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Program gives voice to those who can’t vote

This story was published in The Jewish Chronicle

By ADAM REINHERZ | STAFF WRITER

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Event participants look on anxiously as a screen projects the presidential election results. Photo by Adam Reinherz

Amidst the blaring chimes, dings and electronic noise of a popular arcade, kids managed to give voice to a process in which they are notably silent. For the 130 Jewish children gathered at Dave & Busters, a restaurant and entertainment center located in Homestead, the chance to observe televised results of the presidential election among their peers amounted to an endorsement of a democratic process they hope to join in the near future.

The event, titled “Voice the Vote,” welcomed sixth- through 12th-graders for an evening of fun and education, explained Carolyn Gerecht, director of teen engagement and experiences at the Jewish Community Center of Greater Pittsburgh. “We want kids to be excited about the election and to make a connection to civic values and Jewish values.”

“It’s not easy being a Jew in Pittsburgh like it is in Israel,” echoed Marissa Tait, who apart from teaching at the Joint-Jewish Education Program of Pittsburgh, is a youth director at both Congregation Beth Shalom and Rodef Shalom Congregation. “Here you have to work at it. It takes a lot of effort, and I want them to build a strong foundation of Judaism and carry that with them. Events like this help build that.”

Gerecht opened the evening by welcoming busloads of young attendees from the North Hills, South Hills, Squirrel Hill and Monroeville. Afterward, the revelers gathered around tables in a dining area for an icebreaker game. A mad rush then ensued to separate buffet lines featuring nearly identical offerings of both Vaad-certified and non-Vaad vegetarian meals. Meanwhile, an enormous projector displayed vote tallies and talking heads discussing the election.

Although they broke out into robust applause after it was announced that Hillary Clinton won Vermont, the evening was not about celebrating either of the two major party candidates, explained Julie Missry, a 12th-grader at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School.

“We want people to see a community in the Jewish community,” said Missry, an active member of BBYO and an organizer of the event. “We all want the same thing. We’re not here to say, ‘Go Hillary’ or ‘Go Trump.’ We want everyone to feel involved and that their opinion matters.”

And yet while most of those in attendance were too young to officially cast a ballot, many expressed a connection to the presidential contest.

“This is kind of my first one that I remember,” said Toby Lazear, an 11th- grade student at Fox Chapel High School “I was 12 at the last presidential election.”

Having “opinions in politics” is important, she reasoned, even for those lacking ballots.

Liam Botos agreed.

“Our voices still matter, because we’re the next generation of the U.S.A.,” said Botos, an 11th grader at Fox Chapel.

“Even though we can’t vote, we can voice our opinions and enjoy ourselves in the political process,” added Alex Cohen, an 11th-grade student at Upper St. Clair High School.

With food for thought and trays of macaroni and cheese and French fries galore, “Voice the Vote” delivered a satiating evening of fun, noted several participants.

“It’s a good way to connect with more people and make new friends,” said Karli Burgard, a 10th-grader at Allderdice.

“We should have it again,” Janna Young, a JLine student, suggested to Sammy Himmel, an 11th-grader at the University School who replied. “And it doesn’t have to be a presidential thing.”

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