A CNN and ORC International poll conducted last month found that 8 in 10 Americans feel the United States is more deeply divided than it has been in recent years.
When we are divided, our young people are deeply affected. But what is most remarkable during those times of uncertainty is the many ways they find to be resilient. Our job is help them find light, kindness, and courage when they feel darkness and to be audaciously hospitable.
Here are three ways our teens helped us come together, just during the month of November:
- A week after the US elections, NFTYites felt compelled to spread positivity by launching an effort titled “Stick to Love.” Realizing they could spread the unity they learn to foster in their youth groups, and that we could all benefit from it, they urged teens in our communities to write positive messages on sticky notes and leave them in schools, synagogues, and other public places. Participants shared pictures of their messages on social media, tagging them “#NFTYSticksToLove.” NFTY’s Facebook posts reached nearly 3,000 people. Their campaign also raised money for organizations supporting youth in need, citing that tzedakah is at the core of Judaism and can promote love and togetherness by spreading hope.
- Also last month, teens and advisors from Camp CAR and Camp Jenny represented NFTY at the Facing Race Conference, the country’s largest multiracial conference on racial justice, which took place in Atlanta this year. The teens returned home eager to spread what they learned and decided to gather and pass on a list of action items for fellow NFTYites, youth professionals, clergy, parents, and communities. These teens will be implementing the racial justice rhetoric and understandings they were exposed to for the benefit of creating a more just and whole community in their (already so very meaningful) camp environments. NFTY is set to launch a racial justice campaign at NFTY Convention this coming February.
- Our teens never cease to stand up for their beliefs. Every year, the Schusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit works with AIPAC to bring 400 student leaders from across the country to Washington D.C. for Israel advocacy and political activism training. This year, 15 NFTY teens, representing 11 different regions, attended. In a video documenting their experience, NFTYites spoke of the ways they joined other people who may not share their views to learn, discuss, and effectively strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship through direct involvement in the American political process.
The first night of Hanukkah this year will fall on the same night as Christmas Eve. We can follow the lead of our teens and see a world of hope and possibility, or one that is divided. In her song “Not By Might, Not By Power,” adapted from Zechariah – the Haftarah that we read on Hanukkah – Debbie Friedman’s interpretation can give us guidance: “Not by might and not by power, but by spirit alone shall we all live in peace.”
The word “Hanukkah” itself means “dedication” in Hebrew. The biblical scholar and archaeologist, Professor Eric Meyers, explains the passage in Zechariah “Not by might and not by power” as that “First and foremost, we are encouraged to think of Hanukkah as more than a festival of lights and a military victory over the Seleucid Greeks…[but] also a festival that celebrates the victory of the human spirit and the universal desire for peace at any cost.”
So, as our youth rededicate themselves to kindness, positivity in the face of adversity, and bringing light through social justice campaigns, this is the season for us – as youth professionals, parents and clergy – to rededicate ourselves to supporting them through their journeys. It is our time to imbue family life with Judaism and focus on actions that unite us. Our work is sacred, and we are each a shamash that can kindle light to fill voids of darkness.
May the lights of Hanukkah and Christmas illuminate our way to a better world, and help us recommit to making it one as such,
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