the program that are fun and make it all worth it!
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
I would encourage this whole-heartedly. We are the future and our creativity, passion, and persistence to change the world for the better make a real impact!
How can our readers follow you online?
We are on Instagram at https://www.instagram.com/__brushhour__/
Or online at https://solo.to/brushhour
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me! I appreciate your help in getting the word out as we look to expand our program to serve public school students!
Young Change Makers: Why and How Chana Yerushalmi of Brush Hour Is Helping To Change Our World was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.