Libby Fern has friends who happened to be in on the Las Vegas Strip when a concert was interrupted by bullets raining down on people. And she has friends who graduated from Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in February. Because this violence has become personal, she is one of the students who will be on a chartered bus to Washington, D.C., later this month for the March For Our Lives.
“There’s one degree of separation between me and lots of people at Douglas,” said Fern, a senior at Hopkins High School. “It’s in a neighborhood similar to where I live. It became scary and really personal really quickly. When I daydream in class it turned from summer and camp to ‘how do I get out of here.'”
The bus-load of local teens was made possible in part to the Minnesota Rabbinic Association collecting $11,000 – and counting – to fund at least one bus.
“I have long been on record as not being overly supportive of marches that conflict with Shabbat,” said Beth Jacob Congregation Rabbi Morris Allen, who helped push the MRA members to donate to help make this happen. “Both in Civil Rights and Vietnam War protests, there often had a Jewish presence. That touched me in a way that we can say we can live proudly and that carry tradition into the public square that brings out the best of who we are as a people.”
Beth Jacob is collecting and processing donations, but as it says on the donation website, they are collecting information for the entire community and all participants. The trip includes representatives from Adath Jeshurun, Bet Shalom, Beth El, Beth Jacob, Darchei Noam, Mount Zion, Shir Tikvah, Temple Israel, Temple of Aaron, regional NFTY and USY, and more, are currently getting together to organize.
Where the kids are staying is still up in the air, although Allen is confident that there will be a place to stay within walking distance of the March. He won’t ride in a car on Shabbat and there are some of the teens who will be attending who won’t either.
“Once I felt comfortable that I could say to people ‘Shabbas will be observed and I want your kid to take their values and offer it as a beacon to a world-at-large,’ it was an opportunity we would undertake,” Allen said.
Rabbi Michael Latz of Shir Tikvah said anything he is doing in this initiative is in service to the teens and their leadership.
“I’ve been at this 25 years, and the teens should be out in front of this,” he said. “They are calling BS as appropriate. They are challenging all assumptions. The blessing of youth is they think they’re invincible. No boundaries on what they think they can or can’t do.
Fern said it is inspiring seeing Jewish teens from different denominations coming together from around the country.
“We’re seeing how we, as Jewish youth, can be together. It’s about us as a community fighting for the right not be scared,” she said. “It’s a reversal where rabbis are doing what they can do to shape us into better people and young adults in and out of the sanctuary.
Said Latz: “The people most deeply impacted should lead, and our job to amplify their voices. In rabbinic school, we’re taught how to be Moses. It’s not often that we’re Aaron.”