Wellesley High School senior Tara Snapper belongs to Wellesley’s Temple Beth Elohim. She’s also the social action vice president for NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth), and the young activist plans to pursue social justice work when she heads to college next year (maybe the University of Michigan or Tulane University).
She attended Boston’s March For Our Lives last weekend, organizing a large contingent of teenagers from temples in Boston’s suburbs, connected by the Jewish Teen Initiative. We talked to her about the experience.
What do you do at NFTY and how does this relate to gun violence?
This is a national youth group for Reform teens. There are 1,200 people in the Northeast region. We have different social justice events throughout the year. We create awareness around different issues. We empower teens to make change.
With March For Our Lives, the recent walkouts and the Parkland shooting in February, people reached out to me: “Hey, I feel passionate, what can we do?” “How can you help me?” “We should do something on gun violence.”
How did you help them?
I posted scripts for phone calls to legislators. NFTY had a large nationwide campaign on it. They were giving people scholarships to go to Washington, D.C. I wanted to do something, and we decided Boston may be best. Then we talked to Temple Israel, the biggest in the Boston area, to reach out to the Jewish community, to anyone who felt they had a place in this movement.
On the day of the March, an event happened at Temple Israel first. We had 110 teenagers from 36 Jewish organizations and 22 towns. People came from Rhode Island and New Hampshire.
How did you solidify your position before going into the march?
Isaiah Goldsmith, social justice vice president of the youth group at Temple Israel, and I planned the hour portion. People could articulate why they came, from something as basic as how they got here to maybe what happened to them in seventh grade that made them so passionate. We asked, “Why did you start becoming passionate about social justice?” or “What are your views on gun control?” We talked about why we’re here as a Jewish community. We also gave everyone a packet of different legislation from each state and a checklist of things to include for a phone script and a template. That’s a huge piece of this. You saw signs at the March: “No more prayers, we need reform.” That comes from constituents. After participating in L’Taken’s social justice seminar in Washington, D.C., where I lobbied on gun prevention, I believe this strongly.
Why does this matter to you?
I live in Wellesley, which is such a safe town. Even after all these school shootings, I don’t feel unsafe. But I saw the Florida shootings, and I know someone who lived 15 minutes from the school. Their friends had experienced it. As they become more frequent, the closer I see they’re getting to me. I have been so lucky. I don’t even know if I know someone who has died, let alone someone who has been shot. I feel so fortunate about it, but I see [this safety] being taken away from other people. It could easily be me next. At our middle school, someone spray painted, “Are we next?” A 12-year-old was feeling scared!
Wellesley is a safer town. I recognize it, and I appreciate it. I don’t know if everyone is aware of how much of a bubble we are. Yes, we have the strictest gun laws in the country, but not everyone in Massachusetts is safe. I have learned in this process how important gun legislation is. State reps really do listen to their constituents. They have more time to listen to people who call. And I just turned 18. I have the power to go vote. I can go to the polls.
What else have you done to raise awareness about gun control?
My social justice involvement has been outside high school. But I helped to organize our walkout, and it was the first time I made an effort to do something in my school, along with someone else who felt passionately. My high school principal let us set up a meeting, and 55 kids were at it, from vocal freshmen to seniors. I was amazed by how much people did care. We had a planning group with 70 people. In Jewish tradition, you cannot stand idly by, which we didn’t do. People understand it’s an issue. After our walkout, people reached out and said, “I appreciate you not saying, ‘Let’s ban guns.’” Our majority is liberal. But we didn’t want it to be only liberal kids.
How was the march?
Being surrounded by my new Jewish friends was amazing. I did the Diller Teen Fellows program, which is pluralistic, and one of the main pillars is tikkun olam. Every single person at the march was rooting for the same thing, and I was alongside this Jewish community I felt so connected to. Meshing with another 100,000 people showed what I have been believing in keeps building and building on itself. We were 100 people joining 100,000.
Any parting thoughts on activism and teens?
Although awareness is important, acting is the next step. Teens are starting to understand that their voices do matter. At the march, at Boston Common, there were very few adults speaking. On stage, it was all teens.