In 1994, Rabbi Robert Klensin urged the congregants of his Arnold, MD reform Jewish synagogue, Temple Beth Shalom, to take a stand on gun violence prevention, setting the stage for a legacy of advocacy that would resonate through the generations. Now, 30 years later, his grandson, 17-year-old Elijah Paul, carried the torch l'dor vador (from generation to generation).
Elijah's journey began when he traveled with other teens and his rabbis from Congregation Or Ami in Calabasas, California for a transformative experience in Washington DC. There, he participated in the L'taken Social Justice Seminar of the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism. Alongside 384 other teens from around the United States, Elijah delved into the complexities of various public policy issues, studying Jewish values and texts to form a foundation for meaningful advocacy.
Among the myriad issues presented during the seminar, Elijah felt called to address the pressing matter of gun violence prevention. Drawing on the same sources of courage yet without prior knowledge of his grandfather's public penchant for advocating for change, Elijah embarked on a mission to make a difference. His advocacy journey mirrored that of his grandfather, standing up to speak truth to power.
Guided by the teachings of Talmud and Torah, Elijah and his youth group partner Shoshana Lindon meticulously crafted an advocacy speech that merged their experience with multiple school lockdowns, their memory of the nearby 2018 mass shooting at Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, CA, just twelve minutes from their synagogue, and their passion for gun violence prevention. Drawing on the rich tapestry of Jewish values, the team articulated a compelling argument that resonated with the essence of Tikkun Olam - the responsibility to repair the world for future generations.
Once prepared, Elijah, along with his delegation of amazing teens from Congregation Or Ami, took to Capitol Hill to engage with the legislative staff of Congressperson Julia Brownley. Armed not with weapons but with words and conviction, Elijah and Shoshana delivered a powerful message rooted in the enduring tradition of their reform synagogue and his familial commitment to social justice.
Upon hearing about Elijah's chosen topic, Rachel Paul, Elijah's mother, sent Or Ami's me a copy of a Baltimore Sun article describing her father's 1994 stance. The article quoted Rabbi Klensin's poignant teachings, "The shofar is a reminder not only of Abraham's faith in God, but that God does not want us to sacrifice the next generation [to gun violence]." As Elijah passionately advocated for gun violence prevention, I heard echoes of the past. The passion of Rabbi Robert Klensin, the grandfather, whose powerful voice once reverberated through his East coast synagogue, continues through his torchbearer, Elijah, just a teenager, who now speaks not just for himself but as a representative of a community and a family that had long embraced the principles of Tikkun Olam - repairing the world.
You see, this story of Elijah Paul and Rabbi Robert Klensin reveals more than a chronological passage of time. It represents a spiritual and ideological continuum: For which the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, Union for Reform Judaism, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis annually bring together 2,000 young people annually for the Religious Action Center's L'Taken Social Justice seminar. For which Congregation Or Ami annually sends a plethora of staff - this year, Rabbi Kipnes and Rabbi Lana Zilberman Soloway, Youth Engagement Coordinator Andrew Fromer, and Rabbinic Intern Sam Thal - to guide our delegation of youth.
Yes, we discover in this journey from grandfather to grandson year after year, a concerted effort by Reform Judaism to ensure that in each and every generation, the intentionally interwoven mantle of Torah and Tikkun Olam is upheld, so that our most cherished Jewish values meet the each moment and help repair our broken world.