Jewish teenagers from the major International Jewish Youth Movements are taking on bullying and standing up for their lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer peers. In addition to publicly committing to end bullying and creating an inclusive environment in their own movements, the Coalition of Jewish Teen Leaders – the presidents of the International Jewish Youth Movements – has set a goal of getting 18,000 Jews to sign Keshet’s “Jewish Community Pledge to Save Lives”. This goal has been echoed by the Executive leadership of the movements and their staff.
“It is really exciting to see Jewish teen leadership take a strong stand against homophobia and to promote a vision of the Jewish community that fully embraces all forms of diversity. When Keshet began the Jewish Community Pledge campaign, we hoped that it would lead to exactly this type of action. As important as it is for Jewish adults to take a stand against bullying and harassment, the most important voice for Jewish youth to hear is that of other youth. I know that there are GLBTQ teens in each of these youth groups as well as unaffiliated youth who will see this letter and feel affirmed by their peers,” said Andrea Jacobs, Director of Education, Keshet.
Connected by their shared desire and passion for tikkun olam, the responsibility to repair the world, the CJTL has called on their membership to create a more inclusive and open Jewish community for today and tomorrow.
“BBYO, NFTY, and USY may be different in many ways, but our mission for the Jewish people is the same. We share a desire to impact lives, and bring Jewish teens together. The CJTL’s combined effort to stand for respect and inclusion is a significant one. Rarely do we join forces for a common cause, but in this case, Jewish teens have done just that. We are showing that working together, we are stronger than apart,” said Jeremy Sherman, BBYO’s International Co-President.
The CJTL asks all Jewish teens, as well as all those who work with Jewish teens and the parents and families of Jewish teens, to take a stand against intolerance. As Judaism tells them, they are created b’tzelem Elohim, in the image of God, and therefore, it is their role and responsibility as individuals, and also as a community, to always respect one another.
The initiative began this fall when a horrific spate of teen suicide due to homophobic bullying gained national attention. While each youth organization initially responded independently, it was a natural issue for collaboration for the CJTL.
“In taking a strong stand against homophobic bullying and intolerance, these teens send an extraordinarily powerful message that they uphold LGBTQ inclusion and equality as fundamental tenets of our community,” says Lynn Schusterman, chair of the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation. “These teens believe deeply in building a more welcoming community – one that treats their LGBTQ peers with dignity and respect, celebrates diversity and promotes inclusiveness in Jewish life. Together, by taking the Jewish community pledge not to stand idly by, they represent a united Jewish contingent on behalf of this vision.”
In addition to the collective efforts of the CJTL, the movements are doing major work within their organization to support LGBTQ teens and bring awareness to this issue.
- BBYO teens have released a new resource on combating bullying in partnership with the PANIM Institute of BBYO and have created an international effort, Stand Up For Each Other: The Campaign for Respect and Inclusion.
- NFTY has compiled an initiative called Living NFTY: Bullying Teasing and Harassment including programmatic and Jewish resources relating to bullying and Jewish responses to bullies.
- USY has released “Love Thy Neighbor, Lore Yourself,” a resource on building healthy relationships, which includes resources on the topic.
The CJTL had previously been convened to support disaster relief in Haiti and also Iran’s Nuclear Disarmament, but never before had an issue been so close and personally tied to their experience as teens.