Oakland-based East Bay NCSY and the Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs (IPA) recently selected nine teen leaders to participate in its new “The Teen Advocacy Program (TAP),” an intensive six-week educational program to gain critical organization, presentation and leadership skills for political advocacy within the prism of Jewish values. The program culminated last week with a daylong lobbying mission to Sacramento led by Jesse Hervitz, associate political director for the Orthodox Union. The day ended with a gala dinner; and a certification of completion awarded to the teens by the OU, IPA and NCSY and delivered by Oakland City Council Member, Dan Kalb.
NCSY is the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union. The Institute for Public Affairs is the political advocacy branch of the Orthodox Union, representing the Orthodox community in state houses across the country.
Student leaders from public and Jewish high schools, grades 9-12, participated from Albany, Berkeley, Novato, Oakland, Pleasant Hill, Piedmont and Walnut Creek.
Coordinated by Rabbi Akiva Naiman, director of East Bay NCSY, TAP featured weekly presentations by leading Jewish community advocates, prominent rabbis and politicians including hands-on lobbying modules, and informative sessions. Through participation in interactive sessions focusing on issues of concern to the Jewish community, the teen leaders became well versed in the state government and the legislative process.
“The Teen Advocacy Program has been so significant for myself and the other teens,” stated Hannah Feiner, a 10th grade student at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay, from Albany. “It really educated us on the general process of advocating and how our government works, which every teen should understand, while making it even more relatable by focusing on the topics through a Jewish lens.”
Leading up to the gala dinner and program completion, the teen leaders travelled to the State Capital to put their newfound skills and knowledge to work — meeting with State Senator Mark DeSaulnier (D-7); State Senator Loni Hancock (D-9); Assembly Member Rob Bonta (D-18); Assembly Member Joan Buchanan (D-16); Assembly Member Nancy Skinner (D-15); Assembly Member Travis Allen (R-72); and John FW Cook, Chief-of-Staff for Assembly Member Brian Dahle (R-01).
In Sacramento, students discussed issues of importance to them such as school safety and curbing gun violence. As part of the trip, the teens also thanked the Assembly for working tirelessly to pass HR35 during the last session, which condemned anti-Semitism on college campuses in California.
Following the day of advocacy training, Jesse Katz, legislative fellow for the Orthodox Union, remarked:
“Many of the elected officials and their staffers approached me after meeting with the teens to express how impressed they were with the level of preparation and professionalism exhibited by the students. The Orthodox Union’s Institute for Public Affairs was proud to partner with East Bay NCSY on this groundbreaking program. Our hope is that the students take the skills and knowledge they learned back to their communities and inform their peers and community members on the importance of governmental advocacy.”
Rabbi Naiman declared, “It was so powerful to see the teens standing up and speaking in each senator’s office, empowered and taking initiative; I was proud to see them utilize the skills and awareness they’ve acquired to effectively communicate concerns. One of the most incredible aspects of TAP is that the teens are keeping in touch with the elected officials that we met and continue to cultivate those relationships through emails, articles and inviting them to speak in the community. The TAP teen leaders truly took to heart our program’s motto of ‘Let’s turn this from a once in a life time opportunity, to a first in a lifetime opportunity.’”