Two weeks ago, I was approached by several teens in my congregation asking us to take them to D.C. for the March for Our Lives. They felt called to be part of this movement — to support the young people calling for a revolution, proving themselves to be powerful change agents harnessing the momentum in the wake of the massacre in Parkland. And they were waking up in the middle of the night drenched in sweat, having nightmares of being hunted and murdered in their classrooms.
“Please take us,” they said.
We thought we’d take 10 students. Maybe 15. But when we announced the trip, the response was overwhelming. We ended up with 50. We maxed out the plane.
In our religious school and our youth group, and in the halls of our temple, we teach our children that as Jews, it is our responsibility to stand up for those without a voice. As Jews, it is essential to our faith to fight for justice and change. As Jews, we know what it means to have lives slip through our fingers while the world stands idly by.
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And so we marched, supported by our clergy and leadership, alongside hundreds of thousands of other youth from across the nation who were committed to being on the right side of history. We marched for the victims of gun violence and for the politicians who are blind and mute. We prayed with our feet, spending our day of rest pounding the pavement, as our dreams for a better tomorrow were at the forefront of our minds.
Over the past few weeks, people keep telling me how impressed they are with this generation of charismatic, dynamic, engaged teens. I know. I work with charismatic, dynamic, engaged teens every day. Instead of bemoaning their constant selfies, we should be energized by their native understanding of the world in which we live, where Twitter is their microphone and Instagram is photojournalism.
As adults, it is now our responsibility to step back so that our youth can rise up. We can pat ourselves on the back for raising such contentious, thoughtful young people who are changing the world. We are privileged to witness their power and to support them on their journey. To empower them, to hear them, to trust them and to encourage them to live out the values we have been teaching them throughout their lives — to speak up and speak out for what is right and what is true.
As we walked through the streets of D.C., arms linked, buzzing with excitement, reading the signs held by Americans of all ages and religions and colors and races, one of my teens pulled me close. She whispered to me, “This is amazing. I’m so glad we’re here. But instead of waiting around for politicians to hear us, I think I’ll just run for office in a few years and change the laws myself.”
This is the future. And I, for one, can’t wait.
Jen Lader is a rabbi at Temple Israel in West Bloomfield.