Admiral Farragut Academy Upper School students, Jaeden Geffon ‘22 and Brandon Ortiz ‘21, traveled to Washington, D.C. to attend the L’Taken Social Justice Seminar, a four-day Jewish public policy conference hosted by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC). Nearly 2,000 high school students participate and this is Jaeden’s second year participating in the program and Brandon’s first year. While there, they visited Capitol Hill to advocate, as a unified voice, on issues of importance to our society today.
The program is designed to both expose participants to a variety of public policy issues and explore the Jewish values that inform the Reform Movement’s advocacy around these topics. On Friday and Saturday, participants had the opportunity to attend interactive programs on Israel, climate change, racial justice, campaign finance reform, economic justice, reproductive rights, LGBTQ civil rights, church/state separation, international relations, and more. On Sunday, participants had the opportunity to focus on a single, specific issue they were particularly passionate about. The seminar culminated with students presenting a speech to their members of congress on the topic of their choice. L’Taken also takes advantage of the vast opportunities available in our nation’s capital by visiting the National Holocaust Memorial Museum, the Smithsonian, the National Mall, and celebrating Havdallah at the Jefferson Memorial.
“It is amazing to watch these teens go from being powerless to having POWER,” said Miranda Holland, Jaeden’s mom, who accompanied the group to Washington, D.C.
Jaeden and Brandon, along with their partner, researched and wrote a speech on their chosen issue of gun violence prevention, and also researched where each person they lobbied stood on the bills so they could either request them to sponsor it or thank them for their support. They shared their views on the issue with their state representatives and senators, including Senator Marco Rubio, Senator Rick Scott, U.S. Representative Charlie Crist, and Congressman Gus Bilirakis.
“Jewish Law teaches us that we are obligated to make the communities that are around us safe,” they said in their speech. “… and as Jews we cannot stand by and watch guns destroy families and peoples’ worlds forever, day in and day out.”
Meeting with Congress is a unique experience that very few Americans take advantage of and one that can have a significant impact on the course of legislation. Jaeden, in particular, was inspired by the experience and learned that you’re never too young to make an impact.
“Even though we are not old enough to vote in the upcoming election,” Jaeden said, “We can still do our part and rally our peers who can vote to get out there and make a difference. Also, we can voice our opinions and lobby our state politicians before we are 18. So there is always something we can do to make a better change in society.”