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Young People Will Always Be Powerful

Social workers, software engineers, non-profit execs. They all sit around me, 10, 20, 30+ years my senior, as I share the knowledge they need to create change in the world. In any other room, our age and experience gap would be glaringly obvious. But every Tuesday in the cramped living room of the Beacon Hill Friends House, I transform into someone who’s not only their equal but their mentor, their advisor, their trainer, and their coach. Every Tuesday, I’m not some powerless queer kid scared at the state of the world, but a powerful Jewish organizer with the ability to engage dozens of people in our movement.

I’m a fellow for Freedom for All Massachusetts’s Yes on 3 campaign, the movement to uphold Massachusetts’s transgender non-discrimination law at the ballot in November. Every week, I coach and train dozens of volunteers at phone banks and canvasses throughout greater Boston, teaching them how to make a strong ask, problem solve, and generally grow the movement. While it is a secular movement, the campaign reminds me daily of the importance of sharing knowledge and fostering community, two Jewish values I hold at the core of my being. Every day I work for the campaign, I get to share the skills and knowledge that will make someone a powerful and effective volunteer and help foster a loving community where everyone’s identity is valued and appreciated. What could be more Jewish than that?

The Yes on 3 campaign brings people of all faiths together through broad coalition partners, including Keshet, the leading national Jewish LGBTQ organization. As an education intern at Keshet, I create resources, assist at trainings and process training and intake data. At Keshet, I have seen firsthand the way that queer inclusion is a core Jewish value that our communities cannot do without. I have gotten to share my knowledge of queer Jews in history and gender neutral Jewish ritual in order to create a more accepting community for all Jews. But most importantly, in sharing my knowledge as a young queer, trans Jew, I have found my own power in a world that constantly tells me I don’t matter. My existence is proof enough this summer that young Jews have wisdom to give the world.

When I returned to my childhood synagogue for Pride Shabbat this June, my rabbi centered his d’var around the campaign. I sat in my folding metal chair and felt so sacred, so loved, so held by my Jewish community. This was a community that would fight for me. This is the kind of solidarity that will keep young people like me invested in Jewish community.

As my rabbi called our community to action on behalf of trans folks, I felt so connected to all those young people who fought for justice before me, the young adults who navigated complex power dynamics to act as mentors, leaders, and advocates. I was reminded of Clara Lemlich, the young Jewish garment worker who led an uprising in the New York Garment industry; proud anarchist Emma Goldman, who refused to let the perpetual fear of radicalism dictate her activism or quiet her voice; the Kashariyot, and all the Jews who led an armed Jewish resistance against the Nazis across occupied Germany after 1942. In addition to these brave forebears, I am inspired daily by organizations like Bend the Arc, T’ruah, and, of course, Keshet who continue the legacy of fighting for a better world.

Resistance is a tradition the trans and Jewish communities share. For centuries, we have been discriminated against, persecuted, and murdered. Yet, we are still here. We are a people that survive. As I continue the fight to make the communities I love safer, I carry this legacy with me. I will continue to share my knowledge, my histories, my Judaism with the world.

I spent the first eighteen years of my life repressing my true gender identity because I didn’t have the words or language to explain what I felt. I know what it is to feel powerless, to not understand the often unfair world we’ve been thrust into. And while the thought that I might not be able to enter a restaurant or even hospital without fear of discrimination or harassment makes me feel powerless too, this time around I get to do something about it. I get to share with hundreds of volunteers how we can make a better world together. In the past couple of months, I have seen our campaign grow immensely, as we inspire more and more people to join us in protecting transgender rights.

I have seen with my own eyes the way sharing my knowledge has transformed Boston communities into leaders of social change. After years of being silenced, I have finally found the place to fight for my story and help others fight for theirs. I am a young, queer Jew who is just standing up and finding their voice, and I don’t plan on being made to feel invisible or silent again anytime soon.

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How to cite this page

Karp, Sky. "Young People Will Always Be Powerful." 25 July 2018. Jewish Women's Archive. (Viewed on September 19, 2019) <https://jwa.org/blog/young-people-will-always-be-powerful>.

Image from a Vote Yes gathering during Boston Pride 2018. Image courtesy of organizer Sky Karp.

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