By Jess Becker and Zoe Terner
A year ago this March, our lives changed forever. We marched on Capitol Hill, we walked out of our schools, we demanded that our representatives listen. For our friends in Parkland, for our siblings, for our children, for our teachers, and for ourselves, we committed to making a change. We had no other choice.
This fight has made such a difference in our world. We saw an injustice in our society, and so NFTY – The Reform Jewish Youth Movement did what it has always done: We got to work.
Five hundred NFTYites – spanning all 50 states – participated in advocacy training and learned how to speak truth to power. More than 6,000 Reform Jews (including many, many young people) attended March for Our Lives events around the world. And together, NFTY and the greater Reform Movement successfully helped pass gun violence prevention ballot measures in Washington state. What’s more, throughout the course of the civic engagement campaign, we connected with more than 100,000 voters across the Reform Movement.
At NFTY Convention this February, NFTY SAVP Zoe Terner called on NFTYites to lobby for HR8: The Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019. Currently, guns sold online and at gun shows aren’t subject to federal background checks, so felons and domestic abusers – who otherwise aren’t allowed to purchase firearms – can buy them with the click of a mouse or in person at gun shows.
Hundreds of teens reached out to their members of Congress, asking them to represent young people’s interests and to keep us safe – and days later, the House of Representatives passed H.R. 8, the first gun violence prevention bill in decades.
Make no mistake, Reform Movement: This is your victory – and now, we need your help to turn this bill into law. It’s now on its way to the Senate, and we urge you to call, email, write, and lobby your senators on the Background Check Expansion Act (S. 42), the Senate version of H.R. 8.
We did it once; we can do it again.
NFTY SAVP-elect Jess Becker, who was deeply affected by the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, proves just how capable young people are of changing the narrative on gun violence: In high school, Jess became the head coordinator of her school’s National School Walkout for Gun Violence Prevention, working with her school’s administration to make sure that the event went smoothly. After the walkout, she and seven other young women founded their school’s Students Demand Action chapter. They work tirelessly with Moms Demand Action, the Brady Campaign, and Everytown for Gun Safety to make heard the voices of future voters who want real policy change – not just “thoughts and prayers.”
For so many of us, NFTY and the Reform Movement have been cornerstones in our lives when it comes to social action, pursuing justice, and working together to make the world a better place. Reform Jewish teens across North America are ready to lead us toward a life and childhood free of gun violence for everyone.
Each of us has our own unique and tragic personal connections to this work. Maybe you’re a longtime gun violence prevention activist, or you’ve been a part of this movement since NFTY passed a gun violence prevention resolution in 2014; maybe last February was the first time you felt called to take action. Whatever your reasons or your background, gun violence prevention is an issue that impacts us all.
In July, when Jess takes office as the NFTY North American Social Action Vice President, she will continue the progress Zoe has made. Under her leadership, NFTY will remain committed to our gun violence prevention work, ensuring that it is as intersectional as possible and happens in the places where it will affect the most change.
Jess plans to involve even more NFTYites in gun violence prevention advocacy. By examining this issue through a Jewish lens, we will be able to better advocate for what we believe in, with our Jewish values in our minds and by our sides. We will also continue to build and leverage NFTY’s Gun Violence Prevention Task Force, run this year by Zoe Terner with teen partners Lauren Bayne and Haley Stav. We’re confident that the passion of this task force will inspire and motivate Reform Jews to continue taking action.
As we look toward the future, NFTY also encourages teens and congregations to travel to Washington, D.C., to participate in the Religious Action Center L’Taken Social Justice Seminar and to apply for the RAC Gun Violence Prevention Fellowship. We hope teens and congregations visiting D.C. will lobby their senators on S.B. 42.
The Reform Movement is made up of passionate change-makers of all ages. We are proud of the progress we have made, and we continue to lead the fight to end gun violence in every community – and, ultimately, to create a safer future for the generations that come after us.
Keep up the fight. Every day, we change the world.
To learn more about and get involved in NFTY’s gun violence prevention work, visit nfty.org/gvp. Then, use the RAC’s easy online tool to urge your Senators to cosponsor and call for the immediate passage of the Background Check Expansion Act (S.42), which will expand the federal background check requirement to include the sale or transfer of all firearms by private sellers.
Jess Becker is the North American social action vice president-elect ofNFTY – The Reform Jewish Youth Movement, a member of NFTY Northeast, and a member of Congregation B’nai Israel in Bridgeport, CT. A firm believer in the Reform Jewish approach to activism and social action, Jess is an alumna of the URJ Kutz Camp’s Action and Advocacy Program and the Religious Action Center’s L’Taken Social Justice Seminar. Zoe Terner is the current North American social action vice president of NFTY – The Reform Jewish Youth Movement. A college freshman from Lake Worth, FL, with a passion for bettering the world, Zoe is an alumna of theURJ Kutz Camp, former social action vice president of NFTY’s Southern Tropical Region, and a former co-director of Camp Jenny.