March 16, 2023
More than 130 of American Jewish Committee’s (AJC) Leaders for Tomorrow (LFT) students – Jewish high school students from across the U.S. – gathered in Washington, D.C. this week to speak up for Israel and the Jewish people during the Susan and Bart Lewis Family Leaders for Tomorrow Advocacy Day.
“The Lewis Family Leaders for Tomorrow Advocacy Day in Washington D.C. is distinctive because it provides Jewish students with a platform to interact with leaders within and outside the Jewish community, expand their network beyond their hometowns, and leave with a sense of empowerment to initiate conversations about the issues that matter to them the most,” said Aaron Bregman, AJC’s director of high school affairs.
Across the three days of programming, students were broadly enthusiastic about the unique opportunities available to hear from experts on antisemitism, interfaith leaders, and on Capitol Hill. On the global level, students heard from high-ranking diplomats from Morocco, Israel, and Bahrain, who spoke about the unprecedented opportunities of the Abraham Accords and the impact it is having, especially for the youth of each of the countries.
For many students, they viewed it as a chance to not only deepen their knowledge by hearing first-hand from experts, but also to network with their peers.
“From LFT, I gained access to people from whom I can get help to confront antisemitism and resources for stopping it in my school,” said Abigail from AJC Atlanta cohort. “LFT has helped me make new friends who are Jewish. I don’t go to school with a lot of Jews. We’ve connected over fighting antisemitism but also on the positive aspects of being Jewish.”
She added, “because of LFT, I’m a prouder Jew facing things with other Jews. I [now] have a network of Jewish peers.”
“AJC’s High School Affairs is growing this unique program because we understand the importance of building strong Jewish advocates who can lead today and beyond in their communities on issues like combating antisemitism and standing up for Israel,” said Bregman.
The Lewis Family LFT Advocacy Day in D.C. is a culmination of AJC’s seven-month-long annual LFT program, which helps high school students develop a strong Jewish identity, trains them to be effective advocates for Israel, and provides them with the tools and resources they need to lead the fight against antisemitism. It is designed to equip students with both content and skills-based knowledge, empowering them to make a positive impact in the world and become Jewish leaders.
At the start of the program, AJC CEO Ted Deutch spoke with the students about the importance of advocating for the Jewish people and Israel.
“I couldn’t be more proud of this program that is training students to be strong, knowledgeable, and resilient leaders. I had the most exciting and inspirational time with them, and I look forward to all they are going to do both here in Washington, but especially as leaders in their generation.”
The program has trained nearly two-thousand students to date, and this year is being held in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, Kansas City, Los Angeles, Long Island, Miami, New England (Boston), Washington, D.C., Westchester/Fairfield, and New York through the Sophie and Bernard Gould Leaders for Tomorrow Program in New York City. New this year is also a nationwide virtual cohort.
Test your Knowledge: How are American Jews Experiencing Antisemitism?
Advocacy on Capitol Hill
One of the core parts of the immersive three-day program is the visit to Capitol Hill, where the students heard from congressional staffers and AJC experts on how to get involved with their community, learn best practices in advocacy, and become politically active.
Reflecting on her visit to Capitol Hill, Navah, from AJC’s Washington D.C. cohort, said that from The Lewis Family LFT Advocacy Day, "I gained knowledge about bipartisan conversations and being open to different viewpoints.”
Another facet of AJC’s LFT program that sets it apart from other Jewish high school initiatives is that it includes student leaders from a wide range of backgrounds and experiences.
Daniel from AJC’s Sophie and Bernard Gould Leaders for Tomorrow Program in New York City, said that if he had not attended The Lewis Family LFT Advocacy Day, "I wouldn’t have gained new perspectives and understanding of different Jews - different levels of observances, backgrounds, and political views.”
He added that “What makes LFT special is that often teen programs aren’t really tailored to teens and I feel that AJC’s LFT is designed for us in high school. The staff, many of whom are younger, help make sessions relatable. I feel AJC doesn’t dumb down content. Through LFT, I’m getting the best information I can irrespective of my age.”
Combating antisemitism on a national and international level
With antisemitism on the rise, young American Jews are not immune, especially online. According to AJC’s State of Antisemitism in America Report 2022, 84 percent of Jewish adults under the age of 30 have experienced antisemitism online or on social media in the past year.
To better understand how America is tackling this, AJC brought in senior U.S. government officials to discuss the Biden administration’s plans to combat antisemitism both domestically and abroad.
White House Jewish Liaison Shelley Greenspan spoke to the students about the Biden administration’s development of a national action plan to combat antisemitism, a key part of AJC’s Call to Action Against Antisemitism, while Ambassador Deborah Lipstadt, U.S. special envoy to monitor and combat antisemitism, discussed international efforts as well as collaboration with global antisemitism envoys on the issue. Both experts also gave students advice and support on how to be effective advocates and what they can do as teens to confront the world’s oldest hatred.
Learning how to communicate perspectives
In addition to the program's focus on education and advocacy, it also highlighted AJC’s unparalleled diplomatic, interfaith, and interethnic work. Students heard from experts on Black-Jewish relations and then had a private tour of the National Museum of African American History and Culture. They similarly heard from AJC experts and respective community leaders in private sessions and then had the option to tour the Cathedral of St. Matthew the Apostle, the Nation’s Mosque, and the Mexican Consulate.
Rafael, a high school student from AJC’s Washington, D.C. cohort, said that learning about these faith and ethnic communities and engaging with them was one of the most important takeaways of the program.
“Without LFT, I wouldn’t know how to communicate perspectives, how to be a bridge to other communities, and be comfortable with public speaking,” he said. “My main takeaway from LFT is that it’s much more complicated -- the issues, layers…Every person has the power to make changes which can change our community and world.”