Sarah: I first realized the need for meaningful and effective gun violence prevention legislation in 2016, when an angry former teacher at my sister’s school was intercepted by the police on his way back to school with a gun and ammunition he bought immediately after being fired.
I learned to turn my passion into action by working with Logan Zinman Gerber, who runs a high school fellowship to teach teens across the country how to enact social change on topics like gun violence prevention, and, in the future, racial justice. Logan taught me about gun violence prevention in a social justice seminar held by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC), and helped me present a speech to my United States congressional representatives alongside other Jewish teenagers from my community to lobby for gun violence prevention.
About a month later, I joined two RAC fellowships, both of which were led by Logan. My gun violence prevention fellowship allowed me to learn about the complex issue in a nuanced light, providing me with the tools I needed for action. I looked forward to each session, and I never left a meeting without something new to think about.
Participating in the fellowships enabled me to make some of my closest Jewish friends from across the country and channel my passion for social change into real action. For my culminating fellowship project, I led a voter registration campaign that reached over 500 people. Logan still continues to support and inspire me, and meeting with her as part of JumpSpark’s Strong Women Fellowship reminded me of the importance of activism and unity as a whole, especially in the context of the recent attack on the Capitol, which highlighted the division in our nation and reminded us that white supremacy still stands strong.
Eva: While many teens feel stranded this year, discovering opportunities to make a change regarding issues that are important to us is especially important in times as turbulent as the present. Whether we like it or not, our lives are changing, making it all the more important to reflect on our pasts and plan how we want to continue our journeys in the future just as Logan taught us. This year, I have opened my eyes to the world around me, and discovered for myself what issues are important to me. In the past, I have volunteered for a gun violence prevention organization. Hearing from Logan, who has done incredible work regarding gun violence prevention, really helped me to understand what a global issue gun violence is. With this new knowledge, I can decide for myself what I want to do in the future to create change, all while incorporating my Jewish identity.
When Logan met with our Strong Women Fellowship in November, she pushed each of us to reflect on our own journeys and relationships with Judaism and activism thus far in our lives. Logan has spent the past two years leading teen gun violence prevention and civic engagement campaigns for the Reform Jewish Movement, connecting with half a million voters. In addition, she has been active in her outside work as the national volunteer coordinator for the American Cancer Society, where she assists people in coping with transition, as well as sharing their cancer stories.
Our session with Logan fostered a greater sense of connection and understanding between the members of our Fellowship. In one activity where we created timelines of our Jewish journey, we found countless similarities among the handful of other girls in our breakout groups. In particular, we all found that while times of isolation from the Jewish community hurt us emotionally in the moment, in the end, these times pushed us to find our own connection to Judaism and only worked to strengthen our Jewish identities. The farther each of us got from Judaism, the stronger our desire for connection grew.
In addition, Logan connected activism and making change to the Jewish value of tikkun olam, repairing the world. Writing anonymously on a Padlet (an online discussion board, where we had posted questions for everyone to reflect upon), several Strong Women Fellows described this connection and how it inspires them:
“Tikkun olam inspires me to create change. It is also powerful to know that helping in the world was something that my ancestors did.”
Another Strong Women Fellow described Judaism as “… the coffee in my activism – it fuels everything I do.”
Making these connections was both powerful for us as Jews, and as activists as well. In addition to empowering us to examine our own connections to Judaism and activism, Logan gave the Strong Women Fellows resources we need to pursue tikkun olam in the future, such as her gun violence prevention campaign geared toward young people.
“There are so many amazing resources out there to help others get registered to vote,” one Strong Women Fellow wrote on the Padlet.
By giving us the knowledge we need to make personal connections to Judaism and the principle of tikkun olam, meeting with Logan inspired us to create positive change in the world in a way that models our Jewish values.
What we found to be the biggest takeaway from our meeting was that anyone can make a difference. We realized that we all can work to create a world we want to live in and that our work does not have to wait. Each of us has issues we care about, from gun violence to racial justice to climate change to reproductive rights, so we can all fight to create change, one step at a time.
Eva Beresin, 16, is a sophomore at The Weber School in Sandy Springs, GA, who enjoys reading and spending time with friends.
Sarah Dowling, 16, is a junior at The Lovett School in Atlanta who enjoys listening to music and reading.