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Are Our Youth Leading or Are They Being Led?

Photo of Camp Tel Yehudah with words Ani VeAta Neshane Et Haolam (Young Judea image used with permission)

As a true believer in youth empowerment and leader of a Zionist youth movement, I’ve struggled with several weighty questions over the past few days while watching the encampments on college campuses across the country.

Should there be limits to youth empowerment, or was this type of action among the risks we took in empowering the youth to lead? Have they simply gone off the rails and need us adults to step in and set some guard rails?

I thought it may be a hypocritical stance to stand in front of today’s college students and say, “Sorry, I don’t agree with your stance, so you have to curb your leadership,” but deep down something feels off. As it turns out, this is not youth empowerment at all, rather a hijacking of youth idealism by groups of adults with ulterior agendas.

As reports have started to come out about the funding and backing of these encampments by adult actors, it saddens me to say that these seemingly empowered youth have simply been pawns in a larger adult-driven agenda.

Aside from the worry and fear that these encampments have evoked, I feel further resentment and anger that they are not authentically led by our youth but rather by some corrupting groups of adults exploiting the youth voices by appealing to their liberal and activist sensibilities.

I am sure that amidst the masses there are individuals who truly believe what they chant and demand, but by and large, the opiate of the masses has become about “the right to protest” and less about the actual injustices for which the protests are seemingly fighting. And it is we, the adults, who have backed ourselves into a corner and disempowered our youth. On the one hand there is a set of adults, law enforcement or university administrators, who are shutting down the youth protests to maintain safety and calm on college campuses, and on the other hand, there is another set of adults, organized groups who are funding and inciting the youth protests to further for their own agendas.

So where is the real youth empowerment?

I would like to see an amplification of the voices of actual youth, speaking up for themselves in this moment. Don’t let us speak for you or co-opt your activism for our causes. Don’t be persuaded by social media, funding, or propaganda, instead be fueled by your own ideals, morals, and values. Fight for the world you want to see, after all, you will have to live with it. Stand up for what is right. Dig down deep into your gut for moral clarity, back it with some historical perspective and fuel it with your youthful idealism. Find your voices!

I trust you and believe in you.

About the Author
Adina H. Frydman is the CEO of Young Judaea Global. Having spent 12 years at UJA-Federation of New York, first spearheading the synagogue department, SYNERGY and then as executive director of Community Resources, Adina focused on strengthening the NY Jewish community and its organizations through Talent Development, Synagogue and Day School Initiatives, Community Volunteerism, and Crisis Mobilization. In addition, she contributed to thought leadership in the area of synagogue change by producing leading research in areas such as Voluntary Dues, Data Driven Decision Making, Synagogue Engagement of Young Adults, Russian Speaking Jews, and Empty Nesters, as well as developing key attributes for a thriving synagogue. Before coming to New York in 2008, Adina was the Director of Focus Israel at the St. Louis Jewish Federation, where she worked to foster engagement between synagogues and Israel. In addition, Adina received a Bachelor of Music from Stetson University and Cantorial Investiture from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute for Religion. Adina founded the music program at the Brandeis Institute for Music and Art (BIMA), directed several choirs through HaZamir: The International Jewish Teen Choir. Adina is the proud mother of four children.
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