Originally posted at NFTY Northeast.

Last month, I had the incredible opportunity to create and facilitate the latest installment of Club BELY with my fellow BELYites Zach Blankstein, Ben Snyder, and Becca Jacobs. Club BELY is a tradition at Temple Beth Elohim, and in the past it has been a big dance for youth groups near by. This year, we wanted to create a more meaningful experience for participants, so we disembarked from the previous norms of Club BELY. Instead of only having a dance and solely inviting TYGs in close proximity to us, we focused the event on gun violence prevention programming and made the event region-wide. We had the opportunity to listen to and learn from Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center and Senior Vice President of the Union of Reform Judaism. But the incredible opportunities to learn didn’t stop there.

Each participant chose their own program from a wide range of options: writing letters, watching videos, and discussing the prevalence of gun violence in our society; creatively expressing thoughts and feelings about gun violence through art and poetry; joining voices and instruments together to learn an incredibly powerful song written exclusively for this event; brainstorming, filming, and editing a video campaign to raise awareness to the seemingly unending gun violence throughout the country; and sitting down in small groups to discuss and dissect gun violence as a whole: what it is, why it’s getting worse, the numbers behind the issue, and ways we can work together, as citizens and Reform Jews, to help relieve the issue through building community, raising awareness, and taking action. After coming back together as a group and sharing what we created, learned, and discussed, we moved into dinner and then, in typical Club BELY fashion, a dance.

However, it wasn’t just the programming that made this event all that it was. In order to bring first-hand experience to the issue and hear real-life stories of the various ways gun violence affects lives, we had the phenomenal opportunity to partner with Roxbury Presbyterian Church and their Social Impact Center (SIC). SIC, a non-profit branch of RoxPres, provides after school opportunities with the mission to keep kids off the street and fight gun violence, all while implementing educational and economic development programs for the greater Roxbury community. Seven RoxPres teens were able to join us, along with their youth advisor, Issa Bibbins. The RoxPres teens dispersed themselves among the five programs, stretching their comfort zones beyond their close friends to experience the NFTY community. All proceeds from the event went directly to SIC, and they will benefit greatly from the contribution.

Looking back on the incredible programming of weekend, I am still in awe of how incredible our region and the people within it are. Each participant dove head-first into the programming, spoke up to voice their opinions, and most impressively, didn’t shy away from the scary truths surrounding gun violence in our country. Now more than ever, it is clear to me that if we all join together, rise up, and speak out, we truly can make a difference in the world.

Mia is the co-vice president of Tikkun Olam of BELY (Temple Beth Elohim in Wellesley, MA).

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