Ariel Sheffey is currently a sophomore at Northwestern University, but in high school, she participated in a two-year fellowship program run by JUF’s Campus Affairs and Student Engagement Department. This year, that department has teamed up with Springboard to create a new program: Launchpad: Jewish Civic Engagement. We asked Ariel what it means to her to get involved in her community and how she lends her voice to issues she is passionate about. If, like Ariel, you want to make a difference in your community, sign up for Launchpad: Jewish Civic Engagement today!
Civic engagement has long been part of my life. Throughout my experiences working in political offices, engaging with the Jewish community, and being an advocate on my college campus, I have learned not only the importance of community involvement, but also the extent to which young adults are truly able to make an impact. My first real experience with activism was through a high school internship with a political grassroots organization in my congressional district devoted to campaigning for candidates in local, state, and national levels of office. From planning and staffing events to writing press releases, managing social media accounts, and hearing from a multitude of esteemed speakers, I found myself fully immersed in the world of community organization.
From this experience, my political activism grew. I interned in the legislative office of my state representative, fielding calls from constituents and learning about the relationships between elected officials and those they represent. I volunteered on a congressional campaign, getting a chance to see how campaigning works when all resources are devoted to one specific election. And I continued to work for the same organization where I began—this time, as the internship coordinator, an opportunity that allowed me to improve my leadership skills, become further integrated into the management team, and give back all that I had learned over the previous years to a new class of interns.
However, I’ve found that activism is most meaningful to me when it draws from my Judaism. Tikkun Olam—repairing the world—and Klal Yisrael—uniting the Jewish people—are Jewish values that I have found to be especially formative in my civic engagement, and I have been lucky enough to benefit from opportunities that have allowed me to experience that intersection deeply. Through JUF’s Campus Affairs and Student Engagement Department, I spent two years as a part of a cohort that engaged in meaningful dialogue about activism, learned from professionals about the most effective advocacy and messaging strategies, and travelled to Israel and Washington, D.C. to meet with journalists, government officials, and more. And the one-on-one conversations that I had with such influential individuals demonstrated to me that the distance between teenagers and policy-makers is significantly smaller than it seems. We, as passionate community members who will ultimately shape our world’s future, can make an impact now, and the advocacy skills that I learned in high school have largely shaped my activism on my college campus.
Ultimately, I’ve learned that civic engagement done right is a lifestyle, not an occasional hobby. In a world that is constantly changing, one must always be cognizant and reactant, lest the resultant policies threaten us, our communities, and our futures. Even in the microcosm that is my college campus, change is dictated by those whose voices are the loudest—something I have witnessed for both better and worse through student government resolutions, newspaper opinion editorials, rallies, and protests, many of which I personally have been a part of. As Jewish leaders, we need to make sure that we, too, are those voices, both now and throughout our lifetimes.