Opinion | Empowering Young Jews as ‘Leaders for Tomorrow’

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Students holding certificates
Students in their final session in the Leaders for Tomorrow program hold up their certificates of completion. (Photo courtesy of American Jewish Committee Philadelphia/Southern New Jersey)

By Abigail Dubinski

Leaders for Tomorrow (LFT), a program of the American Jewish Committee (AJC), trains today’s high school students to be tomorrow’s Jewish leaders.

I am proud to be part of the inaugural LFT class in Philadelphia. While I know that I will not become a leader overnight, LFT has opened the door to a world I was unaware of and has ignited my passion for continuing my involvement in AJC once my LFT year is over.

I have gained a better self-awareness of my Jewish identity throughout the program, which seeks to empower young Jews to speak up for themselves on issues important to Israel and the Jewish people. I am better prepared because of LFT to go confidently off to college and out in the world with a deeper sense of who I am.

During this program, I learned about anti-Semitism, both in the past and present, and how it impacts Jews all over the world. LFT has furthered my knowledge of how to advocate for the Jewish people and Israel. LFT did not only teach me how to take on a challenge, but also helped me learn about myself and my beliefs, and how to best articulate them. LFT challenges me to learn about global issues and how to discuss them with my peers and individuals in positions of power. This is an important skill everyone should have. LFT taught me that even though I am a teenager, I still have a voice.

Our LFT sessions opened my eyes and exposed me to issues that Jews face around the world. We started the year learning about our individual Jewish identities and then moved into Jewish advocacy and leadership in the United States. The program then broadened to the topic of Israel: history, society today, and its political system. Next, we learned about Jewish life on college campuses and participated in engaging activities and discussions around this topic.

During our session focused around Jewish life on college campuses, we participated in a role-play exercise in which we were given several scenarios we might encounter on campus, such as a professor scheduling an exam on Yom Kippur, a swastika being drawn in the residence hall, and a choice between attending Shabbat dinner or going out to dinner with friends. These scenarios helped us think through what our decisions might look like should we be faced with them in just a few years’ time.

Later in this session, Hillel staff representatives visited us from local colleges. They shared insight about resources, activities and opportunities they provide to Jewish students on campus. They talked about the relationships they form with the students and how they engage those who don’t see Judaism as an everyday part of their life. We asked many questions in order to gain a better understanding of Jewish life on college campuses.

We are finishing the year discussing global anti-Semitism and Jewish peoplehood. Throughout the sessions, we had expert speakers designated to specific topics that helped us gain further understanding. During our conversations and activities, I felt encouraged and safe to express my individual viewpoints, as well as to speak up when I didn’t understand an issue or term. I learned so much from my diverse group of peers and educators. We became a community. Whether it’s debating at school or explaining to a friend, LFT has furthered my knowledge of how to advocate for myself and my religion.

I am extremely lucky to have been part of LFT and I encourage rising 10th- and 11-graders to apply for this incredible program in our community.

Abigail Dubinski is a 10th-grade student at The Baldwin School who lives in Fairmount.

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