March 23, 2018
It was the gasp heard “around the world.” This past weekend, I sat in a room with eight students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and 50 members of Netzer Olami, the global progressive youth movement, at their annual gathering. When the Parkland students shared that there are nearly 100 deaths a day in America due to gun violence, the gasps of shock in the room were clearly audible.
Netzer Olami is the Zionist youth movement of Progressive Jews throughout the world, and NFTY, the Reform Youth Movement, is a proud member. The Veidah, or annual leadership gathering, this past week provided an opportunity to reaffirm the Movement’s ideology, based on Progressive Judaism, Reform Zionism, and Tikkun Olam (repair of the world). With teen and young adult representatives from around the world, from Australia to Belarus; from Costa Rica to Holland; Israel to Ukraine, and everywhere in between, the Netzer Olami Veidah serves as a true annual international decision-making forum.
The testimonies we heard that Shabbat afternoon in Jerusalem struck a deep chord amongst the international Jewish community. With the obvious exception of Israel, most of the other countries represented are unfamiliar with the presence of firearms in their daily lives, let alone the tragedy and death they can cause when irresponsibly regulated. Israelis arguably have it a little different, and I suspect that all the Israelis in the room were considering their upcoming service in the army and their own imminent experience with assault rifles in basic training.
Earlier in the day, I watched NFTY President Zach Herrmann chair a voting assembly during which the Movement voted to create a youth leadership position for the entire global Movement, ushering in a new era of youth-led representation. Zach’s ability to moderate a conversation between the delegates of the assembly and eight brave teenagers from Parkland, FL, was implemented with the same level of thoughtfulness, tenacity and care that he brings to NFTY. The passion, intelligence, and pain with which the Douglas teens spoke indicated clearly that the gun violence epidemic is America’s national crisis.
When national crises have faced progressive Jewish communities around the world, Netzer Olami has stood up, raised its voice loudly, and supported the cause through a coordinated campaign. URJ Kutz Camp director, Melissa Frey, shared with the delegation that in previous years and decades, the Netzer branches and progressive teens worldwide regularly came together in the name of Tikkun Olam and the fight for social justice around the world – supporting the escape of Refuseniks from Russia to Israel; fighting to end apartheid in South Africa; supporting German Jews after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the Darfur awareness campaign, to name just a few.
Our global movement should be standing up and voicing its support for NFTY in their work fighting the gun violence epidemic in America. Through this meeting of young people in Jerusalem, we have taken the first steps in doing so.
Our shared Jewish values of “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof” – justice, justice, shall you pursue – ring loud and far. In a global movement, our sense of peoplehood is often defined by shared experience with those from other places. In the modern age of sharing collective experience such as the Parkland Shooting through social media, it is clear that young progressive Jews from around the world don’t come together enough. For whatever reason, we tend to stick with our those from our own country, and there is a tangible divide between Americans and programs from the rest of the world. Have we lost our sense of global peoplehood since the old days of campaigning? How, in the age of infinite digital connectedness, and with English more prevalent as the international language than ever before, has this happened? Surely it should be easier than ever before to combine our voices as one and bring a force for justice to bear that is greater than the sum of our parts.
The opportunity for teens from around the world to meaningfully and authentically hear the stories of the teens from Parkland helped us move a little bit closer to klal yisrael, Jewish peoplehood. Netzer Olami is a movement built on global interconnectedness, inclusion, mutual respect, and social action. If the gun violence epidemic is America’s national crisis, then the global Reform Movement should stand by its side fighting hard for the same goals. This is how progressive Jews move tikkun olam into advocacy and action.
Graham Carpenter is an Executive Board member for the World Union for Progressive Judaism, Member of Strategic Youth Committee, and National Board Member for Liberal Judaism UK.
The March For Our Lives was just the beginning. The Reform Movement, led by our incredible young leaders, is taking the momentum from #JewsDemandAction events all across the country and building it into a powerful, sustained pursuit of meaningful change at the local, state, and national levels. Learn more at www.NFTY.org/GVP/Act.