A famous Midrash tells us that during the Exodus, when the Israelites reached the Red Sea, it did not automatically part. Faced with certain death by the oncoming Egyptians or death by drowning, the Israelites stood at the banks of the sea and wailed with despair, but Nahshon entered the waters. Once he was up to his nose in the water, the sea parted. And so we ask can one person make a difference? What does it take? Throughout history we remember certain names and deeds. Some are associated with the champions of just causes like Patrick Henry who gave his life for liberty, Rachel Carson who swayed Congress to protect the environment, and Rosa Parks, who paved the way for racial equality. Others are infamous for their lack of morality; Haman, Hitler, Osama Bin Laden. The song we sing in Tefillah tells us that all the world is a narrow bridge and we are walking a fine line.
The balance between erring on the side of light, as opposed to choosing the dark side depends upon what we teach our children. As I read news and social media I am consistently amazed at the preponderance of items of insignificance that are deemed newsworthy. On the other hand broadcast news often sensationalizes life’s tragedies, including the attack at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 people dead. Many of those students were Jewish. After we reel from the impact of all chaos that surrounds us, something extraordinary rises like a beacon of light out of the darkness. Student survivors of the horror and tragedy of the Parkland school shootings tell the world to take a stand. Our children teach us.
The ‘March for Our Lives’ organized by high-school students will descend on Washington DC on March 24 and other cities to press demands for safer schools and for legislation “to effectively address the gun violence issues that are rampant” across the nation. “People keep asking us, what about the Stoneman Douglas shooting is going to be different, because this has happened before and change hasn’t come?” said 11th-grader Cameron Kasky, who is one of the organizers of the event along with students Emma Gonzalez, David Hogg, Alex Wind and Jaclyn Corin. “This is it,” Kasky pledged. These young people are driven to cross that narrow bridge and lead the world towards the positive pole of our collective moral compass.
On March 16 I will be taking our 10th and 11th graders to the L’Taken conference sponsored by the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism. Since 1961, the Religious Action Center has been a voice for Reform Jewish values in Washington, DC. The RAC educates and mobilizes teens, clergy, and everyone in between to advocate for public policy that reflects the Jewish commitment to social justice. CEEBJ students will join several hundred others from Jewish congregations across the USA. Together we will explore the history and background of important public policy issues for greater understanding and engagement in the national dialogue. During this conference participants receive legislative updates, and learn how to apply skills in critical thinking, and writing and oration, with legislative advocacy. On the final day, the students will lobby in the offices of their congressional representatives. Together, they will change the world.
It takes balance and fortitude to walk the bridge. Courage is required to make a stand. As I learn alongside the students in our religious school I look to them to lead the way.
Susan Bornstein Forst