Blog  What do you stand for?

What do you stand for?

On March 6th & 7th, 45 Jewish teens representing over 20 URJ congregations from the NY Area went to Albany to lobby our state legislators on social justice issues that matter to us as NFTYites. After spending Sunday learning about four different issues – Gun Violence Prevention, Economic Justice, Transgender Rights and Education – we prepared lobby speeches and met with our State Assembly Members and Senators. After the event, we asked a few of our peers to reflect on their experience in Albany.

Why do you think it’s important for NFTY/Jewish teens to advocate for these issues to our state legislators?

I think it’s important that teenagers advocate about these issues to state legislators because we are the next generation. We are the ones who have to accept and live the longest with the laws, mistakes, and actions of legislatures and survive the effects that these a have. If teenagers do not do it then who will? Most adults certainly are not taking action and we, Jewish teenagers, are the ones have the opportunity to advocate and hopefully make a difference.
– Alice Auerbacher, Temple Kol Ami, White Plains

16-0080-8347Can you share with us one surprising thing that happened while you were lobbying?

Many things surprised me while advocating for gun violence prevention but one that stood out to me the most was how much of an impact we made. As Jewish teen leaders we don’t project our voices as much as we should. When an Assembly Member hears that they will be speaking with young adults, they are astonished but excited to hear what we have to say. At Albany Advocacy Day, we spoke to a Member when he was off of the floor and we felt as if we really got through to him. We clearly spoke to him about gun violence prevention and his response was, “If I hadn’t already co-sponsored the Domestic Violence Firearm Surrender Bill, then I would now.” We, as teen leaders and NFTYites, have so much to say when advocating for topics we feel passionate about and I feel that we truly make an impact.
– Rachel Kalter, Temple Shir Shalom, South Salem, NY

Why did you choose Gun Violence Prevention as the issue you wanted to lobby?

I have a very personal connection to gun violence. I knew one of the beautiful children who died in the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, Daniel Barden. He was a very close family friend and I have started a club at my high school based off of his life. My club aims to fight social isolation, an idea that comes from Daniel’s life, since he was a very kind child and one who wanted everyone to feel welcomed.
– Rayann Tobia, Temple Israel of New Rochelle

What’s one thing you learned during the experience that you think everyone should know?

If you have a passion and will, you are an advocate. People often think that advocates are only adults with a degree or those with government connections, but really anyone can be an advocate. Advocacy is about making sure that those who may not have a constant voice in the government can be heard. This act not only crucial, but also extremely empowering. I know that every participant at AAD left the event feeling that they were heard and valued by their legislators and their staff, and empowered to make more change on a greater scale. While many people may say that teens do not have the power to change the world, Albany Advocacy Day, and any form of advocacy, only proves that notion false.
– Jillian Forstadt, North Shore Synagogue, Syosset, NY

What are you going to do next as a result of participating in NFTY NAR’s Albany Advocacy Day?

I have always wanted to stay updated about the laws that affect me, but after AAD I am even more motivated. I plan to keep track of the bill we lobbied for and to follow other local, state-level, and national politics to find out about issues I am passionate about and stay educated in order to correctly take a stand.
– Brianna Erlebacher, Vassar Temple, Poughkeepsie

AAD Group Photo

What advice would you give to a teen who wants to take action on an important issue but doesn’t know where to start?

Your state and district officials are hear to listen to you, their constituent, so contacting your local government offices is the most direct way of making sure your voice on the issue is recognized. However, if you do not feel comfortable speaking directly to your officials, there a plenty opportunities to be heard, such as by signing online petitions, discussing with other teens and adults, and promoting awareness on the issue through both social media and events. The first step is always starting conversations about the issue, as words turn into actions.
– Jillian Forstadt, North Shore Synagogue, Syosset, NY

 Be sure to also read Brianna, Rayann, Rachel and Alice’s lobby speech about Gun Violence Prevention.