The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
Another fantastic L’Taken season has come and gone. Over six weekends, 2,000 Reform Jewish high school students joined us in Washington, D.C. to explore our nation’s Capital, engage in meaningful learning about Judaism and social justice, and make their voices heard in the halls of Congress.
Check out our top 8 moments from the 2019 season of the Bernard and Audre Rappaport L’Taken Social Justice Seminar - and then register to join us for the 2020 season!
Students from Congregation Kol Tikvah in Parkland, FL and Temple Beth Orr in Coral Springs, FL, communities affected by the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas high school last year, joined us in D.C. for L’Taken. They brought with them leadership, humility, and a fierce determination to work alongside the Reform Jewish community to end gun violence in America. Congregation Kol Tikvah student and URJ Camp Harlam alumna, Casey Sherman was featured in an article in JTA about Jewish teen leadership on gun violence prevention.
This year, teens wrote and delivered nearly 700 speeches to Congressional offices representing communities across the United States, 150 of which focused on gun violence prevention. On January 28, 2019, 10th grader Sammy Polliack from Temple Beth Israel in Portland, OR delivered a speech on gun violence prevention to Kurt Schrader’s office (OR-5), urging the Congressman to cosponsor H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. A week later, Representative Schrader announced he would cosponsor the bill, an announcement that came as a surprise to many in the gun violence prevention field, as his office had previously been hesitant to come out in support of the measure. On February 27, H.R. 8 passed the House of Representatives, marking the most significant gun violence prevention bill to pass in more than two decades.
After attending L’Taken, teens from Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel decided to organize a community forum on gun violence prevention. Over 450 people attended the event, including Representative Madeleine Dean (PA-4), who had a powerful message of support for the teen organizers: “Stay with me on this. It is teens like you who will make this difference. Your voices must be heard.”
This year’s programming featured a new all-group program called “Storytelling for Action.” Students practice the art of storytelling, learning to bring others into action with them through sharing their narrative and values, and building relationships with their audience.
Two examples of powerful, vulnerable stories our teens shared:
Brendan Chang, Woodlands Community Temple in White Plains, NY on climate justice:
“Earlier this year, my school sent me an email containing a phrase that every high schooler wants to hear: ‘class cancelled.’ My history teacher was going to be out the following week. Like most of the students, I celebrated the newly freed time, but I wondered what could pull Mr. L, the ‘History Fiend,’ away from class. He was one of the teachers that was never absent. So, I asked him. He told me that his parents’ homes in California had burned down in one of the wildfires, so he was going to fly out to California and help move his parents into a temporary home.”
Eli Perlin, Temple Sholom in Chicago, IL on criminal justice:
“One major community affected by the criminal justice system is the south side of the city of Chicago. In Chicago, I attend Northside College Prep. While the school itself sits deep in Chicago’s north side, many of the students commute from the south side. Last year, I sat across from one of these students during my chemistry class. As I got to know her, I also got to know her boyfriend. He, like me, was a 16-year-old high school student in the city of Chicago. And yet, our lives could not have been more different...”
When L’Taken students descend on Capitol Hill to make their voices heard, members of Congress take notice.
Returning students participated in a specially curated experience, exploring the theory behind the RAC’s social justice work, taking a deep dive into one social justice issue, and leading our community in Havdalah at the Jefferson Memorial.
Between learning sessions and exploring D.C., L’Taken students wrote nearly 200 postcards to speak out against proposed changes to Title IX, the transgender military ban, and to send notes of love and solidarity to Muslim communities all over the world in the wake of the shooting in New Zealand.
For the first time, L’Taken partnered with NFTY Nashir to create Nashir DC: Songleading for Action. 14 teens came to Washington D.C. to learn and lead music with messages of hope and change for a truly special L’Taken weekend. And of course, we can’t forget to mention that the Eisendrath Legislative Assistance wowed teens and chaperones alike with their rendition of “All We Want from Congress is Laws,” to the tune of All I Want for Christmas is You.
Thanks to the generosity of the Women of Reform Judaism who made it possible for us to live-stream, thousands joined us virtually at our havdalot ceremonies at the Jefferson Memorial. Parents all over the country enjoyed the chance to catch a glimpse of what their students were up to during their time in DC. It was particularly powerful to come together in solidarity after the tragic murder of 49 worshippers at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and celebrate our right to freely pray in public. With heavy hearts, we ushered in a new week together, where we committed to continue to work to repair our broken world.
This year, we loved welcoming 21 new congregations and community groups! We can’t wait to see you next year.
L’Taken 2019 was filled with incredible leadership development, change-making and community-building. We’re already gearing up for the 2020 L’Taken season. Join us! Registration for L’Taken 2020 opens on April 8, 2019.
Lizzie Stein is a leadership development associate at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, where she previously served as an Eisendrath Legislative Assistant. In her current role, she leads fellowships for alumni of RAC programs and brings leadership skills training to the RAC’s L’Taken Social Justice Seminars and other programs. A graduate of Occidential College, she is a member of Temple Kol Ami in Phoenix, AZ, her hometown. Shira M. Zemel is the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's Director of Youth Leadership Development. She holds a master's degree in education from SUNY University at Buffalo. Shira is from Arlington, VA, and is a member of Temple Micah in Washington, D.C.