On occasion, I want to use this space to introduce you to members of our Federation team. Permit me to introduce you to Charley (pictured far left).
Charley Smith, Young Adult Engagement Manager for Minneapolis Jewish Federation and the Jewish Federation of Greater St. Paul, flew to Washington DC last Friday to join the group that had traveled by bus the day before. The group was comprised of 70 teens and a handful of adults representing Adath Jeshurun, Bet Shalom, Beth El, Beth Jacob, Darchei Noam, Mount Zion, Shir Tikvah, Temple Israel, Temple of Aaron, regional NFTY and USY. Funding for the buses to and from DC was provided by the Minnesota Rabbinic Association, the Minneapolis and Saint Paul Federations and others—a terrific example of collaboration and—ultimately, a higher sense of unity.
See Charley’s reflections on the trip and what it means for our community, below.
A Time to March
by Charley Smith
When I arrived at the Washington DC Jewish Community Center (JCC), the Twin Cities teens were prepping their march. They were spread out—we had been given relatively free rein of the J—but our home base was the racquetball and squash courts. I introduced myself to the teens I hadn’t met before and was impressed to see the variety of sentiments displayed on their posters—from nuanced looks at gun laws, to biblical quotes, to memes featuring Kim Kardashian.
That evening, Kabbalat Shabbat was unique; the collaborative prayer service featured both bumps and pressure points, but in the end it was a mishmash of minhag and melodies, and not everyone was comfortable the whole time. I think that may have been the (albeit unintentional) point—to demonstrate the true nature of unity.
You see, being united isn’t always clean, and it isn’t always perfect, but finding common ground, being willing to compromise where it doesn’t diminish one’s values, is the most effective (and meaningful) way to move forward in community.
That night, after dinner (graciously served by local volunteers from the DCJCC) the teens gathered to mentally and emotionally prepare for the next day. They discussed why they had come, what it means to protest, and how to stay safe in the crowd.
Finally, thoroughly exhausted but anxious for the morning, we found our sleeping areas and bedded down. Just under 70 teenagers and a handful of adults sprawled out across three racquetball courts.
In the morning, we readied ourselves, dressing in matching orange shirts emblazoned with the text: #DAYENU. A handful of students met with a reporter from The Huffington Post, the staff chugged Starbucks, and the teens packed their backpacks with supplies for the day. We walked to meet up with the NFTY gathering to get ourselves pumped up and hear from some inspirational speakers as well as t’fillot. We said the mourner’s Kaddishtogether, remembering the victims of senseless gun violence.
Then it was time to march.
We joined the already massive stream of people representing every race, religion, and geographic corner of our country already flooding the streets. We spotted celebrities, carried banners, and together—over 800,000 strong—we arrived in front of our nation’s capital to make our voices heard.
I watched the teens and other marchers comfort one another as they burst into tears. I saw strangers help one another clamor up the walls of the National Archives for a better view. I watched a stage full of speakers, none of whom were much older than 18, and some of whom were as young as 11. The crowd alternated crying and cheering for more than two hours.
Once the rally was complete, the crowds began to disperse. The Twin Cities crew had long since separated into smaller groups. My group was a microcosm of the march—three girls and a boy from four different synagogues and four different high schools. I couldn’t have been prouder when they came up to the meeting point, sunburned, exhausted, and beaming with pride and emotion.
We reconvened to say Kiddush in front of the National Archive as a unified group from the Twin Cities, ignoring our differences—synagogue, movement, high school, age, background, city. As one, we blessed the wine and sanctified our experience together.
We walked back to the DCJCC, and the teens were abuzz, sharing their experiences and basking in the glow of one another’s strength. Arriving back at the J, the teens cleaned and packed, snacking a bit and getting ready for Havdallah and the ride back to the Twin Cities.
Later, the Havdallah was a mishmash of various traditions. It was clunky. It was emotional. It was the perfect way to end the experience—in two short days, we had become one. We had found unity.
My hope is for this unity to be a model for the Twin Cities Jewish community in all things. Let us follow the example of these brave teenagers from across our country and be less concerned with denomination, geography, or institutional affiliation, and instead, laser-focused on making things happen for tikkun olam.
An earlier version was posted on TC Jewfolk. See it here.