What advocacy couldn’t accomplish, parents achieved just by showing up
A few weeks ago, over 300 Lakewood-area parents left their homes to attend a 6:30 p.m. Board of Education (BOE) meeting. They showed up at our request, and after what felt like a few hours, left disappointed.
On the agenda that night was busing for the more than 3,000 children living in Jackson Township who attend yeshivos in neighboring Lakewood. Fewer than 200 of them have a bus that takes them to school. Driving a car pool for multiple children who go to different schools, on opposite ends of town, operating on different schedules, can be very aggravating.
A plan was already in motion to provide many more children with transportation. However, there was one caveat: Jackson BOE needed to agree to change their timeline for posting their requests for proposals from vendors bidding on bus routes.
Local askanim had been making this request from the BOE for months, to no avail. So, it was decided to have a large number of parents attend the next BOE meeting to demonstrate how important school transportation was to them.
Hundreds of parents came and sat there for hours. Only a handful spoke, and at the end, they went home thinking it had been a waste of time.
Fast-forward to the next month’s meeting. Right at the beginning, during the superintendent’s report, a PowerPoint presentation was shown, including a slide showing the new timeline for bus route bids.
Notch one victory for doing “nothing”; what advocacy couldn’t accomplish, parents achieved just by showing up.
I take from the busing episode two lessons.
First, the power of grassroots advocacy. Sometimes it means just showing up, just sending one email or making one quick phone call. Don’t underestimate the collective power of individuals.
But something potentially even more transformative in our traditional way of activism happened that night.
In our community, advocacy, askanus, shtadlanus — whatever label you want to use — was something that men traditionally took care of. Here and there, there were women who stood out. There was a Rebbetzin Lubling a”h and tibadel l’chayim aruchim Mrs. Leah Zagelbaum, but generally men dominate the field.
At this BOE meeting, of the 300 parents who showed up, 99 percent were mothers. Not by accident. When the call to engage the tzibbur was sent out, it was specifically a call to mothers.
The superintendent of Jackson Township school district is a mother. Mothers relate to mothers. Aside from the image of 300 black-and-white clad men filling up an auditorium being intimidating, in today’s government, women are in leadership roles in unparalleled numbers.
In New Jersey alone, the state senate majority leader, the chair of the Assembly Budget Committee, and the chair of the Education Committee are all mothers. A mother advocating on behalf of her children to another mother is just more impactful. That’s just the way it is and we need to recognize that.
So, when the need arises for parents to advocate for their children, mothers, please step up. It’s time to recognize the unique role you play and the impact you, specifically, can have.
Rabbi Avi Schnall is director of the New Jersey office of Agudath Israel of America.
(Originally featured in Mishpacha, Issue 902)
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