By Hannah Banwell, NFTY Northern
I got on a bus filled with Jewish teens from all different branches of Judaism, most of whom I hardly knew, and traveled a total of 44 hours to DC and back. Why would an anxious introvert like me do something so extreme? I got on that bus so I could experience first-hand a march that would go down in history. I went to DC for the March for Our Lives.
Before this trip I had never been to DC. The first time I laid my eyes on the beautiful city, rich with history, I saw it with sleepy, bus-ride eyes. Even though my head was pounding and my eyes felt a bit dry, I fell in love with DC and everyone who was there with me. Every single person who arrived on those buses with me was there for the same reason. Without knowing each other, without practicing the same traditions, without being in the same grade, we came together and we prayed – not with words, but with signs and our feet.
The March For Our Lives was truly a unique and special experience. Not only was I surrounded by nearly one million people who were as fired up as I was, but I was also marching hand-in-hand with the Jewish community of Minnesota. Not just my Reform Jewish community, but the greater, cross-denominational Jewish community. Many Jewish youth organizations took a stand and organized trips of their own, but the thing that set us apart was our decision to make our trip cross-denominational. There are two main reasons I found it so impactful: I’m passionate about ensuring the safety of human beings as a whole by implementing better gun laws on a local and national level, and the I believe that spectrum of Judaism of our trip, specifically, demonstrates the intersectionality of the gun violence prevention movement.
The experience was quite different and new to me. Yes, I have attended my fair share of protests and yes, I do spend a lot of time with Jewish teens, but I have never been a part of a cross-denominational group that is so focused on social action and social change. Throughout the trip my eyes were opened to so many things, like the fact that Conservative, Orthodox, and Reform Jews aren’t that different at all. In fact, we have more similarities than we do differences. Marching with such a diverse group of Jewish teens has opened so many doors to collaboration that were previously closed. This ability to put our religious practices and differences aside and work together to help create a safer world for us and the future of our country inspired me beyond what my vocabulary can express.
So what’s next? Students from across the URJ have organized a National Call-In Day TODAY, April 10, focused on gun violence. We are flooding Congress with calls demanding that our elected officials enact common sense gun violence prevention policies, namely, universal background checks and an assault weapons ban. It’s time to act. I encourage you to pick up the phone today and amplify our call to action, and to encourage everyone in your life to do the same. You can find a call-in guide at nfty.org/gvp/act.
Hannah Banwell is a sophomore from Minneapolis, Minnesota who goes to Saint Paul Conservatory for Performing Artists (SPCPA). She is the current president of her TYG (Temple Youth Group), SPORTY, and the newly elected Communications Vice President of NFTY Northern. She co-organized the March for Our Lives trip to DC with a few other Jewish teens from all different denominations of Judaism. Hannah works as a songleader and special needs advocate at her temple, Mount Zion. In the fall, Hannah created an organization called Screaming Sunflowers that strives to combat and educate about sexual assault in schools.