In March 2021, I led the second annual social action event for SALTY—Shir Hadash Adolescents Leading Teens and Youth. SALTY is Congregation Shir Hadash’s teen youth group and is part of the larger Reform Jewish Youth Movement (NFTY). We have been hosting monthly virtual gatherings throughout the pandemic, and as the social action vice president, I plan events targeted towards both broader national civic involvement and the greater San Jose and Los Gatos communities. In line with protests last summer, I selected racial justice as the social action focus for the year, feeling that it was important for our teens to understand systemic racism in America. While the protests after the death of George Floyd were part of the larger movement to end police violence against black men, they were also part of advocacy for racial equality.
To launch in October, I led a short session on white privilege as a preview to a November event where we watched video clips and had in-depth discussions about racial bias in our criminal justice and police systems. Since this event was focused on the educational side of social action, I wanted the second event to focus on taking action, so I set out to find a cause we could support in our community related to racial equality.
Jewbilee 2021, the APJCC’s annual day of Jewish learning, focused on social justice, which made it a perfect place to look for ideas. After discussing sessions with family members, I reached out to Diane Fisher of the Jewish Community Relations Council who I worked with before on encouraging people to vote in the 2020 election. We discussed the practicality of various support options and I pursued one of the potential causes that was presented during the “Criminal Justice Reform in Santa Clara County: Why and How” session at Jewbilee: the Community Mobile Response Program for Santa Clara County. This alternative to law enforcement has trained mental health professionals and community members who have experienced mental health crises of their own to respond to calls and connect people with support. Connecting to our theme of racial justice, a significant amount of fatal encounters with law enforcement involve a person with a mental illness, and people of color are disproportionately more likely to be in this circumstance.
I met with Jewbilee session presenter Elisa Koff-Ginsborg, who agreed to visit with the youth group and provide context on ways that we could meaningfully support the program. SALTY’s event involved an orientation to the program and a breakout room activity of writing emails to the Santa Clara County Board of Supervisors, explaining the importance of the initiative and asking them to approve it to a state oversight committee for state funding.
This event not only exposed our teens to the planning, lobbying, and funding process for such programs, but it also gave us a chance to play a role in the program’s hopeful success. Introducing teens to social action is key to helping them find their voices. Presenting them with opportunities to partner with adult leaders in their community helps them grow as global citizens and realize the change they can enact. Additionally, engaging teens in social action enables them to connect important Jewish teachings like Tikkun Olam and Tzedek to real world events and encourages them to keep striving for justice throughout their lives.
Aaron Wolf-Bloom is the SALTY Social Action VP at Congregation Shir Hadash and is a rising 9th grade student at Pioneer High School in San Jose. Aaron is also the author of a teen racial justice resource guide which can be found here: https://bit.ly/saltysa2021