FL Congresswoman and Ambassador Rice at BBYO's International Convention
Read this story in the Washington Jewish Week
Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) was presented with BBYO's StandUP award at its International Convention in Washington, D.C.
"Like many of you, I was raised to believe that I could achieve anything I set my mind to," said Schultz to the assembly of 1,500 Jewish teen leaders representing 18 countries. Explaining that she became involved in student government during college and ran for political office in Florida at age 25 because she believed younger people needed a voice, Schultz spoke about the "natural harmony between Jewish faith and action."
"I know the depth of my commitment stems from my family dinner table, where my parents taught my brother and me the importance of our Jewish heritage and obligation to give back to the community in return for our blessings in life."
Connecting Jewish heritage with social justice reforms in immigration, environment, labor, gun control, food justice and economic fairness, Schultz charged the teens to continue to work "in that solemn tradition."
BBYO first partnered with Schultz on the EARLY Act legislation, and the postcard the organization made supporting the legislation to educate young women about the risks for breast cancer, still hangs in her office.
The congresswoman is a familiar face to the BBYO community, said Logan Miller, AZA's Grand Aleph Godol (international president). Miller, 18 said that Schultz is "someone we look up to. When we have the chance to hear her, we know we're hearing from a friend and supporter, and that's something remarkable."
Following the address, the teens set out across 34 service sites to perform 6,000 hours of community service, action and advocacy. Schultz promised that they will soon have two more members to help when she returns to Florida and registers her twin eighth-grade children who she just learned were eligible for BBYO membership.
"When Congresswoman Schultz recognizes us as a close ally in achieving things in the political world, it says something about the direction BBYO is going in," said BBG's International N'siah (president) Sarah Minion, 18. "It means we're seen by the global community as forced to be reckoned with, that we are making moves and will make moves for things we're passionate about."
Rice: ‘Don’t just dream. Get it done.’ Speaking to a crowd of approximately 1,700 Jewish teens, staff and community leaders at BBYO's International Convention, Susan Rice, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, charged the teens to "get impatient with the way things are so you can dream of the ways things can be."
Rice addressed the group before they dispersed to 34 service sites across Washington, D.C., to perform a collective 6,000 hours of community service and advocacy.
"BBYO teaches you to build up from the roots to demand change," she said. "It teaches you that strength comes from pluralism and pride in who you are. It teaches the power of working together in our 21-century world, whether you're from CRW [central region west] or NRE [northern region east], whether you're from Buenos Aires or Bulgaria."
That pluralism is what speaks to many teens about BBYO's youth movement, "many teens of my generation don't identify with Judaism as just a faith or religion, but as a tribe," said Sarah Minion, BBG's international N'siah (president). "From Orthodox to secular - we can come together because we're connected as a people."
"It's amazing to think about," said Logan Miller, 18, AZA's international president. "When we have the most influential people in the world, congresswomen, nonprofit leaders, the ambassador to the U.N, give us a pep talk before we are about to go do community service, it shows the impact that we're having. Not just today, but every day before today and every day after today."
Rice told the teens that "the Jewish people, like my own," have a shared history of charging each generation with social justice. She told them that it's not enough to talk, they must act. "Don't just make a promise. Make it happen. Don't just dream. Get it done." She said this charge is "passed along with every BBG pin and every Aleph's pin."
"From an early age, when you first join," said Miller, "you hear about the history of handing down the Aleph pin and BBG pin from generation to generation. But today, that point was reiterated, not only by our peers, but by one of the most influential and powerful leaders of the world today."