By Liora Ami, NFTY Central West Region Social Action Vice President
My heart was beating fast as I looked out at 120 of my peers, all of whom were busily writing down questions for our speaker. I was sure that none of them were going to be interested in what she had just said. Volunteers began to bring us tens of notecards filled with thoughtful questions. My heart exploded as I watched my region become invested, engaged, and once again excited about Social Justice.
CWR has long had a passion for Social Justice Programming, falling in line with our community’s values of tikkun olam (repairing the world) and respect for our holy community. We’ve fought to become educated and knowledgeable about the issues that have come to run rampant in our society, and each year our participants begin to yearn for more. They want to hear real stories, and to learn from people doing the work. Knowing this, our leaders started to look for opportunities to expand the way in which we think about learning.
So, when circumstances led CWR to return to the homestay event model this year, we saw an opportunity to expand the way in which social action programming had previously been done, and how it impacted our community. We reached out to the synagogue who was hosting Fallinter (CWR’s Social Justice Kallah), looking for members of their congregation who may have interest in talking to our community and may have an exciting and relevant story. They suggested the 9th Circuit Appellate Court Judge, who graciously agreed to come to our event.
My regional advisor introduced the two of us through email, and we quickly began to work together. Over the course of many emails, we worked out an interview-style conversation between myself and the Judge, together we brainstormed questions and discussed what was crucial to include in our hour-long session. Both of us were committed to making the conversation as engaging and applicable as possible, but our program came together when we talked on the phone. Each of us shared what we hoped for the participants to get out of the conversation, and what each of us hoped to get out of the conversation.
The key to our success was that both of us were invested in making the most of our hour, making it engaging and meaningful for participants. On the day of, we met 30 minutes before our program. We were feeling prepared for our programs, so we had the chance to talk about what brought her to become a judge, what her place in the justice system was, the types of important cases she hears, and how what she did affected us. She was captivating, her stories wowed everyone in the room, and each person was hooked to her every word. Our conversation was relevant to participants, and the questions made the justice system applicable to them. Due to these factors, the program was hugely successful, and the NFTY CWR community was able to engage in social justice, and engage with our broader community in a different way than ever before.