Having chaperoned my first trip to a L’Taken seminar last year, I wanted nothing more than to bottle up the experience and take it home to Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills. So this year, that’s exactly what we did.
Rather than let this extraordinary weekend in D.C. stand in isolation, our synagogue transformed it into a year-round “Teen Civic Leadership Council.” Starting last fall, our council of 20 students met monthly – first choosing their social justice issue to focus on from the RAC’s broad agenda. We then learned with non-profit experts, engaging in strategic philanthropy, volunteering, and of course, advocacy. Our students wanted to be equipped from every angle in order to make the greatest impact.
Never in a million years did I think that the teens would choose to focus on reproductive rights.
But, they did, and so we spent the fall semester building our arsenal of knowledge. Planned Parenthood taught us about the growing prevalence of Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws. NARAL discussed communication strategies to build support among moderates. An abortion provider shared her experience in helping women misinformed by “pregnancy crisis centers.” And of course, we engaged with the Jewish voices – ancient and modern – on reproductive rights and abortion. Text after text emphasized the health and well-being of the woman over the potential life of the fetus.
By the time we got to Washington D.C., our teens were deeply informed. And we were lucky to be supported by the Religious Action Center at every step of the way to get there– whether it was Rabbi Joel Simonds connecting us with experts to learn from in Los Angeles, or the RAC’s legislative assistant Tracy Wolf briefing us about pending legislation in D.C.
On Capitol Hill, our students melded everything they learned over the course of the year into impassioned speeches to deliver to their Members of Congress. One student captured what’s really at stake for her:
As part of our Teen Civic Leadership Council, we learned from a doctor who is an abortion provider and she taught us about how important Planned Parenthood programs are for people who don’t know what to do with their newfound pregnancies. [Many women’s health care clinics such as] Planned Parenthood provides them with ALL of the legal options available to them… These women need people that will support them and help them make the decision that is best for them.”
When the students returned back from D.C., the council shifted their learning from advocacy to philanthropy. And after researching options and discussing their opportunity for strategic impact, they chose to allocate their $7,500 in grant money to two clinics in areas with increasingly sparse access to abortion– Texas and Mississippi.
And we’re not done. Before the year is over, many students hope to volunteer as counter-protesting shields – providing safe passage for women to receive services at the clinic. In May, our congregation will celebrate these students for their commitment and moral courage. Our Teen Civic Leadership Council could not be more proud that other congregations around the country will start to follow in their footsteps by building year-round programming to enhance the L’Taken.
Rabbi Sarah Bassin serves as the associate rabbi of Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills where she oversees the Temple’s community engagement strategy and young professional community.