By Alex Elbogen, Temple Kol Ami
With Spring Kallah fast approaching, it’s starting to hit me that my NFTY-Southwest experience is coming to a close. As I reflect on my time with NFTY, one thing pops out at me as being particularly special. What I love is that the minute I enter a synagogue for the first time at the beginning of an event, I practically walk into a hug. That warmness of acceptance and comfort right from the get-go is a one of a kind feeling. But what if one’s ability to walk into a hug was stripped from them because of a single pull of a trigger? What about the mothers that hugged their sons and daughters goodbye before they walked into school, not knowing that would be the last embrace they would ever share? What happens then? The saddest part is that these questions are no joke. They’re a reality in this country. Every day, more than 30 people are shot and killed in the United States. Thanks to NFTY-Southwest Social Action Vice-President Ethan Weiss and NFTY-Southwest member Marc Goodman, the teens in attendance at Social Action Weekend were made more aware of the atrocities caused by gun violence.
I had the privilege of being housed with Ethan and Marc at our Leadership Training Institute back in August, and was able to listen in as this program was already in the works. Ethan and Marc wanted their fellow NFTYites to experience a program that would be hard to forget. They knew that tackling the NFTY Social Action Initiative on Gun Violence Prevention was essential and had to be done right. Their program was meant to relate to the teens participating by providing relatable Jewish text, gun laws specific to each NFTY-SW state being represented at Social Action Weekend, and bone chilling gun violence statistics that were sure to provoke some serious thought and discussion. One unique station in the program was known as the silent room. Here teens were able to write notes to Congress, post to Twitter using the hashtag #NotOneMore, outline their hand on the wall with a note, and write an anonymous “I am” poem to share their thoughts. Don’t just take my word for it. The poem below was written by a teenager in a matter of minutes. Talk about true, raw emotion:
I am the one
I am a part of many
I am scared as that many dwindles
I miss my brothers and sisters
I dream of the day that the screams of horror cease to exist
I am more than one now
I am a voice for the people
I may be small
I may be young, but
I am the difference
I am the change
I am the one
What got me thinking the most during the program was a simple quote that was read at the Jewish text study station: “If I am not for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?” (Rabbi Hillel, Pirkei Avot 1:14) Those final five words truly struck a chord with me. Remember what I mentioned at the beginning — 30 people are shot and killed in the U.S. every day. Something needs to be done. Something needs to be done now. Action is non-discriminatory. We can all do it. We can write letters to Congress; we can promote the #NotOneMore movement on social media; we can join gun violence prevention interest groups and events; we can all do something. As for my teenage friends, it’s time to stop hiding behind youthful naiveté and innocence and believe in ourselves that we have a voice. Just like that NFTYite said in the “I am” poem, we may be young, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make a difference. The youth in this country could rightfully think that our voices are drowned out by the adult influenced world we live in. It’s time to believe in our voices. It’s time to link arms and join in praise for a better tomorrow, because if not now, when? After every friendship circle and at the conclusion of every regional NFTY event, I am fortunate to run into the arms of my friends and embrace in a huge bear hug. As I return home, I get to take part in a similar embrace with my mom and dad. Some may find more meaning in it than others, but it can’t be denied that those moments are special. Not one more person should be denied the embrace of a loved one due to one pull of a trigger. Not one more.