About 40 teens will gather for an early service this Saturday morning at The National Synagogue in Washington, D.C. The service will include all the components of an Orthodox service, including the Torah reading and the Mussaf prayer. But instead of following services with the usual Shabbat lunch, these teens will spend the rest of their Shabbat at the March For Our Lives in downtown D.C. rallying for gun control.
In the wake of the shooting at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last month, in which 17 high school students and teachers were killed, teens have been at the forefront of a movement organizing marches and walkouts across the country. With this Saturday’s March for Our Lives expected to bring over half a million marchers to Washington, and with sister marches organized in cities across the country, Orthodox teens are making preparations to participate while observing Shabbat.
Ezra Einhorn, 17, a member of The National Synagogue and a senior at Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, Md., has been working to organize meals and hosts for the teens coming from Boston, New York, New Jersey and Maryland. On their way to the march on Shabbat morning, the teens will stop at 19th Street Baptist Church for an interfaith vigil — and snacks and water, as their route will take them outside the eruv, preventing them from carrying anything with them.
The fact that this movement has been led by the teen survivors of the Parkland shooting struck a chord with many of the teens coming to march in D.C.
Noah Mamane, a senior at Brookline High School who is flying in from Boston for the march, feels that teens are the obvious leaders for this cause. “We are the students. We are the people going to school every day,” he said. “And I think that since we’re the ones who are experiencing it, I think that it’s important that we’re the ones who are being active about it.”
“One of the biggest issues for teenagers and minors is being underrepresented and not having our voices heard,” said Einhorn. “Obviously we’re not being taxed, we’re not owning property, we’re not doing those adult things. But at the same time, we’re going to be affected by which people can and can’t have guns.”
Though a number of Jewish groups are planning to participate in this Saturday’s march, the participation of Orthodox teens — coming from a community which has been moving increasingly rightward politically — is notable. In light of a recent controversy in which leaders of the Women’s March refused to denounce Rev. Louis Farrakhan, who has consistently made anti-Semitic remarks, participation in a liberal advocacy movement has become even more fraught for Orthodox activists.
For Rafi Finkelshteyn, a senior at the Frisch School in Paramus, N.J. who will also be participating in his school’s annual Israel advocacy trip this week, his activism on both issues is central to his identity.
“I just think it’s important to say that yes, you can be Zionist and be progressive,” said Finkelshteyn. “I very much identify with my Zionism and my progressivism, and I believe that the two are very much compatible and a big part of who I am.”
For Eliana Elikan, a 17-year old senior at Berman Hebrew Academy in Rockville, Md., being at the march as a Jewish teen makes a powerful statement. “I think it’s important to represent the Jewish community and show that the Jewish community does stand in solidarity with Parkland. Just because the march is happening on Shabbat doesn’t mean we can’t take part within halacha [Jewish law],” Elikan said.
“I think that if anything this is a good thing to be doing on Shabbat,” said Mamane. “You can break Shabbat when it’s a matter of life or death, and honestly, this is a matter of life or death. If we don’t do something about this, there will be more deaths.”
“I’m going to the march on Saturday because I think that gun control is one of the most important issues in the US right now and I don’t want to be the kind of person who doesn’t participate in the important movements,” said Rosie Bader, a senior at SAR High School in Riverdale. “I want to, in the future, be able to look back and know that I tried to do something because it’s just very clear to me that we need gun control and I want to add my voice to that movement.”