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Channeling Experience and Energy into Action: Jewish Teens Reflect on This Week’s Events

This story was published in e-Jewish Philanthropy.

By Avra Bossov and Debbie Shemony

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In Judaism we learn to embrace others. To operate from a place of understanding (binah) and kindness (chesed), and to have empathy (rachamim). The past week’s events left people feeling every emotion from hurt, to excitement, to sadness, to elation, to confusion, and so many more. There is no doubt that our country is torn, but as leaders our teens can help bridge that divide.

This fall, as part of an ongoing commitment to civic engagement and the launch of BBYO’s gamechangers campaign, which offers teens a platform for creating positive change in the world around them, thousands of Jewish teens participated in a series of fun and educational events including Debate Night Watch Parties and Election Night Voice Your Vote events. Additionally, and in collaboration with partners like Repair the World, BBYO developed resource guides for teens on racial injustice, immigration and access to education – topics that members identified of particular interest to them.

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At the culmination of these events, four teens were selected to win an all-expense paid trip to Washington, DC to attend the 58th Presidential Inauguration, celebrate Shabbat with national Jewish leaders at the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Foundation Weekend of Hope, Healing and Service dinner, and attend the Women’s March on Washington. While these four teens represent thousands of peers with differing viewpoints and opinions, they all share a common commitment to advocate for what they believe in and be a part of history. These are their reflections from this weekend’s events.

“My experience in D.C. this weekend was like no other. Being the patriot that I am, going to the nation’s capital has always been on my bucket list, so I was excited for the trip to begin with. I had never seen a city so unique.

After hours of waiting in the cold, during which we saw the sun rise over the Capitol building, the ceremony finally began and it was just something else. Hundreds of thousands of people came together to watch the beginning of something new. They came together to watch peaceful transfer of power. And they came together to watch history unfold. The most unique part of it for me was that I’ll be able to look back and tell my kids one day that I was a part of American history.

I was around people of all sorts this weekend. White. Black. Republican. Democrat. To me, that didn’t really make a difference because we were all in our nation’s capital as Americans. All weekend long I strived to change the game as the minority (the only Republican) in the group. There were situations where I didn’t feel like speaking up about how I felt due to fear of being put down, and I decided that it was only right to speak up, because if I hadn’t, no one would know my stances on whatever it was we were discussing. This weekend, I became comfortable arguing about something even if I was wrong, and I became okay with talking to people I’ve never met before.”

BRYCE W., KIO Region, Columbus, OH

“Two words: perspective altering. The feeling of being in the audience outside of the Capitol building does not compare to watching the event on TV. In many moments, I was experiencing sensory overload. The Inauguration opened my eyes in an overwhelming way that left me at a loss of words. And after witnessing everything on Friday, it fueled my fire to march in the Women’s March on Washington. I was supposed to leave D.C. before the March, but I knew I couldn’t. I had to make a difference and join the hundreds and thousands of people in changing the game and voicing my opinion. The March was the most amazing experience and atmosphere to be in. I felt as though I fit in. I was not a minority, but part of the majority for once.

Overall, this experience has prepared me to become a more critical thinker, a better leader, and has taught me how to voice my opinions and be active in what happens in politics. Just because we are only teenagers in BBYO, doesn’t mean that we can’t voice how we feel and get more involved. If there is a will, there is always a way to make a difference. As BBYO teens, we are the future leaders and experiences like these help prepare us to make change happen and make an impact on the world. I cannot thank BBYO enough for this amazing opportunity.”

MARGAUX G., Eastern Region, Richmond, VA

“I was not sure what to expect when we arrived at the gates that morning with the sun not even close to rising, but it was definitely not what I experienced. I felt isolated in a crowd of people who felt and thought differently than I did. Being one of the few people cheering for Hillary Clinton showed me the importance of speaking out when everyone else around you has something different to say, and to never stumble or hide what I am passionate about. How else will I let the world know?

Despite a lot of challenges for me during the Inauguration, like the aching in my heart and the pain in my feet, I discovered a newfound love for democracy. Although I could barely hear Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer speak over the crowd, I did hear one key part. I heard him speak about the importance of democracy. The importance of the peaceful exchange of power that began with George Washington. It made me realize that although I am nowhere near a fan of the way our government stands right now, I am undoubtedly a fan of democracy.

At the Weekend of Hope, Healing and Service Shabbat dinner, the environment was full of acceptance and civil conversation and speakers who understood what it was like to be as confused and as scared and as nervous as I was. To hear others understand what I was wrestling with in my own mind, and to not even talk about the event of the day, choosing instead to focus on initiatives and the importance of getting to work, truly inspired me to want to take action.

This weekend taught me to fight for what I believe in. This weekend was a call to action, and one I will be answering.”

ALEXA B., Eastern Region, Wilmington, NC

“After going to both the 58th Presidential Inauguration and then the ensuing Women’s March the following day, I felt a complete lack of unity and struggled with the complexity of our current situation. I had the incredible honor of being one of the few people in this entire nation to witness both the Inauguration and the Women’s March on Washington in person. But with that honor came the immense pressure and gravity of the situation that we Americans face today.

Everyone at the Women’s March on Washington stood together. I even saw an African American man standing with a Muslim American Woman and a Jewish man all holding hands and singing “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinu” at the top of their lungs.

BBYO has shown me the power in unity and why it is so important. It showed me that a group of people, like-minded or not, when working together, can change the world. Everything I am today, who I am and what I stand for can be credited to either my parents or BBYO. Now it’s my turn to act and protest and stand up for what I believe in because I am ready. I am ready to fight for what is right and make this world a better place. And I know that we must be united.”

NOAH S., KIO Region, Columbus, OH

Additional photos from the weekend, are on facebook.

Avra Bossov is the Marketing Communications Manager and Debbie Shemony is Vice President of Marketing and Communications for BBYO.

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