Jewish Youth Groups Now Behind Burgeoning Gun-Control Effort


The student-led effort to change the nation’s gun laws has now received the support of the Reform movement’s 8,000-strong North American Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), whose leaders said they were “inspired by our friends [in Florida] mobilizing their own community.”

“NFTY leaders from across North America are channeling our rage and gearing up to play a leadership role in the campaign for meaningful gun violence prevention measures,” said Zachary Herrmann, the group’s president, in the wake of last week’s school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that killed 17 students and staff members.

Officials of both the Orthodox Union’s youth movement — the National Council of Synagogue Youth, which has 25,000 members – and the Conservative movement’s youth group – United Synagogue Youth – said in statements that their members would also be participating in the effort.

In an online posting, NFTY’s Herrmann wrote: “We are angry, we are determined, and we are strong. We are committed to ensuring that this horrific crime will — finally, after so many horrific crimes like it — be the one to fuel an unprecedented campaign for positive change.”

He said the decision to join the effort was made at a leadership conference last weekend during which participants “pledged that we would help lead an effort to make our nation safer. We were moved by the words of Carly Schwamm — president of NFTY Southern Tropical Region, which includes Parkland — who so powerfully articulated NFTY’s moral imperative to act:

“‘We will not sit back and do nothing. We will not let this permanently break our community. But, most importantly, we will never forget. Our community cannot, should not, and will not be statistics.’”

The organization plans to concentrate its efforts on supporting national initiatives as well as local efforts where it has the resources and potential to influence lawmakers. A special task force of teenagers will be formed to lead the effort and Mark Pelavin, the chief program officer for the Union of Reform Judaism, will oversee a staff task force supporting the young adult leaders.

“We are proud that the entire URJ, beginning with the youth team and the Religious Action Center, are behind us in this crucial effort,” Herrmann wrote.

A special NFTY Fights for Gun Violence Prevention page has been created to post the latest news about this effort.

Meanwhile,  Rabbi Micah Greenland, international director of NCSY, said in a statement that his organization “believes in empowering teens to stand up and advocate for what they believe in. We are excited for this teen-led initiative, and look forward to participating in a coordinated and collaborative effort with the multiple youth movements and organizations involved.”

The statement from the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism pointed out that many of its 5,000 USY members were “either directly impacted (we have teens that attend the high school) or are friends of the local students.” It said USY “empowers teens to bring about the change they want to see in the world, so we are currently working with teen leadership and dedicated USYers from across North America to plan our response to this senseless violence, which includes advocating for change to gun control laws.”

It noted that the teen leaders of USY would be meeting “to discuss specific next steps, as well as opportunities to create partnerships in this endeavor across youth movements and other religious organizations. In the immediate aftermath, the USY staff has reached out to and followed up with all those directly affected by the shooting and are working to provide counseling where needed.”