Challenging Teens To ‘Slam’ Poverty
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Challenging Teens To ‘Slam’ Poverty

Hannah Dreyfus is a staff writer at the New York Jewish Week. She covers abuses of power in non-profit and religious settings. She heads up the Investigative Journalism Fund, an initiative to fill a gap in investigative and enterprise reporting. Reach her at hannah@jewishweek.org

Poetry slam, sure. But poverty slam?

Borrowing a phrase from the spoken-word contests where verse-makers recite original poems before a panel of judges, UJA-Federation of New York is trying to spark teens’ interest in combating rising levels of poverty here.

On Nov. 16, the charity hosted PovertySLAM, its first-ever event for Jewish teens focused on poverty; it attracted more than 100 teens for an interactive, hands-on summit and grant competition. The event launched a one-month grant competition for teen participants who will develop and present innovative ideas on how to slam, or beat, poverty in the New York Jewish community.

The program arrives at a time when growing numbers of New York Jews than ever are facing poverty or near-poverty. According to UJA-Federation’s 2011 special report on poverty, one in five New York-area Jewish households is now poor. Forty-five of those living in poor or near-poor Jewish households are children. In 2011, more than 560,000 people lived in poor or near-poor Jewish households, and with the growth of the ultra-Orthodox community, these numbers are poised to increase.

PovertySLAM winners will be announced at the end of January, and UJA-Federation will award a combined $25,000 in prizes to help those entering transform their ideas into action during the spring of 2015. First place will receive $5,000, three runner-ups will each be presented with $3,000 and all substantial submissions will receive funding.

The summit featured presentations from David Eisner, a national leader in volunteering and service and president and CEO of Repair the World, and Dave DeLuca, head of campaigns at DoSomething.org, the largest organization for youth and social change in the country. The event also included poetry slams from UJA-Federation’s Jina Davidovich, Eric Himmelfarb from City Harvest, RubyK from AVODAH, as well as Yael Marans, an 11th grader at SAR High School.

Marans’ poem captured the gulf between her own relatively privileged life and the life of people living in poverty. She writes:

“What do I know about poverty?/I know that poverty is what I’m not./ That I write this on my silver platter macintosh, too posh to use a pen.”

And later in the poem, titled “Crushed Crackers,” she imagines the power of the pen to bring about change, and references the Nuyorican Poet’s Café on the Lower East Side, one of the early poetry slam venues:

“We are here to imagine new ways to fight,So I challenge you to imagine a cafe about a mile South where New York/ was privileged enough to host its first poetry slam in 1973/there words became oxygen as they pumped through people’s lips, onto an/ audience,/ transforming a population and a generation/Maybe from different stories of Manhattan than this one,but maybe I can/ do the same./ Maybe I can imagine I can do the same and my name and my words can/ legislate, demonstrate to the suffering of New York City, “we still hear you.”

editor@jewishweek.org

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