Teen civic leaders credit AJC

By Amy Berger

Kol hakavod to two area high school seniors, Ryan Kassanoff and Hannah Schwitzer, on their recent accomplishments and elevated involvement in the Dallas civic community. Kassanoff is currently serving as an intern for his local representative, Congressman Colin Allred, and Schwitzer was recently selected to be a member of the Youth Commission for the City of Dallas representing District 12 under Council Member Cara Mendelsohn. 

Both Kassanoff and Schwitzer participated in the inaugural cohort of AJC’s Leaders for Tomorrow (LFT) leadership program last year. The innovative education program is designed to enhance high schoolers’ Jewish identity and empower the next generation of young Jewish leaders to advocate on behalf of their community, the Jewish people and Israel. LFT helps to instill teens with the knowledge, confidence and passion to serve as positive change-makers among their peers, in their communities and beyond.

LFT brings together a cohort of high school sophomores to seniors representing a spectrum of academic and Jewish backgrounds. This year, due to COVID uncertainties, all sessions will be held virtually. This format will allow Dallas students opportunities to interact with both local and national experts that would otherwise be difficult to bring in-person. The LFT curriculum covers a variety of topics, including: 

• Being a Jewish leader on the college campus and beyond

• A nuanced approach to Israeli history 

• Current dynamics of the modern State of Israel

• Combating rising antisemitism at home and abroad 

Now in its sixth year nationally and entering its second year in Dallas, LFT has produced hundreds of student activists on campuses across the country, enhancing the pipeline for the next generation of Jewish leaders in the process, such as Kassanoff and Schwitzer. LFT was created in response to a concerned New York City high schooler, Ryan Berger, who expressed uneasiness about having difficult conversations regarding his Jewish identity or being equipped to face potential hostilities in regard to Israel that are too often found on college campuses. In response to this need, echoed by high schoolers and parents nationally, AJC created an advocacy program tailored especially for today’s Jewish teens.

Kassanoff credits LFT in preparing him for his current internship: “The AJC Leaders for Tomorrow program helped me navigate my way through difficult conversations in our own cohort as well as in the campaign setting. I’ve had to have conversations with undecided voters with different viewpoints than my own but LFT gave me the tools to engage in these important conversations.”

Schwitzer attributes LFT as a springboard to her current engagement: “When I got to high school, I wasn’t doing a lot of advocacy work that I had previously been involved with and LFT helped get me reengaged in advocacy work again. Participating in LFT inspired me to apply to the Youth Commission and take what I learned and apply it to a broader setting — not just within the Jewish community.” Schwitzer is one of only 15 high schoolers selected for the Commission who will lend her voice and generational perspective on issues of local governance. 

Although Kassanoff and Schwitzer have already completed the LFT program, they are not done with their AJC leadership journey. Once LFT students matriculate to college, they will have full access to AJC’s Campus Affairs department to help provide support and continuity in their Jewish advocacy journey as well as connections to other LFT alums on their campus and around the country.

AJC Dallas is currently recruiting high school sophomores, juniors and seniors to be a part of the 2020-2021 LFT cohort. To learn more about the LFT, please visit www.ajc.org/lftinfo. Interested students are required to complete a brief online application: http://bit.ly/AJCDallasLFT. Please contact AJC Dallas Assistant Director Amy Berger at bergera@ajc.org for more information.

Amy Berger is assistant director of AJC Dallas.

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