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My Life as an Israeli Jew

By JumpSpark

Judaism is the main part of my identity. I think the reasons for that are: that in my close community everyone celebrates the holidays whatever their beliefs, my family does kiddush every week before Friday dinner. Also, my grandfather was a holocaust survivor and his story impacted the way I see Judaism and my need to be part of Jewish people.

For me, being an Israeli means contributing to the community, speaking Hebrew, and celebrating our civilian holidays like Independence Day.

Judaism and Israeli history are really woven together in my school work. In school every morning we stand to Hatikvah. Through school we  travel across Israel and learn stories from history or the Torah. Also in history class, I am learning about the Holocaust and that has made such an impact on my Jewish identity. A couple of years ago my school took my class to Mount Herzl Cemetery. Mount Herzl Cemetery is the site of Israel’s national cemetery and other memorial and educational facilities. There we learned about the people that lost their lives for Israel. It was very emotional and gave me a new perspective on what it means to be an Israeli. 

Outside of school I volunteer for Krembo Wings (, a youth movement for children with and without disabilities. Youth movements are the way that a lot of teenagers contribute to the community here in Israel. 

Although being Jewish is the main part of my Jewish identity, I also spend time reading, meeting friends, drawing, or doing homework.

Make Your Own Path On A Gap Year

By JumpSpark

You’re on a path. If you’re like most, that path includes going to school, building your resume, working to get good grades, getting into a good college, picking a major, and hopefully landing a rewarding and lucrative job. It’s a proven and certainly expected path, but… it’s not always the right one for everyone.

Nowadays, many students choose to take time “off” before heading to college. A gap year after high school enables you to focus on your education outside the classroom, experience a different culture, learn a new language, and become a global citizen. You will meet a network of like-minded people who will become lifelong friends. And you will develop skills in areas of interest to you and maybe discover interests you didn’t even know you had.

Studies show that students who take a gap year are more successful in college. In fact, admissions directors report that they prefer students who have taken or plan to take a gap year, as these students tend to be more mature and focused, better leaders, and adept at managing their time and money, travel and roommates before they ever step foot on campus. And after college, your gap experience will continue to be an advantage as employers will appreciate the courage, service-mindedness, global awareness, and teamwork that you acquired through your extended overseas experience.

For Jewish students, one of the most exciting options is a year in Israel. In Israel, you can explore your heritage and connect with locals while you volunteer, intern, study, travel, and deepen your Jewish identity. You will live in the “Start Up Nation,” learning about the early pioneers and about advancements that continue to improve the world. And you will inevitably forge your own path that will be more meaningful and uniquely enriching.

Jewish National Fund’s Gap Year, Frontier Israel, is one such program. With the benefit of JNF’s vast resources, Frontier Israel participants spend extended time living, volunteering, and learning in the north, the center, and the south of Israel. Each Frontier has a different feel, different culture, and different experiences, and each is amazing in its own way! Live like an Israeli, explore the country, help others, and make your own path on Frontier Israel. For more information, please contact me at [email protected]. Limited spots are still available for the 2021-2022 Full year and Fall semester programs.

My Israel Gap Year Experience

By JumpSpark

I’m forever grateful for the experience of having participated in an Israel gap year and the perspective that year gave me.  While on Year Course I learned so much about myself, my Jewish identity and my place in the world.  I learned that I am capable – I had to navigate an unfamiliar society, including new currency, language and expectations.  Did I misstep? Yes! So many times, but I learned, grew and gained confidence in myself.  I came to understand that Israel, while unfamiliar, was also a home for me.  The friendships formed through those experiences endure through today. I came to understand what it meant to be a part of something you believe in and I felt like my contributions were important.  I didn’t know it then, but these lessons would shape the person I was to become. 

I remember people would ask why I wanted to “take a year off” before college.  I never felt like it was a year off.  I felt like it was a year to grow and experience life! I learned so much by immersing myself in Israel for those months.  I lived with a moshav family in the Golan Heights and reflected on what it means to be a community.  I worked in the community gan (preschool) in the Arad absorption center and learned to welcome someone with a genuine smile because words were not available.  I became a braver more confident version of myself.  I rode buses back and forth across Israel- by the time I arrived in Athens the UGA buses were a cinch.  I managed my expenses in sheckels, so keeping track of dollars was manageable. I made choices how to celebrate and observe Jewish traditions with my community and found my own joy in these experiences.  The lessons from my gap year experience inspired me, taught me and prepared me for a life of adventure and service founded in Jewish values.  I am truly grateful for those experiences.  

Tracey Grant/JumpSpark Think Tank member   

Shabbat Recipes from Atlanta & Israel

By JumpSpark

Do you need Shabbat dinner inspiration? For their final project our Amplifying Israel teen fellows for February, Lulu Rosenberg and Shaked Nitka, created a joint cookbook of Shabbat dinner recipes:

“We were able to show how even thousands of miles away, we all share the connection of our Judaism and especially through our Shabbat dinners and meals! We hope you enjoy seeing our recipes and that you might even try them out!” Shaked & Lulu

Shaked’s Recipes from Israel!

Oven-baked rice with chestnuts and cashews


★ 2 cups of rice

★ 2 packs of chestnuts cut into cubes

★ Cashew

★ Chopped medium onion

★ 2 of tablespoons of soy sauce

★ 2 of tablespoons of date honey

★ 1/4 cup of oil

★ 4 cups of water


  1. Preheat the oven to 200 degrees
  2. Put the cashew and chestnut onion rice in a baking pan and mix
  3. Add the soy sauce and date honey and mix
  4. Add the oil and mix.
  5. Add the hot water and mix
  6. Put in the oven for 1 hour
  7. After baking, use a fork and gently open the rice
  8. And the rice is ready😋

Pita with za’atar


★ 1 kg flour

★ 700 m”l of cold water

★ 1 teaspoon of dried yeast

★ 15 grams of salt

★ A little flour to flour the surface

★ Olive oil to grease the bowl

★ Za’atar and olive oil mixed together


  1. Put water, salt, and yeast in the mixer bowl and stir. Turn on the mixer and add the flour gradually
  2. Grease a bowl with a little olive oil and transfer the dough to it. Cover and soak overnight in the fridge.
  3. Remove the bowl from the fridge and bring it to room temperature
  4. Divide the dough into eight equal balls and place in a mold And let the dough apple for 2 hours.
  5. Prepare a work surface and sprinkle flour generously on it.
  6. Flatten the dough ball with your hands
  7. Spread as a tablespoon of the za’atar and oil mixture on each pita
  8. Bake in the tabun at a temperature of about 500 degrees for 2 minutes
  9. Bon appetit😋



★ 1 kg white flour

★ Fifty grams of fresh yeast

★ 1/2 cup white sugar

★ 1/2 teaspoon of salt

★ 800 m”l water

★ oil for frying


  1. In a large bowl mix together flour and yeast
  2. Add sugar and salt and mix
  3. Add half the amount of water and put the dough for a minute
  4. Gradually add the remaining water and continue kneading for another minute
  5. Cover the bowl and wait until the dough is twice as large
  6. Mix the dough with your hands to remove the air Cover and wait again
  7. Make a little ball out of the dough and make a hole in the middle of it
  8. Fry the ball in the oil until it gets a golden color and dip in sugar
  9. Continue throughout the rest of the dough
  10. Bon appetit!

Lulu’s Recipes from Atlanta!

Shabbat Chicken

Pound chicken flat and dip it in Jason’s seasoned bread crumbs until both sides are covered and then saute in olive oil until brown, flip, and cook until brown again (chicken will not be fully cooked at this point). Put the chicken into a baking dish, (we use a 9×13). Pour chicken soup stock to cover chicken (typically 1-2 cups is enough to cover- we use the parve Better than Bouillon Chicken Flavor). Then, add 2 cups of mushrooms on top (drained), cover and cook at 350 for at least 40 minutes. The longer you cook it, the more tender the chicken becomes!

This is a Shabbat staple in my house. This chicken always reminds me of warm meals in my house with my family and friends!

Lemon Garlic Chicken and Pasta

4 chicken breasts

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 lemons- 1 thinly sliced and 1 juiced

3-4 cloves of garlic minced

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Coat a large baking dish or skillet with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Arrange lemon slices at the bottom of the dish or skillet. In a large bowl, combine the remaining oil, lemon juice, garlic, salt, and pepper and toss to coat. Place the chicken in the same bowl with the olive oil mixture and coat thoroughly and then place in the dish or skillet. Pour any remaining olive oil mixture over the chicken. You can also add a lemon slice on top each piece if you like. Roast covered for skinless or uncovered with skin for 50 minutes.

While chicken is cooking, cook a packet of whole wheat spaghetti per the instructions on the box. Save 1 cup of the pasta water before draining. Add the water back to drained pasta, drizzle olive oil on it and also add a few pinches of pasta spices- (we like dried oregano, dried basil, dried thyme and garlic).

Put pasta on a plate and top with chicken and a lemon spice!


½ cup + 2 teaspoons granulated sugar

1 package of active dry yeast

½ cup of warm water

¼ cup of margarine

1 teaspoon of salt

2 eggs, beaten

4 cups of all purpose flour

In a large bowl, stir 2 teaspoons of sugar with ¼ cup of warm water until dissolved. Sprinkle in yeast; let stand until frothy (about 10 minutes). While you are waiting, heat remaining water in a small saucepan, add the rest of the sugar, margarine and salt until the margarine is melted. Let cool until lukewarm and stir into yeast mixture. Add the beaten eggs. Then stir in 3 and ¼ cups of the flour, about 1 cup at a time. Knead until smooth on a lightly floured surface- about 10 minutes or so. Add extra flour if the dough is too sticky. Transfer to a large bowl greased with oil and turn dough to grease all over. Cover with plastic wrap; let rinse in a warm draft-free place until doubled in bulk- about 1- 1 and ½ hours.

Roll out the dough, cover lightly with oil, sprinkle cinnamon-sugar or sweetened cocoa. Cut into triangles and roll from large end into peak of triangle. You can brush with beaten egg mixed with water. Let rise again for 45 minutes. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10-15 minutes until the rugelach are medium brown.

This is my great grandmother and Bubbie’s recipe- it is my favorite!

Root One Israel Teen Travel Takes Off

By JumpSpark

Root One, the major new $20 million national initiative announced by The Marcus Foundation in Atlanta to pump new life into teen trips to Israel, is off to a strong start.

Despite all the uncertainties connected with international travel during the pandemic, the program, announced in September, is running at full capacity and is being built out for future growth.

As the program approaches the midpoint of its first year almost all of the 5,000 individual grants for teen travel in 2021 have been snapped up.

They each provide a $3,000 voucher to defray the cost of the trip for 10th, 11th and 12th graders, leaving families to come up with $1,500 additional that’s needed for the multi- week program.

According to The Marcus Foundation there’s been a 58 percent increase in participation this year, over the number of teen travelers in 2019. But the numbers only tell part of the story. For Rabbi Yoni Kaiser-Blueth, who developed Root One at The Marcus Foundation, there a qualitative goal as well.Rabbi Yoni Kaiser-Blueth, who developed the Root grant, has been a Hillel leader at George Washington University.

“We really want to build out a pipeline of teens that is connected to the next stage of Jewish life. The hope is that by getting kids to experience Israel at a deeper level, that when they get to college, they’ll have the ability to advocate for and to be part of the pro-Israel community on college campuses.”

To build participation, the program partnered last fall with five of the major organizations that are involved with programming for Jewish adolescents: United Synagogue Youth, Ramah Israel, Union of Reform Judaism/NFTY, Orthodox NCSY and B’nai B’rith Youth Organization, which represent a broad cross section of Jewish life. That has since been expanded to over 20 organizations nationally. They have all been brought together to help prepare young people for a rich experience in Israel, according to Rabbi Kaiser-Blueth.

“We want to create a marketplace of content providers so that each organization can select a menu of modules or topics that they want for their teams. We want them all to be engaged with their participants in the months leading up to their trip.”

Among those who are coming up with new educational initiatives is Atlanta’s JumpSpark Atlanta organization, which is itself a new way to more fully engage teens in Jewish communal life. In January the group hosted “Teaching Israel in 2021” to help give 84 Jewish educators in Atlanta who participated the confidence and tools to move forward.

Kelly Cohen, JumpSpark’s executive director, said, “A lot of educators get very nervous around teaching Israel, talking about Israel. And we really want to help give them the skills and the resources to feel confident in teaching about Israel, talking about Israel and promoting teen Israel travel.”

JumpSpark is about to launch a new Root One teen program. It’s called the Amplifying Israel Team Fellowship in which four teams of young people who are involved in the Israel trips are partnering with teens in a sister city in Israel, It’s a way JumpSpark’s Cohen hopes to boost the number of young people going to Israel next year by 90 percent. She sees Root One as not just to build partnerships in Israel but to help create a more dynamic future.

“These Israel programs are really building a whole army of folks on the ground who will be speaking from their own experience. Having gone on these Israel trips, they will help to recruit others to go on Israel trips. Peer-to-peer engagement has been a very successful model for us in moving the needle of engagement among teens here.”

According to the executive director of the national Root One program, Simon Amiel, who spent 13 years developing campus programs for Hillel, Root One is about a wide range of options for teens.

Marcus Foundation’s Renay Blumenthal has a long history in Atlanta philanthropy.

“There’s tremendous opportunity for us to further deepen their growth in Jewish life, and so we look at that as the arc of the Israel experience. So that’s where our investment primary lies, in the entire arc of the Israel experience.”

For The Marcus Foundation, the grant for the first year is just a down-payment on helping to build a long-term commitment by a large community of funders and nonprofits to take the program to its next level.

As foundation vice president Renay Blumenthal sees it, Root One has the potential to loom large in the future of Jewish life.

“For Bernie Marcus, who established The Marcus Foundation, philanthropy is not just about writing checks for things. He wants to transform things. He wants to create change. And I think that’s what he feels like he’s doing. The ultimate goal of this program is to change the trajectory of Jewish connection, Jewish identity and connection to Israel for our youth, and have kids be prepared before they step foot on college campuses.”

This article was originally published in the Atlanta Jewish Times. Read it here.

Judaism In My Daily Life

By JumpSpark

Judaism is a big part of my life and it is in my daily life almost everywhere, sometimes even without me noticing it. It could be reflected in the David shield necklace that I got for my Bat Mitzvah which I wear all the time or in the special feeling of a holiday whenever Friday comes. I think the fact that I’m Israeli has a strong connection to my Judaism because in Israel there are many holy places for Judaism that are relatively close to me and that allows me to connect with Judaism and the history of the Jewish people. Also, Israel is based on Judaism and its laws, and the people surrounding me are following those just like me. For example, on Yom Kippur, everything is closed and when I go out on the streets there are lots of people outside riding a bike or meeting each other to spend this time together which allows me to experience the holiday in a more powerful and special way.

I’m not in a religious Jewish school, but Judaism is still present, I learn The Bible and on school trips we go to places that are important to the history of the Jewish people. After school, I usually learn more and do my homework, with my friends or riding my roller skates to a field close to my house where I will read a book or knit. On Friday, which is my favorite day of the week, I help my parents cook for Shabbat dinner, and on that day, my brother also comes back from the Israeli army, and we all sit down and have Shabbat dinner together. Being Jewish and Israeli is a big and important part of my identity that matters and interests me greatly and I love opportunities like this one (Amplifying Israel teen fellow) that connect me to Judaism.

Shaked is an Amplifying Israel teen fellow.

My Connection to Judaism in Everyday Life

By JumpSpark

Whether I am lighting the Shabbat candles, eating chicken soup with matzah balls, participating in a global Jewish youth group like BBYO, or attending a Strong Jewish Women’s Fellowship meeting, there is no doubt that I am connected to my Judaism . Being Jewish is a huge part of my identity and it plays a major role in my daily life. When I wake up in the morning, it’s not like the first thing I think of is being Jewish. But when I come downstairs and see a plate of hamentashens from my neighbor on the counter, I don’t question it. When I get a bowl for my cereal before I go to school, I make sure to get a dairy one and not a meat one. Leaving my house for school, I pass the mezuzah on the door and walk to my car. I don’t even notice the sticker on my windshield for the Jewish Community Center anymore; it is the same one that practically every other Jew in Atlanta also has. 

I used to go to a Jewish day school where all my friends and most of my teachers were Jewish. Now, I attend public school. My closest friends are still Jewish but I am no longer in a bubble where Judaism defines my every day. Everyone at school knows I am Jewish, but it doesn’t seem to phase anyone like I expected it to. I’m not even sure how I expected people to act, but for some reason I believed that my Judaism would really matter to others. I remember one day, my first year of high school, I brought matzah ball soup to school for lunch. I spent the entire lunch period trying to explain to my non-Jewish friends what a matzah ball even is. Wet bread? Mushy dumpling? I didn’t know how to explain it but my non-Jewish friends were interested and it made me laugh trying to explain a traditional food to someone who had never tried it.  It was funny and I enjoyed telling my friends about Jewish traditions. 

After school, I usually go home and I either have tutoring, a ceramics class or a BBYO call. On Fridays, I have Shabbat dinner with my family and sometimes we light the candles on FaceTime with my aunt and Bubbie who are all the way in Canada. Judaism plays out in my everyday life, but it is all I have ever known. And until I wrote this article, I didn’t even realize how much of a role being Jewish really has in my daily life, but I like having something that connects me to others who also share my religion and I also appreciate feeling unique when I am around others who aren’t Jewish. My great-grandparents were Holocaust survivors and, after everything she went through, my great-grandmother’s Jewish pride had a big impact on me. I honestly wouldn’t trade being Jewish for anything. 

Eliminating Period Poverty Together

By JumpSpark


Period poverty is one of the most overlooked struggles, yet it still manages to affect more than 40 million people here in the United States alone, according to the Shriver Report. In January, the Jumpspark Strong Women Fellowship hosted a Zoom meeting to discuss the topics of period poverty, menstrual equity, and what the Atlanta community can do to create change. Lorrie L. King, former public health and humanitarian response professional, spoke to the group about how her experiences have taught her about the importance of advocating for menstrual aid projects and educating people on menstrual issues. Another big component of the event was involved with Project Dignity, a program created by the Jewish Federation to bring people facing period poverty the supplies and education they need to maintain menstrual hygiene. 

The event kicked off with a brief explanation of the purpose of Project Dignity, and Lorrie presented a video about period poverty. Produced with women experiencing homelessness in New York City, this video was made to open the eyes of people around the country to what unhoused people who menstruate go through each month. 

Many people living on the streets and facing poverty, in general, are forced to choose between necessary menstrual hygiene commodities and food because the products are overpriced. Rather than purchasing the typically expensive period products, people have resorted to using all types of materials to “take care” of their period. Some of these include napkins, socks, leaves, rags, and shirts, all of which do not meet the standards of safe-to-use products. 

Later in our session, the group began discussing the history behind periods and how the menstrual cycle used to be something celebrated but has slowly become something taboo and to be ashamed of among many cultures. Many menstruating people in places like Western Nepal are removed from their primary living spaces and sent to unsanitary huts while they are on their periods. These women are cast out and are forced to live in sheds with the farm animals because menstruating is considered to be dirty and impure. 

A screenshot from Project Dignity’s zoom lecture.

This culture of removing women from their homes and placing them in the subtropical elements, such as extreme temperatures and high altitudes, causes many women to be prone to further health issues and to die. Girls living in these areas have been neglected and are uneducated about their own bodies. They do not understand what happens to them every month, nor where the blood even comes from. This lack of education and information leads to extreme misinformation among the culture, which causes more pain and suffering for women. 

Period poverty is a global issue, but it also affects many people here in Atlanta, and Project Dignity also works to help create change locally. Periods are a personal topic, especially for young people who have to manage their period while going to school and maintaining education. This month, Project Dignity is focusing on donating menstrual products to high schools in the Atlanta community. According to a survey done by State of the Period, 1 in 5 teenagers suffer from period poverty, and many high schoolers who get their periods are not supplied with necessary items such as pads and tampons during their school week, which Project Dignity is trying to change. 

Periods should not be something that has to impair the education and school days of teenagers. Pads and tampons should be supplied in restrooms of public schools to ensure that no student will have to worry about how they will manage their period. 

Another major initiative of Project Dignity this month is to help provide menstrual products for local refugee centers. When refugees arrive in Atlanta, they are each given packs filled with essentials; however, these packs almost never include period supplies. Project Dignity has set up an Amazon wishlist to make it as easy as possible for people to donate period supplies. Both of these missions are equally important and can easily be achieved with the support and generosity of our community. 

Leah Moradi, 16, is a sophomore at The Weber School in Sandy Springs, GA, who enjoys being with friends, reading, and advocating for topics she is passionate about.

This article was originally published in VOX ATL. Read the full article here.

Self Expression Through Spoken Word

By JumpSpark

Caroline Rothstein, an internationally touring writer, spoken word poet and performer, spoke to a group of Atlanta teens about your own personal gods, Judaism in today, self-love, anti-semitism, and reincarnation, inspiring us to take her words into our lives and realize a greater truth in the world we face as young and Jewish women. 

Rothstein has performed poetry, recited speeches, and led workshops at colleges, schools, community organizations, and other performance spaces. She was able to present to us in an interactive, non-toxic, yet inspiring space — even on Zoom. 

Last fall, we had an amazing opportunity to get to know Rothstein prior to the JumpSpark Strong Women Fellowship full-group meeting. We learned how to effectively interact in a safe space on topics she planned to bring to the Jewish teens across Atlanta who come together (now virtually) to empower, learn from, and educate each other so we could take her experiences to benefit our own.

As soon as the famous “ding-dong” went off in the Zoom call, we were immediately struck by Caroline’s energy and presence. Despite being virtual, her contagious smile translated extremely well and lit up the (virtual) workspace. She immediately made us feel welcome and relieved for the discussion. She asked how everyone was doing on the call, and it felt so natural to speak with her. 

Quite frankly, prior to the call, we figured we would probably talk about whatever the speaker-of-the-month wanted to talk about, having the common somewhat-awkward Zoom call atmosphere. But Caroline was different. Instead of having an already prepared and rigid event, we were able to discuss with her what we thought the event should be about. We kicked off our discussion by talking broadly about matters we think are vital to discuss today, with ideas like body image and racial injustices. 

Caroline did not just hear, but listened to the actual words we were saying. It felt extremely personable that we were able to guide and facilitate the focus of the event, while understanding that with the constantly changing world, the subject matter could change. 

Around two days prior to the large-group meeting, Caroline sent us an email, pretty much checking in, asking if we thought the topic we had decided on was still applicable and was tailored appropriately for the culture of the world. Caroline teaches us how to observe the world around us and illustrate the idea of recognition of our surroundings. The flexibility Caroline taught and encouraged helped this group of teens to understand how omnipresent issues in the world are ever changing.

During the full group event, Caroline shared her poems and performed spoken word. She was able to convey a message and strong feelings through each poem. We could see how strong she is, as she was able to be so vulnerable through her poetry. 

We also did a couple writing exercises. We loved the letter we wrote to ourselves. Miriam wrote about how sometimes in her busy life she needs to take a moment to think and have a peaceful moment.

“Dear Miriam of the past, Life may be hectic so it’s alright to take a bit more time for yourself sometimes. Stay in your bed longer if you want or do a 15 step skincare routine.”

Overall, Caroline was an amazing speaker, and we’d love to hear more of her poems in the future. She left us with the feeling that it is OK to be every single part of ourselves, no matter the circumstances or how different you are. Because of Caroline, in the future, we feel that we will be able to do what we want in our professional and personal lives.

The Strong Women Fellowship meeting with Caroline Rothstein ended with sharing take-aways from the session.

Miriam Raggs is a 10th grader at The Weber School and Noa Young is a 10th grader at North Springs High School. Both are second-year Fellows and Peer Leaders for the JumpSpark Strong Women Fellowship.

Read the original article published in VoxAtl here.

Too young to vote, these kids are helping get others to the polls in Georgia.

By JumpSpark

By Sarah Brown, originally published in the Forward, December 30, 2020

Sarah Dowling and Justin Meszler may not be old enough to vote, but they’re making an impact in the upcoming Georgia Senate runoff election.

“Everyone deserves to have their voice represented in government,” Dowling said.

Dowling and Meszler, both 16, are youth volunteers and organizers for “Every Voice, Every Vote,” the Reform movement’s national, non-partisan civic engagement campaign. The campaign focuses on combating voter suppression, mobilizing young voters ages 18-29, and encouraging 100% voter turnout from Reform synagogues and communities around the country.

The state is the site of two runoff races for the U.S. Senate, which on Jan. 5 will determine which party will control the U.S. Senate. If Democrats win both seats, the Senate will be evenly split between Democrats and Republicans, with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris holding the tie-breaking vote.

Dowling, a Georgia resident, recently led a voter registration drive at her school in Atlanta. She registered more than 20 voters and handed out more than 400 voter guides, complete with information about voter registration and early voting.

“It’s up to people to decide whether the current people in power represent their values, or whether the people who are running now against them represent their values. This election allows people to have a voice, and that’s why it’s so important,” Dowling said, taking a quick break from organizing a “phone banking party” for teens planning to call older congregants.

Sarah Dowling hands out voter registration guides at her high school by the Forward
Sarah Dowling hands out voter registration guides at her high school (photo courtesy of Sarah Dowling)

The movement’s campaign, run out of its Religious Action Center, began as a national effort during the general election, then concentrated its efforts in Georgia by setting up a partnership with JumpSpark, a Jewish youth programming organization in Atlanta.

“When it became very apparent that there was going to be this runoff, we started thinking almost immediately about how we were going to organize the teens in our community and get out the teen vote,” said JumpSpark’s director, Kelly Cohen.

Reform Jewish teens including Sarah Dowling holding a voter registration drive at their school in Atlanta. by the Forward
Courtesy of Sarah DowlingReform Jewish teens including Sarah Dowling holding a voter registration drive at their school in Atlanta.

Meszler, a high school junior, lives in Massachusetts and has been involved in the Religious Action Center’s effort since the general election. He participated in a group that has sent close to 10,000 postcards encouraging people to vote throughout the 2020 election cycle and including the Georgia runoff.

He has also organized phone banking events through the Religious Action Center, and its partner, the Center for Common Ground, which aim to connect specifically with people of color in states with high levels of voter suppression.

Now, Meszler’s efforts are focused entirely on Georgia.

“It’s obvious that young people are so good at calling attention to an issue, shining a spotlight on it, and not taking that spotlight off, even in the middle of a pandemic,” said Logan Zinman Gerber, the national teen campaign organizer for the Religious Action Center.

Voter registration has surged in the state since the Supreme Court’s decision on Shelby vs. Holder in 2013, which invalidated a key part of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 by giving nine states more leeway in changing their election laws without federal preclearance. But the increase in registered voters has outpaced the number of available polling locations, and the problem is especially acute in predominant Black precincts.

According to data collected by Georgia Public Broadcasting/ProPublica, the average wait time after 7 p.m. across Georgia was 51 minutes in polling places that were 90% or more nonwhite, but only 6 minutes in polling places that were 90% white.

Voter registration guides created by Dowling and other Reform Jewish students for the voter registration drive by the Forward
Courtesy of Sarah DowlingVoter registration guides created by Dowling and other Reform Jewish students for the voter registration drive

For Meszler and Dowling, passion for civic engagement and social action is rooted in Jewish values.

“Through this work of making sure that everyone’s voice is heard, I feel in a way that I am practicing my Judaism,” Meszler said. “Everything that I’ve done in social action has been tied to Judaism.”

Dowling cited the Jewish values of tikkun olam, repairing the world, and tzedek tzedek tirdof, which means “justice, justice you shall pursue,” as guiding principles that motivate her to participate and engage others.

“I feel like voting is our main way as citizens of repairing the world. A vote is a way of pursuing justice for the people who either are underrepresented, or who can’t vote,” said Dowling. “If we elect leaders who we think reflect our own values, we play a role in shaping the world that we want to see.”

As the runoff approaches, the Religious Action Center and teens from the youth civic engagement campaign are redoubling efforts and continuing to try to reach as many eligible voters as possible.

“Check in with your friends and family in Georgia, see if they’ve voted or if they have plans to vote,” Dowling said. “You have the biggest impact on the people in your life, and it is so easy to just reach out to people.

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