“Advocacy Day was a highlight of my year. I’ve never been happier to sit silently in a room and let brilliant, thoughtful teens speak on my behalf.”
We are so excited to welcome our current rabbinical intern, Juliana Karol as our newest rabbi, starting this summer— click here to see announcement. Earlier this week, Juli accompanied our NFTY teens to the Jewish Reform Voice Advocacy Day. Rabbi-t0-be Karol shared news of the days and why it is so important.
Advocating for our Future, by Juliana Karol, Rabbinical Intern
A well-known privilege of membership in the Reform Movement is the array of opportunities to engage in social justice work. Driven by the sacred charge to mend our broken world, known by many as “tikun olam,” we Reform Jews love praying with our feet. We march, we write, we fundraise – we act!
On Monday, March 12 I joined dozens of New York’s Reform Jewish teens and adults in Albany for Reform Jewish Voice – NFTY Advocacy Day. We spent the morning learning from our state’s youngest-ever Assemblywoman, Nily Rozic, who was born in Israel and now represents District 25 in Queens. She spoke about her calling to politics in light of her responsibility to change the world and leave it better than she found it. She shared how her Jewish upbringing instilled the crucial obligation to fight for the most vulnerable among us.
I was moved by Assemblywoman Rozic’s remarks and by the follow-up questions of our teens who asked about the personal and professional challenges of a political life, the nature of her “calling,” and what it means to be an Israeli-born legislator (hint: there is an Israeli flag in the legislative chamber on the Assemblywoman’s desk). The morning was an opportunity for our community to celebrate our collective, progressive religious voice in our state capital. In the afternoon the real magic happened.
As a chaperone for the NFTY teens, I accompanied a group of four students, including CRS’ 12th grader Isabel Hochman, to lobby on the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA), which amends New York State law adding gender identity and expression, actual or perceived, as protected classes in the state’s human rights and hate crimes laws. GENDA confers upon transgender and gender expansive people the same protections as other protected classes (i.e. sex, age, disability, race, etc.). Including gender identity and expression in human rights and hate crime laws would prohibit discrimination on the basis of gender in employment, housing, and public accommodations, and increase the penalties for hate-crimes.
We had three visits to Democratic Assembly members who support the legislation, including the office of Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, the bill’s chief sponsor. The students thanked their Assemblymen for their support and asked them to do better by persuading their colleagues in the Senate to sign on.
The students also lobbied Republican Senator Carl Marcellino, who opposes the bill. In every visit, they were confident and gracious, sharing personal stories and connecting their passion for GENDA legislation to Jewish values. They shared the pain of living in a world that does not appreciate the spark of the Divine in every individual, and their hopes for a society that embraces people on their own terms, rather than according to constructs that silence or ignore them. I was moved by their eloquence and their confidence, by their aspirations, and by the burdens they carry as they emerge into a world that could use a CRS tutorial in the values of inclusion and love for our neighbor.
Advocacy Day was a highlight of my year. I’ve never been happier to sit silently in a room and let brilliant, thoughtful teens speak on my behalf. Despite the challenging political dynamics that might prevent GENDA legislation from becoming law, our teens were not dissuaded. What a blessing to look toward our Jewish future and to say with confidence, “We are in great hands!”
 The GENDA bill has passed in the New York State Assembly ten times, but has yet to pass the State Senate.