L’Taken Social Justice Weekends: A Look at the Numbers

April 18, 2017Rabbi Michael Namath

One of my favorite parts of each L’Taken Social Justice weekend is greeting each congregation in front of the Capitol Building after the students have finished their Senate meetings and are on their way over to the House. These meetings occur on Mondays, after we have worked all weekend to prepare these amazing teens for this exact moment, and the energy and impact are palpable. Rabbi Michael Latz from Shir Tikvah Congregation in Minneapolis, MN, said it best: “Watching these students study, prepare their lobbying statements, and sit in the offices of their representatives and senators and breathe the language of the prophets into the sacred halls of our democracy is inspiring, humbling, and life changing.”

The 2016-2017 L’Taken season was profound. We welcomed 2,203 high school students and 395 chaperones comprising rabbis, cantors, educators, and youth professionals, representing 196 Reform Movement congregations and groups. The L’Taken season began in early December and ran through March, a time in Washington during which the fight for social justice values felt harder, yet more important than ever. And so, weekend-in and weekend-out, we, the RAC staff team, knew there was no better nor more productive place for us to be than working with thousands of Reform Jewish teens, empowering them to be modern-day prophets, speaking truth to power.

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Reflecting on L’Taken, Rabbi Elyse Frishman from Barnert Temple in Franklin Lakes, NJ, noted this:

Several participants shared with me: “I knew I was passionate about this topic, but I didn’t think I’d be able to speak out with intelligence and conviction. At L’Taken, I found my voice.” In this era where voices could be stifled and people be invisible, L’Taken nourishes and elevates the power of one. What an impact on every teen, and every congregational future.

At a glance, it might seem that L’Taken is yet another social justice program for teens – yes, but at its core, L’Taken is a social justice experience for congregations. Hundreds of congregations in our Reform Movement participate in L’Taken, bringing delegations of students and their committed clergy and professionals to Washington. Together, they share the four-day experience as a congregational cohort, connecting with other congregations from coast-to-coast and ultimately bringing the passion home to their communities. The L’Taken program lies at the true nexus of the URJ's 2020 Vision, which highlights these four pillars: tikkun olam, Strengthening Congregations, Audacious Hospitality, and, of course, Youth.

Jillian Glick, the director of member and youth engagement at Congregation Beth Or in Maple Glen, PA, remarks that bringing Beth Or teens to L’Taken for the first time a few years ago was the impetus for the congregation ultimately to form a congregation-wide social justice and advocacy initiative. “Beth Or teens are working side-by-side with the adult members of the community to ensure justice for all, thanks to what they've learned at L’Taken.”

Rabbi Sarah Bassin from Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills in Beverly Hills, CA, shares, “The [L’Taken] seminar, in conjunction with the programming our temple has built around it in our Teen Civic Leadership Council, have helped to bring more than a dozen teens who saw little relevance in Jewish life after their b’nai mitzvah back to the synagogue.”

According to Rabbi Jack Paskoff from Congregation Shaarai Shomayim in Lancaster, PA:

From the perspective of secular education, these four days are a better civics lesson that an entire semester students will get in school. Our students come to see that as a people that makes up less than 2% of the American population, we have a voice in D.C. Coming from a smaller congregation in a smaller community, my students have a chance to interact with other Reform Jewish young people from all over the country through L'Taken. Finally, and most important, our kids come back energized about their Judaism when they see our values and teachings entering real life in such a profound way.

Discovering and rediscovering the many ways L’Taken creates galvanizing moments for the teen participants and for the life of so many of our partner congregations is the reason that after 105 L’Taken seminars as the program director for the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, I’m continually inspired and excited by this work.

This past season, we welcomed 28 first-time congregations to L’Taken, and we’re always excited for more congregations to join us for the first time.

Registration for 2017-2018 is now open. Join us as we come together l’taken olam b’malchut shaddai – to repair the world in God’s realm here on earth.