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Our teens speak about gun violence, mental health, and reproductive rights

02/14/2020 03:51:42 PM


This week, six of our confirmation (10th grade) students traveled to Washington, D.C. with me, where they wrote and delivered impressive presentations to congressional staff.  They spoke about gun violence prevention, mental health funding in schools, and reproductive rights.  With their permission, I share their presentations with you. 

Delivered to Senator Schumer's aide:  Gun Violence Prevention

My name is Evie Wolland and this is Zoë McLear and we are here on behalf of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.  We’re here to talk about the epidemic of gun violence in our nation. The United States FBI defines “mass shooting” as four or more people being shot with no “cooling off period.” In 2018, there were 340 mass shootings, one almost everyday.  It worsened in 2019, when there were 381 in total, which is more than the amount of days in a single year.  It was one of the deadliest years on record for the amount of mass shootings. This is completely unacceptable. Innocent people should not have their lives taken from them due to careless acts of gun violence. Fortunately, most of America agrees with our issue. 83% of the public, and 72% of gun owners support universal background checks, according to Quinnipiac Poll of September 2019. Our country’s people are ready for action.

As an American Jewish student, a synagogue is supposed to be a safe haven, a place of peace, a place where I can pray with those I care about and love.  However, due to recent events, there is always a constant thought in the back of my mind; “What do I do if someone with a gun walks in and starts shooting?” “Where do I hide?” “Do I fight back?” As people- as kids, I nor my peers should ever have to think that way.  I shouldn’t have to worry about how I would say goodby to my parents in the case of a school shooting.  I should be focused on trying to live my life as a teenager, getting into college, and what I want to do with my future.  I shouldn’t have to think about whether I will have a future or not.  I shouldn’t be scared to go to a public event in the fear that I might be a victim.  Only yesterday, did I experience such fear.  I witnessed a gun rally in Pentagon Row.  Not only were they protesting for their gun rights, but they were being anti-Semitic as well.  They were expressing their hatred towards Mike Bloomberg, who is also an American Jew just like ourselves as well as the Senator. Bloomberg constantly expresses how he is strongly against assault rifles.  There were multiple signs with swastikas on them and that scared me, especially given the fact that I was there as well as over 400 other Jewish teenagers and adults.  It was rumored that some of the participants were carrying guns on them.  

“Do not stand idly by while your neighbor’s blood is shed.” This portion from Leviticus 19:16 is telling us that we, as Reform Jews, can no longer stand by and watch helplessly as thousands of people are impacted by gun violence every single year.  Many people are so quick to express their “thoughts and prayers” when really action needs to be taken immediately.  We need to protect the innocent lives that are constantly being ripped away.  We no longer have time to sit around and only express our deepest condolences for the families that are going through these terrible losses. We need to do more in order to actively protect the public.  As Rabbi Hillel said, “If not now, when?”

We thank the Senator for cosponsoring the Background Check Expansion Act (S.42), demonstrating their comment to closing the private sale loophole and preventing gun violence. We urge the Senator to call for the immediate passage of the bill. Thank you.


Delivered to Representative Nita Lowey's aide:  Mental Health Funding in Schools

Good afternoon. My name is Abigail Healy and I am joined by Haley Janush. We are here to
talk about access to mental healthcare for children and teenagers.

Mental health is defined by The National Alliance on Mental Illness as “a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, or mood...[which] may affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function every day.” Millions of American’s suffer from different mental health issues and more specifically young students. “7.1 percent of children aged 3-17 have diagnosed anxiety” and “3.2 percent of children aged 3-17 years have diagnosed depression.” When it comes to helping young students, many schools lack the resources to help them. Unfortunately, there is not enough funding from the government to allow schools to hire mental health professionals. Haley is here to provide an illustration of how this has impacted her life.

(Haley speaks)
I was in my seventh grade art class when I encountered my first interaction with an antisemite. My teacher decided to do a class activity in which we all thought about the things that reminded us of winter. Each thing would be put onto the board in the center of the room. When one student stated that Christmas reminded her of winter, my teacher gladly put it on the board. When I stated that Hanukkah reminded me of winter, my teacher stared at me. She stared at me for quite a while before she asked, “Hanukkah?” I replied, “Yes.” She then asked me,“You’re Jewish?” I replied, “Yes.” She stared at me, again. After a long pause she replied,“Fine, I guess we will put that on the board.” I sat in my seat, unable to form any words in my mouth. I did not say anything. I did not fight back. I did not question her actions. I stayed silent. The girl who used to flaunt her religion without any fear was gone. I felt alone and helpless. I feared that if I spoke up, my situation would only get worse. After this interaction, I stayed far more cautious and aware of the antisemitism that surrounded me. It took me three years to realize just how badly antisemitism had impacted my mental health. Two weeks ago, I was sitting in my tenth grade English class. My teacher decided to number each student. “1..2..3..1..2..3.” As she called all the ones up, and then all the twos up, and then all the threes up, my mind began to wander. Instead of thinking like any other student and understanding that this was my teacher’s easy way of organizing students, I thought differently. My mind immediately went to thinking about my Jewish people being labeled as numbers in the concentration camps. That was the exact moment that I realized how badly antisemitism had affected my mental health. Sadly, to this day, there is nobody in my school who can help me with this.

As a Jew, I have been taught that it is my responsibility to ensure proper health care for all people. This bill would help me to ensure that all individuals receive the help they need, more specifically, in schools. If the government funded schools so that they could hire mental health professionals, students would feel more comfortable getting issues off their chests. Without this bill, students like me will continue to bottle issues up, which will almost always lead them to
suffer from anxiety and depression.

(Abby speaks)
We would like to ask Representative Lowey to support the Mental Health services for Students Act (H.R. 1109). We know that she plays a very important role in the House of Representatives, and if we gain her support it will bring more light on this important and unrecognized issue that millions of Americans are facing today. Thank you.


Delivered to Senator Schumer's aide:  Reproductive Rights

Thank you for meeting with us today despite your busy schedule. I am Rachel Laibowitz and this is Amalie Flam. We are both members of the congregation of Temple Israel of Northern Westchester. We are here today to talk about the EACH Woman Act. This act will help all women to determine their reproductive destiny.

Amendments passed like the Hyde Act are further dividing the wealthy from the poor in our country and making it close to impossible for low-income women to be able to afford an abortion. The EACH Woman Act will aid in keeping all women in our country to be in control over our bodies and give more choices to low-income women. The Gallup poll in May 2017 results show that 70 percent of American’s think that abortion should be legal under some or all circumstances. You would think that because 70 percent of Americans believe this, abortions, when needed, would be more readily available. But, in fact, in 89 percent of U.S. counties, there are no abortion providers. Women, if they are even able to afford an abortion, have nowhere to even get one. Although, as of right now we have the right to an abortion, that does not guarantee access when factors like income are involved. 

A huge part of our identity and what shapes our beliefs is being Jewish. The Judaism we have been raised in has been nothing but helping one another and the less fortunate, creating equality and equity, respect for ourselves, everyone else in the world and peace (Shalom in Hebrew). Our Jewish traditions instill in us the importance of Kavod Ha’briyot, respect for individual dignity. The Hyde Amendment, however, solidifies inequality in reproductive healthcare and violates this core value by making abortion only accessible to the select few that can afford it. We have been practicing giving tzedakah (donating to the less fortunate) since we were very young. The EACH Woman Act helps women with less means have access to a choice. Through this act, our values will help change and save the lives of many women in our country.

As young women, we are very aware of the issues that women all over the country face when they have an unwanted pregnancy. These women deserve the right to have control of their own bodies. It is that simple. If there is a pregnant person, who for whatever reason isn’t in the right mental, physical or financial state to raise a child, they should be able to terminate the pregnancy. As we’re growing up, we find it extremely important to have bodily autonomy. An unwanted pregnancy could happen to anyone, so anyone should have the choice to terminate the pregnancy. I can not  imagine what it would feel like to be forced to go through a pregnancy and give birth to a child that I am not ready to care for. I should not have to think about what I would do if I did not have access to an abortion. Especially for teenagers our age, we need close-by, easy access, free reproductive healthcare, for whoever needs, because it could easily happen to many people.

Lack of abortion rights can tremendously affect someone’s life trajectory. For example, it could lead to a person going through with the pregnancy, but giving up the child to the foster care system. Although there are many kids who are in the foster care system and thriving, we also know that there are many who are not. The children can get passed through the system and have no one to call mom or dad. We also know that giving up a child can take an emotional toll on a person. This means that if someone who wants an abortion, but can’t get one, because they can’t afford it, there will be a decrease of the quality in life for both the parent and the born child. This will all be because of the Hyde Amendment, which generally prevents anyone with federal health insurance from getting an abortion. This includes anyone in the military, who serves our country, from getting the healthcare that they need. Based on all of this information, I urge Senator Schumer to cosponsor the EACH Woman Act (S. 758). This bill would eliminate the Hyde Amendment, guaranteeing that every person who receives healthcare or insurance through a federal plan or program will have coverage for abortion. In light of so many state attacks on reproductive freedom, now is the time for the Senate to be bold when it comes to honoring our constitutional right to choose.


Sat, April 1 2023 10 Nisan 5783