March 30, 2023
The following column originally appeared in The Algemeiner:
By Aaron Bregman
The future is bright for young American Jews. Granted, my crystal ball isn’t totally accurate and I’m not into tarot cards. But I feel good about my prediction after spending a few days with a special group of high school students.
Some 130 of them came to Washington recently to be part of an American Jewish Committee (AJC) delegation for the Susan & Bart Lewis Family Leaders for Tomorrow Advocacy Day. The students, from all over the US, are part of our Leaders for Tomorrow program. As AJC’s Director of High School Affairs, one of the tenets we build into our curriculum is showing students that they don’t have to separate being a teenager from being Jewish. They can do both. And they should.
Judging by their collective passion, inspiration, creativity, and energy, I like their chances.
Our Leaders for Tomorrow program is built on the premise that today’s students are not just tomorrow’s leaders, but are already leading today. High school is a time when we need to help teens become strong Jewish leaders — because they need tools today as they face the realities of growing antisemitism, growing developments in Israel, and a need for moral courage.
Our program equips them to meet those challenges and trains them to stand up for themselves, become effective advocates for Israel, and speak out against antisemitism. We do this by hosting an annual advocacy event in Washington. Due to the pandemic, this was the first one since 2019. But it was worth the wait.
Students were given an exclusive look into America’s efforts to combat antisemitism domestically and internationally through meetings with high-level officials, such as antisemitism ambassador Deborah Lipstadt and Shelley Greenspan, the White House Jewish Liaison.
In addition, the students learned advocacy skills from leaders both within the Jewish community and beyond, including Congressional staffers across the political spectrum and young diplomats from the countries involved in the Abraham Accords.
The trip also allowed students to deepen their understanding of interreligious relationships and the importance of learning from diverse communities, including African American, Muslim, Catholic, and Latino groups. These robust relationships with diverse groups allow us to combat antisemitism and religious extremism, defend Israel’s place in the world, and safeguard freedom of worship for all. By engaging with these communities, the next generation of Jewish leaders can establish lasting relationships and foster a better understanding of our shared history.
The professionals who met our students were quite impressed, because they encountered a cohort of proud young Jews ready to demonstrate their place in the world with their vibrant Jewish identities on full display.
To date, more than 1,900 students have been through our Leaders for Tomorrow program. Applications for the 2023-24 program will be available in the coming weeks. Maybe your teen is ready to join them. They have a whole world ahead of them. And there’s no time like the present to start making that world a better place.
Aaron Bregman is Director of High School Affairs at the American Jewish Committee.