More than 70 shoeless students - some in socks, others in pedicure flip-flops, and about two dozen flaunting nothing but the soles of their feet - walked through the halls of Solomon Schechter High School of Long Island Wednesday to help raise awareness about genocide and displacement in Darfur.
"For us wearing shoes, especially now that it's getting cold out, is a necessity," said Melanie Eisenberg, 16, who organized the protest at Solomon Schechter in Glen Cove. "We're choosing to give up one of our necessities to symbolize the many necessities that the people in Darfur have had to give up."
As members of the Solomon Schechter community left their sneakers and boots at home, students and educators across the country were doing the same. From California to Chicago to New Jersey, people joined together to take part in "A Day Without Shoes."
"The students are taking an interest in making a difference in the world," said Rabbi Lev Herrnson, head of school at Solomon Schechter, as he stood in front of the school barefoot amid the shoeless students. "The fact that this endeavor was organized and run by the students shows that their social consciousness goes well beyond their immediate community."
Eisenberg and six fellow student coordinators - high-schoolers from around the country, all members of the youth group Young Judaea - developed the idea for the event last month and brought the concept to each of their schools. The group felt that using this approach to spread the word about Darfur would be "more engaging" than lecturing or handing out fliers to other students, Eisenberg said.
"The point of today is not to not wear shoes," said Eisenberg, a junior from Merrick. "It's to have people question what we're doing so we can talk to them about what's going on in Darfur."
Some students arrived barefoot despite the early-morning chill. Others marched shoeless from class to class despite fears of stepping on something painful or stubbing their toes. One senior, Netta-Lee Lax, spent the entire school day barefoot, even while escorting visitors around the middle school for Grandparents and Special Friends Day.
"If they asked me what I was doing I told them," said Lax, 17, of Woodbury. "This was actually great because we were able to pass the message along beyond the students."