Helping Teens Find Their Voice

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By Aaron Klaus, NFTY Michigan Regional Youth Specialist

As many people in NFTY know, if I hadn’t become a NFTY regional director, I would have become a music teacher. I have been incredibly lucky to have had opportunities to build meaningful relationships with students through teaching music in various capacities over the past decade. There is something so gratifying about facilitating other people’s personal growth. When the time comes for my students to share their music with the world, I have to trust that our work together has equipped them with the tools to be successful. The moment of relinquishing control is scary, but the reward—seeing others shine—is indescribable.

Seeing others shine, whether in music or in other endeavors, motivates me every day. I recently had the opportunity to see my teens shine in a big way at NFTY-Michigan’s Lansing Advocacy Day: a two-day event focused on social justice and advocacy. On Sunday, our group of Reform Jewish teens from across Michigan learned about the political process and about important issues facing our state, including gun violence prevention, LGBTQ+ rights, access to clean water, and renewable energy. On Monday, they went to our state capitol in Lansing to meet with the offices of their state representatives and senators to lobby on these critical issues.

The night before Lansing Advocacy Day, I couldn’t help but think of everything that had led up to that moment: the countless hours spent meeting with advocacy organizations in Michigan to help determine our legislative agenda, researching Michigan’s laws, helping create legislative memos, making appointments with legislators’ offices, recruiting, creating programs, and all of the other little things that go into running a regional event. However, while sitting in legislative meetings on Monday, all I could think of was how gratified and proud I felt in that moment. Our NFTYites were prepared and passionate. They devoted an incredible amount of time and energy diving deep into complex, nuanced topics. They wrote speeches with compelling arguments for making Michigan and our world a better place. I was in awe.

Little moments throughout the day made the experience unforgettable. Watching teens beaming with pride at a successful legislative meeting; seeing our group wide-eyed on the senate floor; listening to teens ask deep and insightful questions of the adults they met—each of these moments brought me back to that special time as a music educator where all of the hard work pays off, where moving past the moment of relinquishing control leads to truly seeing others shine.

I am so lucky in my job to work with the teens of NFTY Michigan. At Lansing Advocacy Day, they proved that NFTYites are passionate about creating a world of wholeness, justice, and compassion. They proved that teens have a voice that is loud, clear, and critical. I have no doubt that teens will lead the way towards a better world. We have to listen, and we have to act.

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