The adage “May you live in interesting times” was never more true than when Temple Beth Or high school students—Ava Kuperman, Emma Lindsay, Natalie Taylor, Sara Zendlovitz—and I spent the weekend in Washington D.C at the Union for Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center (RAC) L’taken Seminar, January 27 to 30.
Our Temple teens gathered with nearly 400 Jewish high school students from around our nation to learn about a variety of public policy issues and to explore Jewish values that inform their opinions on political matters.
The event was exceedingly timely. While we were there, President Trump signed his controversial executive order on immigration. We experienced, in real time, protests against the immigration ban, rallies objecting to President Trump’s cabinet picks, and demonstrations protesting the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade decision (44 years to the date) legalizing abortion in many cases.
Our students rose to the occasion. Ava urged the representatives to co-sponsor the Real Education for Healthy Youth Act: to provide medically accurate comprehensive sexuality education in schools so as to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted disease, as well as to model healthy relationships for youth. Emma implored our legislators to support the Equality Act to protect civil rights of LGBT+ persons and to render discrimination against them illegal. Her powerful words were dedicated to a young man and classmate who committed suicide that very weekend after being bullied and harassed because of his sexuality.
Natalie spoke out about the refugee crisis, imploring the Ohio Senators and Representative to oppose limitations on refugee resettlement based on race, religion or national origin, and to plead for increased humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees displaced because of the ongoing Syrian Civil War.
Sara added that our visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum brought to mind the fateful voyage of the St. Louis, a ship filled with Jews trying to escape the Third Reich in 1939. When the ship arrived in Cuba, the Jewish refugees found that their visas had been invalidated. Not able to find asylum in countless countries, most of the 937 Jews were sent back to Europe and their nearly-certain deaths. Sara cited the powerful quote from Dorothy Thompson, American journalist and radio commentator of that day, who wrote: “It is a fantastic commentary on the inhumanity of our times that for thousands and thousands of people a piece of paper with a stamp on it is the difference between life and death.”
When we had left Dayton, our students hardly imagined that their opinions could really make a difference. However over the course of the weekend, they discovered that in our democracy each citizen has not only a vote but a voice.
Our teens (Judaism’s and America’s future leaders) are being tempered in these very trying times. Programs such as the L’taken Seminar elevate them to be caring, concerned, and empowered citizens. This trip is heavily underwritten by Temple Beth Or. If you would like to contribute to scholarships so that EVERY Temple teen can attend a L’taken seminar in the future, please contact me.
Shalom, Rabbi Judy Chessin