By Rabbi Elizabeth Wood, NFTY Director of Learning and Innovation
This week, NFTY’s network of Social Action Vice Presidents, from around the country and Canada, convened in Washington, D.C. to learn about action, advocacy and education in relationship to the Religious Action Center’s work and the social justice work these teens will undertake in the coming year. It never occurred to anyone that these teens might learn about Gun Violence Prevention one day, and wake up the next to hear about the mass shooting in Charleston, SC at Emanuel AME Church.
These teens were heartbroken to wake up and hear the news that tragedies like Emanuel AME are happening every day. One of the teens even said, “We just learned about preventing this yesterday, and today we have to listen to it happening again. It’s just one more talking point in our campaign, but it’s terrible to have to think that it’s now a story we have to use to prove a point.” Indeed, none of us wish that this had happened and that now it is our responsibility to report it, in an effort to break the cycle of gun violence in our country.
NFTY is taking on Gun Violence Prevention as a social justice campaign this year. Starting tomorrow, regional teen leaders from around North America will gather at URJ Kutz Camp for teen leadership for Mechina. Mechina is a time when all of the NFTY staff, the NFTY North American Board, the teen regional board members, and other teen leaders gather to meet, to learn, and to explore the various aspects of NFTY and their region, and to plan for much of the year ahead. During this weekend, learning about social justice campaigns, and NFTY’s Gun Violence Prevention campaign were already planned, but now are going to have a significant impact on our teens in light of the tragedy that just occurred in Charleston. These teens are acutely aware that a religious institution was attacked, in a community not unlike many of their own, and they know that it is their responsibility to raise awareness on this issue, to try and help prevent future attacks like this from occurring, and to stand together with the faith community in grief and in solidarity.
But for now, we offer our compassion and our prayers for healing. We offer our support to Kahal Kadosh Beth Elohim in Charleston, SC and their Rabbis Stephanie Alexander and Andrew Terkel as they work to mobilize the interfaith community in Charleston and to offer support to their own community. And we offer the only solace that we can, at a time like this: That NFTY and its participants are committed to our Gun Violence Prevention Campaign working to educate and advocate for the prevention of these tragedies in the future.
Ken Yehi Ratzon – May this be God’s will.