By Lindsay Morgenstein
I was in high school the first time a friend posed the question that would come to define much of my future trajectory. Asking “Are you a Republican or Democrat?” would soon open my eyes to how politics shapes the world around us. While I was determined to find an answer to my friend’s question, I realized how little I knew about our state and national political systems.
At age 14, I began my own personal political revelation. In the four years following, I became actively engaged in politics through marches, meetings, conferences, and direct action. I have made weekly calls to my senators urging them to support legislation on issues ranging from climate change to cabinet confirmations, and I’ve attended every march I possibly could.
When I turned 18, casting my vote became the most clear and effective tool for me to engage politically. While I was grateful to exercise the right to make my voice heard at the ballot box, I couldn’t stop thinking about those who – like myself just a few years prior – were not yet old enough to vote. Thinking about my own activism prior to voting, a number of key questions emerged.
I asked myself, “How could my actions have been more effective?” To obtain to this answer, I began to wonder what first interested me in politics; why exactly did I initially become passionate about activism and changemaking? I realized it was neither a political party nor a candidate that captivated me; activism exhilarated me because of the connection to Judaism. These reflections revealed my desire to provide young teens with opportunities to passionately engage in advocacy and activism from a Jewish perspective. Judaism is full of compassion and service; learning to channel this kindness into a hunger for a brighter world captivates me.
I am filled with excitement and curiosity to accept an internship at the Jewish Center for Justice. During my eight weeks at JCJ this summer, I hope to ask and answer the tough questions around teen political engagement, and create a comprehensive and effective plan to inspire under-18 youth to become politically engaged for years to come. This will be even more important leading up to the 2020 election, as Jewish youth are a vital piece in creating a more perfect union. Through a thorough and intense study of the needs of Jewish teens, JCJ can better engage them in political action and activism, which will benefit our communities and nation immensely.
Having a values-oriented approach to political action yields open and honest conversations about how our nation ought to be, and youth are a key part of that conversation. While they may not yet be able to vote, Jewish teens are extremely capable and deserving of a seat at the table. Their refreshing interpretation of sacred Jewish ideals is key to nationwide progress. If harnessed properly, their passion and power can change minds, policies, and history. I believe JCJ’s unique devotion to Jewish values and culture will enable young people to have an impact in the political sphere.
Of the many reasons I chose to attend Duke University, political activism in my youth was one deciding factor. As a first-year student, I’ve become involved with the Hart Leadership Program’s Service Opportunities in Leadership (SOL) cohort, which encourages students to utilize community-based research to provide our chosen community partner organization with tangible resources from our summer work. During my time with JCJ, I plan to use community-based research – the process of establishing personal connections to observe and understand an organization’s constituency – to forge local and nationwide partnerships with politically active and justice-minded teenagers.
Through a deeper understanding of the passions and prerogatives of American Jewish youth, I will be able to answer many questions I have had about youth political engagement. At the conclusion of my internship, I intend to present a plan that will outline how we can work to better include, support, and empower youth voices in politics.
Lindsay Morgenstein is a public policy and history major at Duke University and member of the JCJ Campus Activism Fellowship cohort.