Growing up in East Los Angeles in the ‘50s and 60s, in a Jewish community of 500-plus families at our synagogue, it was a given, no discussions or arguments, that I and my siblings, cousins and peers would attend Sunday School, High Holiday Services, Confirmation and all the boys would go to Hebrew School and have a Bar Mitzvah.
At that time, only three girls went to Hebrew School and only two had a Bat Mitzvah and they were the rabbi’s daughters. The other girl, and my dear friend, who went for all the required years, but because her grandparents were Orthodox and did not drive on Shabbos, did not have a Bat Mitzvah service. To this day, I am still sad for her that she did not get her recognition from her family and friends after years of study.
Along with my formal Jewish education at Temple, I attribute what leadership, public speaking and programming skills I gleaned to my teenage years in BBG/AZA, the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization. Through our local chapter and Region, I worked my way up to different positions on the boards that taught me valuable life lessons, commitment to causes, importance of meaningful friendships and most importantly, the worth of living a Jewish life.
During those youthful years, I had no idea I was heading towards a path of participation with the National Federation of Temple Sisterhoods, now the Women of Reform Judaism, where I served my local chapter as programming chairperson and president. I was then honored to be picked as a Board member to the National Board, and at that time the youngest woman, where I attended Regional and Biennial conventions around the country. I created programs that were presented at these conventions, took them to synagogues in a variety of states and had the time of my life meeting and connecting with Sisterhoods, rabbis and congregants within the Reform Movement. Beyond thrilling and I feel blessed for all those opportunities and wonderful years!
Though I hoped, I never expected some apples to fall close to the tree. My three kids went through Hebrew and Sunday School, had Bar/Bat Mitzvahs and Confirmation with only one involved in Jewish camp and membership to NFTY, The Reform Jewish Youth Movement, formerly known as the North American Federation for Temple Youth. None really pursued board positions or further involvement in their childhood youth groups. And yet, as adults, they are Temple members with their kids having Jewish educations.
And here I am today, a kvelling Baby Boomer Bubbe and so excited for my two 15-year-old granddaughters (cousins), Shayna and Ari, who are involved in their Jewish youth organizations from Temple and NFTY! The girls have just returned from a Temple trip where 20 peers spent four days in Washington DC with hundreds of Jewish youth gathered from around the country for the annual RAC youth convention, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
(I must take a moment, as I just learned, as many of us have, that Al Vorspan, who helped to create the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, passed away Feb. 16. I spent my National Sisterhood days admiring his contribution to all the conventions, his writings, his commitment, devotion and courage to Jewish social justice. I would see him at these events, had the good fortune to just hang-out with him and others while heated and stirring debates were held. He always had a smile for me, acknowledged at one convention that he liked my talk, and at another, in an elevator, waved his finger in my direction and said, “I may not always remember your name, but I know I saw you at the last convention!” By coincidence, my youngest daughter roomed with Al’s niece at UC Santa Barbara and she spoke highly of her uncle. I treasure the years of being in the same venue with such a leader and gracious man. May his memory be a blessing and inspiration to us all.)
Part of the experience for the kids at RAC is to speak to congressional aids on topics they have researched and feel passionate about. So I was excited when the girls came home to put on my journalism hat and interview each one separately. The biggest take-away from each 15-year-old was that the experience, “Was BIG, IMPORTANT and a game changer,” for now each of them wants to major in political science!
When I got to them, the girls had not yet debriefed with each other, so I was getting their initial and individual reactions. They both have traveled and expressed that, “DC has a vibe, it feels different than other cities!” Shayna remarked, “Everyone has an opinion, knows their views, is committed to them and is extremely passionate while respecting other people’s beliefs!” She was intrigued by the lobbyists, “Who are so knowledgeable and know why they believe as they do!”
Shayna’s biggest ah-ha moment was after giving her talk on Women’s Reproductive Rights and an aide said to her: “We usually have Christian groups come to speak to us and dominate the views and take control of the narrative, so it’s very refreshing and important to have Jewish students here, so we can hear views from other religions, so thank you for being here.”
The other inspirational realization for Shayna was that being with hundreds of Jewish teens at RAC was seeing how accepting everyone was to each other. “No one wore masks, kids wore the clothes they wanted to wear, no one looked like their parents, some had green or pink hair but everyone appeared respectful, not rebellious, clean and aware of where they were. It was modern individuality! And I walked away thinking this was the most accepting time ever!”
And Shayna embraced the total experience with exaggerated body language and voice, saying, “I didn’t know how liberal Jews are!” (Her Baby Boomer Bubbe turned away from her and silently yelled, “I LOVE IT!!”)
Four days later, Ari was on a plane to Dallas for the National NFTY convention. She is very active in her local chapter and came away from the experience with a three-year plan to attend a semester in Israel and work her way up to the National NFTY Board in her senior year. If anyone can do it, Ari can! Within the hundreds of Jewish kids attending, many had been in DC days before so she renewed and established new acquaintances.
Ari’s take-away from NFTY was, “These are the topics of concern, WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO ABOUT IT?” Whereas DC was here are the issues, Dallas was, as an individual, what can you do to make change? She explained to me that the future of Jewish youth is about restructuring how the future will look. How can each person be a change agent while in their teens? How can everyone contribute to their communities for the better? And because of the Internet, the kids believe that this generation has more access to make the needed changes, something other generations didn’t have to the extent 2019 does.
And the highlight for Ari, and I have to say for me because I live-streamed the final event, David Hogg (left) from Parkland High School in Florida and a survivor of the shootings, was the keynote speaker. I am a huge fan of his and have made all four of my grandkids aware of his work for gun control. Ari’s topic in DC for lobbyists was gun control, so seeing and hearing him was so exciting for her. And to note: David gave up a speaking engagement at a gun control rally to speak to the NFTY teens! His main theme for the kids: “Go out and vote! Even if you are too young now, help educate those who can vote.” He wanted to encourage these young people that they have the loudest voice of any generation and they can make changes, whether it was through marches or helping to inform others on the issues. He was heard loud and clear by the NFTY teens!
Watch David Hogg’s remarks in the player below.
I am so proud of my two wonderful and caring granddaughters who I pray have bright and fulfilling futures ahead of them. I love their individuality, their interest in issues and their desire to be in the midst of the future. Prayers that G-d blesses their journeys.
And to my kids and all Jewish parents, plus the non-Jewish parent, who allow our kids to experience a Jewish education: You done good!!
Post-script: For the first time in a quarter of a century, on Feb. 27, the House passed a bill that would broaden the federal background check system for firearms purchases, the bill that Ari was lobbying to support.