By Moshe Phillips and Benyamin Korn
They don’t have plush offices or secretaries or gala dinners, but a group of 15 year-olds on Long Island are providing an inspiring model of leadership for the rest of the American Jewish community.
Tenth graders at the Rambam Mesivta High School in Lawrence, New York, recently initiated an online crowd sourcing campaign, which has raised an astonishing $2.4-million for the families of the four American-Israeli rabbis, and the Druze police officer, who were murdered in a Jerusalem synagogue last month.
We were all horrified and saddened by the news of the Har Nof massacre. But most people quickly returned to their usual daily affairs. The grim reality of what the widows and orphans will endure for the rest of their lives didn’t attract much attention.
When the Rambam students heard about the massacre, they asked: What can we do? And then they did something – something that will make a real difference in the lives of the victims’ families. They can’t bring back the innocents who were massacred by Palestinian terrorists. But they can ease the pain of their widows and orphans, just a little.
Once the crowd-sourcing campaign began gathering momentum, the Orthodox Union recognized the importance of the students’ effort and began assisting it. Hopefully other Jewish organizations will do likewise.
It’s inspiring that these teenagers are pointing the way for the rest of the community, reminding us that more can be done. It’s heartening to think that the next generation of Jewish leaders will be drawn in part from these deeply caring and energetic youngsters. And it’s instructive to note how many times in American Jewish life that our youth have taken the lead.
In the 1940s, rabbinical students in New York City, dismayed by the American Jewish community’s weak response to the persecution of European Jewry, created their own activist group. They wrote articles, handed out leaflets, organized a landmark Jewish-Christian conference on the refugee crisis, and lobbied Jewish leaders. They convinced the Synagogue Council of America to undertake a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the Holocaust and to put pressure on the U.S. government to take action.
In the 1960s, it was a group called the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry that took up the cause of the Jews in the USSR at a time when most of the Jewish world was not paying attention. A band of high school, yeshiva, and college students armed with little more than mimeograph machines (remember those?) helped galvanize the national Jewish organizations to make Soviet Jewry a priority.
“Mitzvah goreres mitzvah” – mitzvahs can be contagious. The SSSJ’s work helped inspire another generation of young activists. Many of us still vividly remember that day in 1982 when 65 Ramaz yeshiva high school students (together with their principal, Rabbi Haskel Lookstein) chose to be arrested rather than halt their protest-prayer service in front of the Soviet Mission to the United Nations.
he Rambam Mesivta itself has a long and admirable record of student activism. For example, they have staged numerous demonstrations outside the homes of suspected Nazi war criminals.
Rambam’s students spend most of their day studying. But they also know that there are times when it is appropriate to briefly step into the world of bullhorns and picket signs and, in this era – crowd-sourcing, tweeting, and other 21st century means of communication and action. We say: More power to them!
Moshe Phillips is president and Benyamin Korn is chairman of the Religious Zionists of America, Philadelphia.