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By Olivia Kessler
Did you know malaria is transmitted through the bite of a mosquito carrying the Plasmodium parasite and kills 600,000 people every year? Did you know malaria exists in 109 countries around the world, making half of the world's population susceptible to the disease? Did you know that every 60 seconds a child dies from malaria? Neither did I.
Then I learned that since 2007, the Union for Reform Judaism has partnered with Nothing But Nets, a United Nations campaign to raise awareness and funding to prevent malaria. To date, the URJ’s campaign has raised more than $750,000 and sent more than 75,000 insecticide treated bed-nets to those at risk in Sub-Saharan Africa. Amazed by the success of this campaign, Jackson Dooling, NFTY Southwest’s Social Action Vice President, and I were determined to mobilize NFTYites to join us in the fight against malaria.
With the ambitious goal of eradicating malaria, we partnered with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the movement’s advocacy and social justice arm, and Nothing But Nets, and in October, we launched a month-long campaign through NFTY, the North American Federation of Temple Youth. We wanted NFTYites throughout North America to know that as both Jews – whose tradition teaches that saving a single life is the equivalent of saving the entire world – and as global citizens, we cannot stand idly by, but rather must take action as a community. Our campaign aimed to increase awareness about malaria, a topic not commonly discussed in North America, and to empower youth to advocate and to fundraise on behalf of this deadly, yet preventable, disease.
To accomplish our goals and reach the full potential of NFTYites, we designed our initiative as a social media campaign. As teenagers who use social media daily, we knew that this strategy would reach a wide audience of teens. Using #spreadthebuzz, our catchy hashtag, and sites such as Twitter, Facebook, and the NFTY website, we tweeted, posted status updates, and wrote daily blog posts that reached thousands of teens. Our campaign addressed the effects of malaria, why we as Reform Jews care, and what we, as passionate young leaders, can do as a group. Because we recognize the importance of helping those in need, and understand that the moral test of any society is how it treats its most vulnerable, we emphasized that as a Jewish youth movement steeped in a rich history of social activism, we are commanded by our faith to improve the world. Our campaign encouraged NFTYites to use what they learned to promote change by spreading awareness in their communities, fundraising, and completing "action alerts" that encouraged elected representatives to fund robustly such lifesaving programs as the President’s Malaria Initiative (PMI) and the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.
I'm proud to say that in just one month we mobilized thousands of teens who care deeply about social change, sent more than 300 action alerts to Congress, and raised more than $2,500 to support the fight against malaria. As our tradition teaches, "we need not complete the work, but neither are we free to desist from it." (Rabbi Tarfon in Pirkei Avot 2:16) As NFTYites, we recognize this obligation and are here to heed that call. Although our campaign lasted only through the month of October, our commitment to this issue is ever-present.
Olivia Kessler, a high school senior, serves as this year’s NFTY Mid-Atlantic Region Social Action Vice President. Last October, on The International Day of the Girl, the United Nations recognized her for her hard work and outstanding commitment to social justice.