Sisterhood Blog

Jewish Teens Bring Change to Presidential Debate

By Debra Nussbaum Cohen

  • Print
  • Share Share
Sammi Siegel
From left to right, Elena Tsemberis, Sammi Siegel and Emma Axelrod.

Never before have three 16-year-old Jewish girls had so much impact on national American politics. With the announcement that the Presidential Debates Commission has named two men and, notably, two women to moderate the upcoming nationally-televised debates between the presidential and vice presidential candidates, three friends from Montclair, N.J. — who galvanized tens of thousands of people to sign petitions urging the commission to name a woman as moderator for the first time in 20 years — can claim victory.

“We’re all absolutely ecstatic!” wrote Emma Axelrod, one of the three girls, in an interview with The Sisterhood conducted via Facebook. “It’s the first time in American history that (counting the vice presidential debates) women have made up 50% of the debate moderators. We weren’t even expecting that!”

“It’s absolutely amazing that the Presidential Debate Commission finally listened to the three of us, including the 180,000 people that agreed with our campaign,” her friend Sammi Siegel wrote in an email. “Now, with a woman moderating the presidential and vice presidential debates, little girls will be able to see positive role models on the political stage.”

Axelrod, Siegel and Elena Tsemberis, all of whom are Jewish and incoming high school juniors, created two petitions calling on the commission to select a woman as moderator for one of the upcoming face-offs between the candidates. The last time a female journalist held this role was in 1992 — several years before Axelrod, Siegel and Tsemberis were even born — when ABC News’ Carole Simpson led the debate between Bill Clinton, George H.W. Bush and Ross Perot.

But the girls remember watching the Obama-McCain debates four years ago, when they were just 12 years old. Axelrod told The New York Times’ Jodi Kantor what an impact this debate made even before she was politically aware:

As a preteen child you still see the images of men asking the questions. My whole life it’s been men up there. We want the little girls now to see a woman asking the questions even if they’re not exactly listening to what the politicians are saying.

Some 180,000 people signed their petitions, calling on the commission and the Obama and Romney campaigns to support the idea that a woman moderate at least one of the three debates slated to take place in October.

The first petition outlined this point clearly: “Women and men will never be truly equal in our country until they’re one and the same in positions of power and both visible in politics. We need to take immediate action in order to move towards this change. There is no reason why a woman shouldn’t have a chance to show what she’s capable of by moderating debates in the upcoming election.”

When asked about public’s response, Siegel explained via Facebook:

We’ve gotten, for the most part, outstanding feedback about the petition. Especially in our school, our peers really supported our cause and wanted to share it with their friends and families. So many of them would post the link on Facebook, and many were posting about how many signatures we were getting each day. We’ve received so much support, and it has been truly amazing. There were some negative comments on various articles or video clips of us talking about the petition, but we like to focus on the positive and know that we are fighting for something that 180,000 people want in the upcoming election.

The commission did not respond directly to the girls’ effort, and did not allow them in the building when they went to Washington with boxes of signatures. But in the end, the commission revealed just how much of an impact the girls had on American politics.

“We encourage people to continue fighting for political equality, and we don’t want this to happen again,” wrote Siegel by email. “We’ve brought this issue to the attention of the public, and we can’t have another 20 year gap. I’m so amazed that we have made such an impact even as teenagers.”


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Why won't the city give an answer?
  • BREAKING NEWS: Israel has officially suspended peace talks with the Palestinians.
  • Can you guess what the most boring job in the army is?
  • What the foolish rabbi of Chelm teaches us about Israel and the Palestinian unity deal:
  • Mazel tov to Idina Menzel on making Variety "Power of Women" cover! http://jd.fo/f3Mms
  • "How much should I expect him and/or ask him to participate? Is it enough to have one parent reciting the prayers and observing the holidays?" What do you think?
  • New York and Montreal have been at odds for far too long. Stop the bagel wars, sign our bagel peace treaty!
  • Really, can you blame them?
  • “How I Stopped Hating Women of the Wall and Started Talking to My Mother.” Will you see it?
  • Taglit-Birthright Israel is redefining who they consider "Jewish" after a 17% drop in registration from 2011-2013. Is the "propaganda tag" keeping young people away?
  • Happy birthday William Shakespeare! Turns out, the Bard knew quite a bit about Jews.
  • Would you get to know racists on a first-name basis if you thought it might help you prevent them from going on rampages, like the recent shooting in Kansas City?
  • "You wouldn’t send someone for a math test without teaching them math." Why is sex ed still so taboo among religious Jews?
  • Russia's playing the "Jew card"...again.
  • "Israel should deal with this discrimination against Americans on its own merits... not simply as a bargaining chip for easy entry to the U.S." Do you agree?
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.