Are you ready to change the world?
These are the words used to introduce the Religious Action Center of Reform (RAC) Judaism’s L’Taken Teeb Social Justice Leadership Seminars. In Hebrew, L’Taken means “to fix” or “to mend.” On a recent cold and snowy weekend, I was fortunate to accompany 3 of our Congregation B’nai Torah high school students to Washington DC to learn about and take significant steps toward improving the world. We learned that this goal is not only possible; moreover, it is actually in our hands and the hands of our children and students.
The three ninth grade students from Congregation B’nai Torah in Sudbury who participated in the recent January 2018 weekend were: Julia Pilavin, Rebecca Paquette and Arianna Reith.
The Religious Action Center is the social justice umbrella organization of the Reform Movement. The RAC’s L’Taken weekends are exclusively designed for high school students who are affiliated with Reform congregations throughout the country. There were more than 250 students present, who, together with their rabbis, cantors, educators, youth advisors, represented more than 20 Reform synagogues around the country: from Maine to California, and Illinois to Texas and beyond. The weekend’s learning components were all focused on creatively and intensively introducing students to a variety of public policy issues, and to exploring the Jewish values that inform the Reform Movement’s advocacy around these issues.
Throughout the weekend, through briefings, simulations and interactive programming, students received the knowledge and tools to write effective, persuasive and passionate speeches and position papers on topics selected by the student groups. The objective was to present them to staff members of students’ home Senators and Representatives on Capitol Hill on Monday, our final day in Washington DC. The RAC reports that after meeting with high school students as part of the L’Taken program over the years, members of Congress have chosen to co-sponsor, offer amendments to and vote for pieces of legislation that high school participants from the Reform Movement discussed.
This year, topics presented by the RAC’s well-known staff of legislative interns and assistants to our students included: immigration reform, climate change, church/state separation, support for Americans with disabilities, reproductive rights, maternal and child health concerns, LGBTQ+ rights, US support of Israel and more. Our CBT students presented on the topic of Gun Violence Prevention and lobbied staffers in the offices of Senators Warren and Markey and Representative Katherine Clark to support two specific bills that are currently being proposed by lawmakers regarding the need for more comprehensive background checks for those seeking to purchase guns.
In addition to learning and lobbying, we also saw some wonderful Washington DC sites. Including: The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, the new MLK outdoor memorial, a sampling of Washington’s Smithsonian museums, and dinners in Georgetown and Embassy Row.
I always feel that it is a privilege to serve as rabbi of Congregation B’nai Torah in Sudbury. But I cannot even begin to describe the feelings of pride and satisfaction I felt throughout the weekend as I watched our high school students learn and interact with others, write and speak about issues of importance, and transform themselves into the kind of young adults we need -- who care about the world and are willing to take steps to improve it. Together with the other high school teens present, Ari, Becca and Julia gave voice and renewed meaning to the ancient Biblical imperative: “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” “Justice, justice you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20).
~Rabbi Lisa S. Eiduson