By Rabbi Elizabeth Zeller, Director of Learning and Innovation, NFTY
“And just remember – if you’re having a meeting and there isn’t a teen in the room, let me know. I’m happy to find you one who would love to be there.”
About a year ago, I kept hearing these words, over and over again from the current NFTY North American Membership Vice President, Will Saltzburg. He was one of many teens helping to work with the URJ to organize our representation at the National March for Our Lives event on March 24th, 2018.
We, at NFTY, pride ourselves on the teen-drive and adult supported mission of our work. In the past two years, we’ve been working hard to define, consider, and positively model adult-teen partnerships. But it wasn’t until this moment of activism, that I truly began to understand the power of teens and the ways in which adults can most effectively support them.
March for Our Lives was always driven by the teens, both internal to the URJ, and on the national level in D.C. With the full weight of the URJ adult leadership behind them, our teens took center stage in almost every aspect of planning. But it wasn’t until Will’s words, that were brought up in nearly every big meeting, became part of my mantra, that it finally sunk in.
Teens shouldn’t just be asked to take an idea and move it forward and wait for adults to help. Teens shouldn’t just be consulted after adults have made decisions. Teens shouldn’t feel like they have to do the work all on their own. True partnership is about everyone having a seat at the table, at every level. It means not always doing the same work or equal work, but ensuring that the work that needs to get done gets done and is represented by adults and teens equally.
March for Our Lives was an incredible event that showed the real power that can be harnessed when teens, who are passionate about an issue, come together, and voice their passions and ideas. For us, at NFTY and the URJ, it was an equally exciting opportunity to watch not only the teen activism, but the beginning of some real adult-youth partnership on issues that matter most to our community. Adults can be great advocates for teens, but can also be great partners in helping to support their work through systems that are already in place.
I will never forget the March for Our Lives event that took place last year, not only because it was one of the most inspiring events I’ve ever been to, but I will also think back fondly on the moments we spent in meetings, planning with teens and adults, and really harnessing the power of everyone in our Movement to reach greater change.