Effecting Change through Youth Leadership

Thu, 02/14/2019 - 1:20pm -- Anonymous

The past two weeks have been extraordinary for me. For the past 16 years, we have been taking students to the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism to learn about issues of social justice and lobby about them from a Jewish perspective on Capitol Hill. Each time our teens have come back transformed by the experience. This year the students that we brought were already passionate about one specific issue, Gun Violence Prevention. Our teens had already held their own educational programing about it and when they spoke about the issue, they did so from a place of personal narrative that felt different.

As our teens were participating in this extraordinary weekend, I was doing learning on my own. As part of my collaborative work with URJ Camp Harlam and URJ Camps, I have been learning about youth empowerment, social justice, and how to help effect change. At L’taken I spoke with leaders in the field about successful adult-teen partnerships and connected with colleagues.

Two weeks after our trip I reached out to our KIFTY leaders and asked if they might want to plan an event for the one-year anniversary of Parkland. Perhaps they could invite their friend, who attends Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School, to speak? Maybe they could invite Representative Dean, who had just introduced Gun Violence Prevention legislation, to come to KI. They asked me, “What do you think the odds of her coming are?” I do not know, I said, but it is worth a try. Within two days, they had secured Samara Barrack’s visit, Madeleine Dean’s appearance, and by the end of the week had a flyer, press release, invited area synagogues, posted to social media, shared with newspapers, and more. It was unbelievable!

This week in our Torah portion, Tetzaveh, we read about the priests. The priests are new leadership for the Israelites in the desert. Moses was commanded by God to lead the people out. Moses asks for Aaron’s help. Moses is instructed by his father-in-law to share the responsibilities. This week our Torah portion describes the way that the priests shall be installed, what they should wear, and how they should act. The portion helps them learn how to take on leadership that will draw the people of Israel closer to God. As I read the portion, I could not help but think of our KIFTY students. They have been taught how to be Jews by their synagogue and their family. They have been taught how to be leaders through their advisor, Danielle Strauss, their participation in youth group and in camps, like URJ Camp Harlam. Now, they are taking the lead. I hope you will join us on Tuesday evening at 7:30 p.m. as they lead our congregation in remembrance and help us draw closer to each other and to God.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Stacy Eskovitz Rigler