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A Unified Pledge

By David Snyder

Read this story on the Baltimore Jewish Times

In the months prior to the shooting at Perry Hall High School, teen leaders at Baltimore’s BBYO chapter had kicked around ideas about composing a pledge that would take a concrete stance against bullying.

When a reportedly bullied teen opened fire in a school lunchroom in late August, BBYO leadership immediately accelerated the effort and rallied its peers together.

Earlier this month, teen leaders from four separate Jewish youth organizations — including BBYO — signed a pledge to end bullying in Baltimore Jewish communities, vowing to stand alongside bullying victims and also provide a place to turn for the bullies themselves.

And, as vital as the message itself was the unity displayed by youth organizations of different denominations that came together to tackle the pressing issue.

BBYO teen presidents Ben Snyder and Melissa Davis teamed up with Pikesville High School Jewish Student Union president Sarah Miller, National Conference of Synagogue Youth (NCSY) teen presidents Jack Kwatinetz and Kayla Kaplan and United Synagogue Youth executive vice president Miles Greenspoon to sign the pledge.

“It’s really cool because a lot of the time people think that because we’re from different denominations we have different opinions and different beliefs,” said Davis, a senior at Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community School. “But, we all came together on this, and we all had the same stance on the issue, and it made it really fun to work together. It was really effective.”

On top of the signing itself, the youth collaborated to create a two-minute video that features the teen leaders taking turns reading different segments of the pledge, promising to be there for the 10,000 Jewish teens in schools throughout Baltimore.

The teens explain that the addition of a video will help publicize and circulate their message internationally through various social media outlets; BBYO, for example, operates across the United States and in 27 foreign nations. It will also, they say, serve as a way for their peers to associate faces with the names they see printed on the written oath.

“The video is more of a visual thing. It’s an effective way to spread the message online,” said NCSY’s Kwatinetz, also a Beth Tfiloh senior. “They’ll see it’s regular Jewish teens that you can see on a random day walking the street. They’ll think maybe they should be more concerned about [bullying] as well.”

The clip was posted on YouTube on Sept. 10. By the next day, it had reached 239 views.

Mitch Liebeskind, the North Region East program director for BBYO, helped oversee the project. He credited the teens with forming their own ideas and paving the way for this initiative. Liebeskind highlighted the efforts of his BBYO presidents, who spearheaded the effort and reached out to the different youth groups.

“Ben and Melissa are really wonderful leaders, and they saw this as an opportunity to engage the community and recognize that we can’t do it alone,” Liebeskind said. “The best way to attack a communal issue is to bring the whole community together. Baltimore often has some divisive lines in its Jewish community. We want to make sure we’re doing the best we can to lead the breaking down of those walls.”

Both Liebeskind and several of the teens indicated that the message will be more effective because it’s being communicated by youths themselves and not an adult authority figure. Teens, they said, connect better with one another.

“A lot of us have seen bullying firsthand and feel strongly about the situation,” Davis said. “I think it’s easier for us to relate as teenagers when that kind of stuff happens around our age. Working together and having teens reaching out to teens is more effective.”

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