The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
At the conclusion of the 2017-2018 L’Taken season, we launched the inaugural cohort of the RAC Teen Justice Fellowship with 50 teens registered for this opportunity. This fellowship, designed exclusively for alumni of the Bernard and Audre Rapoport L’Taken Social Justice Seminars, created an online community-based learning space. We covered current events, advocacy skills trainings and civic engagement. For successful completion of the fellowship, each fellow was required to complete a Civic Engagement Project. Below are a few reflections by the fellows about their projects. If you are attending the 2018-2019 L’Taken season, look out for information about how to sign up for the RAC Teen Justice Fellowship while you’re in DC!
Riny Levy and Andrew Strasberg (written by Rina)
Temple Emanuel | Kensington, MD and Temple B’nai Shalom | Fairfax Station, VA
For my culminating project, Andrew Strasburg and I presented a teen civic engagement town hall! Both of us chose, researched, and planned a brief presentation on a current issue, as well as information regarding potential advocacy methods. Andrew spoke about criminal justice reform and how to have effective and professional communication with congressional staff. I gave a brief overview of current issues regarding immigration, such as the current administration's zero-tolerance policy toward asylum seekers and how those facing immigration hearings are often left to defend themselves, despite our country's guarantee to counsel. It was a really valuable and informative experience, and I really feel like I can apply what I've learned in the fellowship to every day life.
Temple Judea | Palm Beach, FL
My civic engagement project involved mobilizing students in my high school to become politically active, while honoring the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting. Two months after the horrific event, I organized a vigil and Day of Action. Over half of my school’s population of 2,800 chose to participate in the events. It vigil involved a 17-minute ceremony, for the 17 lives lost. Following the vigil, we had booths set up, including a mental health awareness table, a table where students could write letters to their representatives, and a table for students to register to vote. I am proud to report that we helped over 100 students register to vote in one day! It was incredibly inspiring and rewarding to lead this Day of Action. I had the opportunity to work side-by-side with my school principal, who was in full support of the event. I am lucky that our school administration was so encouraging, and I hope that the energy generated at the Day of Action will continue to the polls this election season.
Temple Beth El | Bloomfield Hills, MI
I’ve decided to focus on LGBT+ rights after seeing the obvious discrimination in my school. Two weeks ago I posted a survey asking LGBT+ identifying students to describe their experience at school. This has given me a lot of information, including the fact that there’s supposed to be a gender neutral bathroom there. I gathered some emails of interested people, and contacted the GSA at my schools to discuss with my principal how to make our school more inclusive soon.
Temple Beth Or | Raleigh, NC
This past spring, I helped to create and implement a voter registration drive at NFTY-MAR’s Spring Kallah, and to assist in the standardization of this program for other NFTY regions. This voter registration drive consisted of a couple of stories from myself and the MAR SAVP on why voting is important to us, and then a brief presentation on voting and Judaism. Participants were then given the opportunity to register or preregister to vote if they were able to, as well as to sign voting pledge cards. This program got several MARites registered to vote as well as spreading awareness about the importance of voting. A similar program was run in NFTY-SAR last year and will be run or already has been run in numerous other NFTY regions this programming year.
Temple Shalom | Broomall, PA
Last month I went canvassing with one of my mom’s friends, Andi who serves as a judge of elections in a township near mine. For about two hours, we walked to 43 different houses. Although we were not able to communicate with the people living in every house, I truly had a meaningful experience while canvassing. Andi explained to me what role she plays in the township and why she felt the need to become more involved after the 2016 election. I learned about the three democratic politicians we were canvassing for and what a typical few hours of canvassing looks like. Spending my Saturday afternoon knocking on random peoples doors felt influential because even the small actions can have large effects.
Temple Shaaray Tefila | New York, NY
For my civic engagement project, I served as the teen liaison to my temple's voter engagement committee. As the youngest member of the committee, I helped organize and run several voter registration events aimed towards young adults, particularly those who just turned 18. Unfortunately, many of the younger members of the temple are at college, so these drives did not have the result that we expected. However, the drives for middle-aged members of the synagogue went very well, as the committee and I helped register around 30 voters during the various events we held and registered another 15 voters on word of mouth. While the committee is not working until the next general election, I hope to work on my own to encourage more people to register and vote in the primaries, where New York has one of the worst voter turnouts in the country.
Congregation Or Shalom | Vernon Hills, IL
For my Civic Engagement project, I helped plan and facilitate an activity for the public launch of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism - Illinois (RAC-IL). This activity was a dinner meeting for high school students interested in getting involved with RAC-IL. At the meeting we discussed what the mission of RAC-IL is, and what our role, as high schoolers, would be in this initiative. We even had a Question and Answer session with Rabbi Jonah Pesner! In addition to learning about RAC-IL, and talking with Rabbi Jonah Pesner, we attended the official public launch of RAC-IL together. I think this event was very successful, and I hope that from this event more high schoolers will be involved in RAC-IL.
Temple Israel | Hollywood, CA
For my Civic Engagement Project, I led efforts to encourage voters to vote during the midterms. I started a club at my school where every Friday during lunch we sent postcards to voters telling them to vote for specific candidates. In our final days of postcarding, we wrote postcards to voters in Florida telling them to vote yes on Prop 4, which restores the voting rights of previously convicted felons. I trained over 40 people how to text bank through Slack and Knock, and I personally sent over 5,000 texts to voters. It was amazing getting my school community involved in get out the vote efforts!