Finding A Political Voice
Temple Beth El teens learn about advocacy on L’Taken trip to Washington, D.C.
Ari Richardson, 16, a junior at Farmington High School, grew up as an active member at Temple Beth El in Bloomfield Township and is now president of its youth group. She didn’t know much about politics or policy making, but she has a wheelchair-bound friend at high school that she knows has some difficulty navigating the building, even though the school has worked to increase its adherence to the Americans with Disabilities Act guidelines for accessibilities.
“I watch my friend navigate the school in her wheelchair,” said Richardson, who after a recent political advocacy trip to Washington is now well-versed on ADA Education and Reform Act (H.R. 620), a bill that opponents say will weaken accessibility rights for the disabled if passed into law.
“It is challenging enough as it is, and I could not imagine if she had to do this if there were no ramps or if doorways were too narrow to go through. She and other disabled students have the right to go through school doors to get the education they need.’”
Richardson and about a dozen of her TBE peers learned how to lobby for the rights of the disabled as well as other political issues in Washington, D.C., March 16-19 during the religious school’s first trip with L’Taken (Hebrew for “to repair”).
In partnership with the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), the Bernard and Audre Rapoport L’Taken Social Justice Seminar gathers 200 teens in the Reform Judaism movement from around the country, exposes and educates them to a variety of public policy issues within a Jewish values framework, and then teaches them how to advocate their positions on upcoming legislation through meetings with decision makers on Capitol Hill through persuasive speech writing and speaking.
“Abraham was the world’s
first lobbyist when he asked
God to not destroy
Sodom and Gomorrah.”
— Debbie Morosohk
The teens attended programs and lobbied Michigan senators and two representatives on a range of topics, including Israel, the environment, reproductive rights, LGBTQ civil rights, church/state separation and international relations.
The trip also included visits to the National Holocaust Memorial Museum and the Smithsonian National Mall and a Havdalah service at the Jefferson Memorial.
“Abraham was the world’s first lobbyist when he asked God to not destroy Sodom and Gomorrah,” said TBE Director of Education Debbie Morosohk. “Because of the times we live in, our teens are becoming increasingly aware of the need for politically advocating for causes in which they believe. L’Taken raised their political awareness. They know they can be an active part of the process. They have a voice, and they now know how to use it.”
Lily Mendelson, 16, of Huntington Woods and a junior at Detroit Country Day School, learned how to advocate for reproductive rights on the trip. Looking at the issue through a Jewish lens, she studied texts that argued the position that all life is sacred; but when it comes to pregnancy, the physical, mental and emotional health of the mother carries greater precedence over an unborn fetus, she said.
“Access to safe, legal abortions needs to continue in this country,” Mendelson said. “On this trip, I connected with Jewish teens whose ideals are similar to mine. As we spoke about these issues to our representatives on Capitol Hill, it showed me that I do have a voice; and that voice, though only one in a country of millions, can help defend an issue and can change history.”