The following activities are designed to help you lead a discussion with your teens about the events of January 6, 2021 and the presidential inauguration. In this guide, you’ll address questions like when and how do we speak out against injustice? What’s the cost of indifference? How do we hold our leaders accountable? And how does all of this make me feel?
Check in with your group (5 minutes)
Choose one or more of the following activities to check in with your group about how they are feeling.
On a scale from 1-10
In your group there may be some teens who are exhausted by political conversations and need a place to discuss other things in their lives. And there may be some teens who need to have a safe space where they can talk about recent events in Washington, D.C. and their feelings around these events. If you can, gauge their interest in talking about the insurrection and inauguration with a few prompts and be mindful of the group dynamics.
Here is an example of how you might gauge their interests in an online meeting:
Ask people to type in the chat, but NOT hit enter until everyone has written in their answer the following questions. Note: This could also be set up as a zoom poll before you get on your zoom.
On a scale of 1- 10: How much stress did insurrection and impeachment news give you this week?
On a scale of 1-10: How much have you talked with your friends about what happened on January 6 and the events that followed?
On a scale of 1-10: How much do you want to focus our conversation on the insurrection and the upcoming inauguration?
Mood Meter Emotions check in
Another option is to do a Mood Meter Emotions Check In. This is a good tool for teens to reflect on how they are feeling, and for you the Group leader to gauge how everyone is feeling. It provides a way to surface and acknowledge emotions without necessarily opening a conversation about content that could be harder to navigate for your and/or the teens in your group.
To do a Mood Meter Emotions check in take these steps before you meet:
- On Polleverywhere.com, create a free account. Then, click on activities in the top menu and select “Clickable image” with the prompt, “Click on the emotion that you are feeling MOST right now.”
- In the image field, upload this Mood Meter image (you’ll need to download to your computer first): https://www.gannett-cdn.com/presto/2020/09/23/NSHT/cc42e7d6-54f2-490d-9673-cfd53982a618-moodmeter.png. Click “Create.”
- “Activate” the survey.
- Have the link to the survey ready (you can find it at the top of the screen)
Then, when you meet with your teens:
- In the Chat, share the survey and invite participants to respond. We recommend that teens access it via their web browser so they can read all the emotions.
- Share your screen with the anonymous results. Read aloud some or all the emotions that participants selected. Validate the range of emotions (there are a lot of different emotions people in this group are having right now!) and encourage teens to think about how they might support people in the group who are feeling differently from them.
Facilitator’s Tip: You might alternatively decide to do this activity by Share your screen with the Mood Meter image https://www.gannett-cdn.com/presto/2020/09/23/NSHT/cc42e7d6-54f2-490d-9673-cfd53982a618-moodmeter.png, and ask participants to click on “annotate” and put a checkmark or a star on the emotion that they are feeling MOST right now.
Depending on your settings, the names of people are visible as they write on the whiteboard. In order to make a whiteboard anonymous, whoever is sharing the whiteboard will need to go into the toolbar at the top of the screen and click on the three dots. Then, choose “Hide names of annotators” from the drop-down menu.
Optional: Invite participants to make an “emotional entrance” with their feeling. They leave the screen or turn around and then face back to the camera expressing what they feel with their face and body. You can do a trial of this first by asking everyone to leave the screen and come back with “surprised” or “joyful.” You can also have participants write in the chat and then have everyone do an emotional entrance with a few of the feelings listed.
Jewish wisdom to help us understand this moment (10-20 minutes)
Choose one or more of the following texts (some of which are paired) to read discuss with your group.
- “Rabbi Chanina, the Deputy High Priest, says: Pray for the welfare of the government, for were it not for the fear of it, people would swallow each other alive.” – Pirkei Avot 3:2
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“The most violent element in society is ignorance.” – Emma Goldman
- What do these texts suggest about the role of government and knowledge in relationship to violent conflict between people?
- How do these texts affect your thinking about last week’s failed coup?
- What prayers or hopes do you have for the government right now and for the new administration?
- “Whoever causes the masses to become righteous, will be responsible for no sin and all who cause the masses to sin won’t be able to do enough to repent.”– Pirkei Avot 5:18
“As citizens, we must prevent wrongdoing because the world in which we all live, wrong-doer, wrong sufferer and spectator, is at stake.” ? Hannah Arendt
- What do you think the first text is communicating?
- How, if at all, might this text apply to actions taken by our country’s leaders?
- How do you think we should hold our leaders accountable? Why does it matter?
- Bringing the Arendt quote into the discussion, how do we hold NYGoodHealth leaders accountable while reflecting on our collective responsibility?
- “There is an evil which most of us condone and are even guilty of: indifference to evil. We remain neutral, impartial, and not easily moved by the wrongs done unto other people. Indifference to evil is more insidious than evil itself; it is more universal, more contagious, more dangerous… an honest estimation of the moral state of our society will disclose: Some are guilty, but all are responsible.” – Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, “Religion and Race,” January 14, 1963.
- What is the message that this speech, given at a conference where Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., is communicating?
- How does this text make you feel?
- What is the difference between being guilty and being responsible? Thinking about racism, white nationalism, antisemitism, or misinformation online – what is the difference between committing wrongs and being “not easily moved by wrongs done to others”? What are some recent examples of people or companies remaining neutral or deciding to take a stand?
- “Do not rebuke a scoffer [a know-it-all], for they will hate you;
Reprove a wise person, and they will love you.” (Proverbs 9:8)
- What is rebuke?
- Why do you think is it a sign of wisdom to be willing to be rebuked?
- How does this text relate to the current moment?
- In your opinion, what’s the right balance between freedom of speech and limiting hate speech and the spreading of lies?
The Power of Speech to Plant Ideas (20 minutes)
This activity was added post-Inauguration
At the Inauguration on January 20, we also had a powerful example of how words can be used to convey ideas, and how those ideas have power. Amanda Gorman, the Youth Poet Laureate from Los Angeles, read her powerful poem, The Hill We Climb.
As we celebrate the way January marks new beginnings in the year ahead, let’s take some time to use this poem to help us reflect on the ideas we do want to plant and grow, and the power of words to inspire that.
Please get yourself some paper and something to write with. I’d like you to take a few minutes to read to yourself the transcript of the poem, which I will share in the chat (paste the following link in the chat: The Hill We Climb).
After you have read through it once, read through it a second time. This time, write down the 2 – 3 words or phrases within the poem that most resonate with you.
Facilitators note: as your participants do this, open a new Jamboard and share the link to it in the chat. Once your participants have all had a chance to finish reading the poem twice, and made notes of their 2 – 3 phrases, explain the following:
Please go into the Jamboard I linked to in the chat. Grab post-it notes from the menu on the left, and create a new note for each of the words/phrases you picked out from the poem.
Now, we are going to create what is called a Found Poem, where we use words and phrases that we “find” in another text to create a new poem from it. We need to use each and every post-it on here, and we can put them in whatever order we want to convey the ideas of our new poem—so there may be some repetition of phrases if more than one person chose the same phrase.
Facilitators tip: allow your participants to figure out their own process for how they will create the poem together. Often one person takes the lead—make sure the final product is something that the whole group agrees on. You can also break into smaller groups of 3 – 4 in breakout rooms if there are too many participants to effectively create one poem together.
- Will someone read aloud the finished poem?
- What ideas does this poem convey?
- How does it relate to the original poem written by Amanda Gorman?
- Do you feel like the ideas conveyed by our new poem are “true” to the message of the original one? Why or why not?
- Does our poem add to your understanding of her poem in any way? Change it?
In Judaism we see over and over again how words can create. Words create by sharing ideas that take on power and become something else. It is both something incredibly powerful, that allows for new things to grow in our society, as well as have danger if we don’t see it as our responsible to check (rebuke) ideas that are dangerous or fuel hate or misinformation as they spread. May we harness the power of our words and ideas, and share in the responsibility of this important freedom.
Suggested Closing (5-10 minutes)
To close your discussion, consider having every member of your group recite this slightly adapted version of The People’s Inauguration’s oath by activist and author Valarie Kuar, modeled after the presidential oath of office from the U.S. Constitution:
“I, (insert name),
do solemnly commit
that I will faithfully execute my role
in healing, reimagining, and rebuilding
and will to the best of my ability,
preserve, protect, and defend
dignity, justice, and joy
for myself and for all around me,
and that I will do so with love.”
If you want, have every member of your group write one word of a commitment and take a selfie or a picture of your zoom meeting to post on social media on January 21st with the hashtags #PeoplesInauguration and #RebuildingtheUnion. You can also tag @truahrabbis and @movingtraditions. (Paste this into the chat or email after the session so that participants have it.)