At age 18, Eli West, of Bethesda, took a pledge to always be an activist for the Jewish people. Every two years he’ll receive a text to remind him of his promise. Every five years, a letter will arrive to nudge him if he needs it.
Sam Navarro, 18, of Rockville, wants to be a Jewish leader his whole life and has put his promise in writing. Like West, he will get periodic reminders about what his teenage self wrote to his adult self.
The signed commitments from Jewish youth now number 13,200 across North America and Israel. The promises are part of an organized movement called Jewish Youth Pledge.
Jewish Youth Pledge is an Atlanta-based initiative designed to strengthen ties between 45 Jewish youth programs and their alumni.
“JYP’s mission is to redefine how Jewish youth and alums connect, engaging them in meaningful conversations and inspiring a renewed dedication to their shared heritage,” said Mike Leven, a retired hotel industry executive and philanthropist who founded Jewish Youth Pledge. JYP is an outgrowth of the Jewish Future Pledge, which seeks a nonbinding commitment to include Jewish causes or the State of Israel in estate planning. There are 18,000 signatures.
Leven, 85, got the idea because once he entered adulthood, he did not hear from the Jewish organizations of his youth — camp, AZA and the YMHA. While that is not the case these days, he said, “the time capsule idea puts Jewish adults in constant memory of the experience they had in their younger days.”
The Jewish youth organizations — ranging from camp to BBYO to AEPi — have access to the pledges and initiate the contact.
“The Jewish Youth Pledge and digital time capsule are powerful tools to remind people that the profound Jewish moments of their youth can be guideposts for their adult lives,” said BBYO CEO Matt Grossman. “Organizations like BBYO stay relevant in their memories as we encourage them to build meaningful Jewish lives.”
West, a senior at a boarding school in Westchester, N.Y., said he won’t forget his Jewish commitment and the Jewish Youth Pledge he made.
“I grew up with immense Jewish pride, and this pride has profoundly shaped the way I embrace the responsibility I have to my people and my land, Eretz Yisrael,” West said.
He plans to study at a yeshivah in Jerusalem next year and then at New York University, with concentrations in American and Judaic studies. His family belongs to Washington Hebrew Congregation in the District.
“I think that receiving my Jewish Youth Pledge all these years later will just remind me of how far I’ve come as a student and activist for Jewish people,” said West, who throughout high school was involved with Jewish National Fund. He spent a semester at the Alexander Muss High School in Israel, which, he said, “completely transformed my life.”
As an ambassador for JYP, he is seeking more Jews, ages 13 to 24, to write letters to their future selves that envision the role of Jewish values in their lives. He led 150 students in a pledge-writing session at a Jewish National Fund conference.
“I’m very lucky to spend time with people who are excited to take this pledge,” West said, “who can envision Judaism and bring Jewish organizations into their life.”
Navarro, a Richard Montgomery High School senior, plans to attend University of Maryland and major in marketing. He encountered Jewish Youth Pledge at a BBYO international convention where he represented the Simon Atlas chapter.
“Their whole pitch is you get an email and a little message you send to yourself,” said Navarro, whose family belongs to Shaare Torah, in Gaithersburg. “That’s something that’s really important to me. It’s something that is going to keep me on track.”
He wrote in his pledge that he would connect with Hillel at college and go to Shabbat and high holiday services. He also promised he would join a Jewish fraternity and be a strong advocate for Israel in the face of a rising BDS movement across U.S. campuses.
His pledge started with this prompt: “I hereby pledge to act today and throughout my lifetime to strengthen the Jewish people here and in Israel. I make this commitment because I have a responsibility to ensure that my generation writes the next chapter of the Jewish story and remains a strong link in the chain of generations.”
Navarro reflected that “people should take the pledge because there’s been a lot of rising antisemitism. It’s extremely important for people to be committed to clearing up misconceptions and being a strong voice for the State of Israel. It’s very important to me that we have Jewish leaders and we have people that are willing to stand up for us as a community.”
Jewish Youth Pledge founder Leven said he wants to do all he can for the survival of the Jewish people and Israel. “I don’t want to be the last Jew.” ■