Rushing around the plenary room at the 2015 URJ Biennial in Orlando, FL, my friend and I were lost high school participants desperate for any seats we could get our hands on before the lights faded all the way out. Finally, we spotted two empty seats in the middle of a large group of women. Unclear whether or not these were reserved seats, we asked the women at the end of the row if we could sit and we were enthusiastically told us that these were all saved for the WRJ delegation; we could sit there if we promised to join WRJ when we were older. Only focused on getting seats before the speakers started, my friend and I agreed, shrugging off this comment, both believing that, as Reform Jewish women, we’d probably end up joining WRJ in like forty years anyway.
Fast forward four years and I am finishing up my sophomore year of college and taking the train down to Washington, D.C. to join the college women’s cohort at the Inaugural WRJ Social Justice Conference. A bit sooner than I anticipated; I think I am finally starting to make good on that promise.
From my first interactions with the women, commenting on my “NFTY Alumni” luggage tag as we were waiting in line to check in to the hotel, it became clear that the two hundred or so women who took the time to join together at this first-ever social justice-focused event are women who care not only about the world and its impacts on them, but also how it impacts the future of their children and grandchildren and their generations to come. They know well that the world is constantly changing such that their relationships with issues such as gun violence prevention or the #MeToo movement are not the same as mine. However, the interest and dedication to these issues were no less important than they are to my peers.
In both the workshop blocks I attended, “From Summer Camp to the Board Room: #MeToo and Accountability” and “GVP and YOU: Making a Difference in the Gun Violence Epidemic,” women arrived prepared to listen, to learn, and to ask questions. The need to be the smartest or the most involved did not compare to the desire to be engaged and challenged and understanding the experiences and lessons of others. And from these workshops, I was better able to frame the ways in which our different generations digest conversations of social justice.
The women I spoke to had a different perception of the importance of time and process- a mindset that does not always come easily to the immediate information generation. I found them to be more patient, looking towards the future with long-term goals in mind, as opposed to the urgency of modern social justice movements and civic development. They understood that change doesn’t happen overnight, especially national, monumental change. I was intrigued by this approach- this acceptance of the timeline. And yet, the generational divide continues to pull me back to “if not now, when?”
The question I sit with now, in the weeks since the SJC is “which do I lean in to?” Do I settle into a mature acceptance, knowing that we are affecting change bit by bit and year by year, whether or not we will see it manifest? Or do I continue to fall in line with the millions of other teens who find themselves regularly enraged and invigorated by the lack of urgency we see in the process? Or better yet, how do we marry these two perspectives, overlaying each generations’ experiences, to see the world most clearly, critically, and realistically- maybe even with a touch of optimism?
Over the course of the weekend, we repeatedly came back to the conversation of: “the teens in your community are already taking action- just because you don’t see them, doesn’t mean they’re not engaged.” I promise, they are. To the women who understand this importance of time and processes, find these teens and ask them how they are engaging- how they are affecting social change. Don’t let their work go unnoticed. Join in when you can and allow them to teach you. And teach them what you have to offer.
To the teens who are growing more and more anxious every day that problems are not solved, find these women and those who share this perspective. Learn to understand the process and allow them to teach you patience, even when you feel you know it all; it is okay that you don’t.
There is a generational gap- that’s just the reality of it. And there’s something beautiful about it. Don’t be scared to look at that separation and explore how to bridge the divide. Don’t hold back from trying new approaches and perspectives. Don’t confine yourself to your mindset; allow yourself to grow and be challenged.
Don’t mind the gap- we’ll all be better for it.
Lauren Stock is a junior at Wesleyan University in Connecticut studying theater and sociology. Her home congregation is Temple Shalom in Dallas, TX, and she is an alumna of NFTY-TOR and URJ Kutz Camp.