Teens plunge into politics at JTEN's 'Decision 2016'
This story was published in Heritage Florida Jewish News.
More than 40 Central Florida teens, 16 educators and youth directors, and five Jewish community leaders gathered at Central Florida Hillel on election eve for "Decision 2016: Your Voice, Your Vote, Making a Difference."
The program's goal was to help teens discover that their voices matter and they deserve to be heard, even if the students were too young to vote in this year's presidential election.
The event, which was open to all local students in grades 8 to 12, was sponsored by the Jewish Teen Education Network (JTEN), a program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Orlando.
The evening kicked off with teens from all synagogues and BBYO getting to know one another through ice-breakers, facilitated by Lory Conte (BBYO), Lauren Oback (Congregation of Reform Judaism) and Gabe Grossman (Congregation Ohev Shalom).
The "Voices of Our Community" portion of the program, facilitated by Rabbi Hillel Skolnik (Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation), was designed to inspire teens to become involved in the political process. As the group enjoyed dinner, five Jewish community political leaders led roundtable discussions about civic responsibility, what motivates them to become involved, and how Judaism inspires them to serve. The discussion leaders included Matt Broffman, director of innovation, City of Orlando; Frederick Schott, Seminole County judge; Attorney Daniel Coultoff; Attorney Alexis Cooper Patrick; and Attorney Stephanie Adler-Paindiris.
Rabbi Joshua Neely (Temple Israel) helped the teens explore both sides of key political issues in an Issues Scavenger Hunt, where participants examined the meanings behind political slogans. Finally, teens cast their votes for president of the United States. Hillary Clinton was the overwhelming choice, with 33 votes; Donald Trump received 6 votes; Gary Johnson and Jill Stein received one vote each; and there were two write-ins (including one for President Obama).
Amy Geboff, of Congregation Ohev Shalom, wrapped up the evening with an inspiring message reminding students that they can start making a difference immediately.
Like the students' presidential vote, a post-event survey conducted by Federation resulted in a landslide: More than 85 percent of the teens who responded said that they feel more engaged in the political process and gained a better understanding of all sides of U.S. political issues after attending the program.
"I know a lot more about each of the candidates and what is going on around me at this time, even if I can't vote directly myself," wrote Hannah Neely on her evaluation form.
Jeremy Levin of Sweetwater Limousine donated round-trip transportation for teens traveling to Hillel from Southwest Orlando. Federation provided participants with dinner from Bagel King, and Federation Executive Director Olga Yorish presented the students with pocket-size U.S. Constitutions.
"Decision 2016" was planned and facilitated by the Federation's JTEN and its JTEN synagogue partners: Temple Israel, Temple Shir Shalom, Congregation Beth Am, Congregation Ohev Shalom, Congregation of Reform Judaism, Southwest Orlando Jewish Congregation and BBYO.
The JTEN educators-Rabbis Neely and Skolnik, Dr. Sheryl Sacharoff (CRJ), Geboff (Ohev Shalom) and Cantor Kim Singer (Temple Shir Shalom)-began planning "Decision 2016" in April. New youth directors Grossman (Ohev Shalom) and Oback (CRJ) joined the educators' group over the summer.
You can read more about Federation's JTEN program at http://www.jfgo.org/jten.