May 30, 2024

Teen Advocates Go to Washington

Michal Fink and Eden Fusman Teen Israel Leadership Council Members

Earlier this month, we were among a group of selected juniors from high schools all over the Greater MetroWest area, to participate in an informational and inspiring trip to Washington D.C as a part of the Teen Israel Leadership Council (TILC) program. This two-year program consists of monthly meetings discussing Israel’s history and current situation, and meeting with informational speakers to become more knowledgeable on how to combat antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric both on and off the college campus.  

Our first year of this program came to a close with this monumental trip to Washington, where we, the students, were able to use the knowledge and skills we’ve acquired from the monthly meetings and transform them into real-life lobbying skills on Capitol Hill. Through this experience we were informed about the history of the Jewish people in relation to Israel and its effect on us today, empowered to fight for Israel and its existence, and inspired by the impact we were making on prominent members of Congress.   

We began our visit at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, looking at it from an analytical and historical point of view rather than purely emotional. Each student guided themself throughout the museum, learning about the social, political, and economic climate prior to the war along with the atrocities of the ghettos and camps and the events that led these atrocities to be permitted. We were shocked at how the rest of the world stood by as these atrocities took place, remembering a quote by Martin Niemöller where he spoke about how after not standing up for anyone else, there was no one left to stand up for him. We mulled over our responsibility as Jewish teens to stand up for members of our communities and those outside, and to give back to the community in whatever way we can to stop hatred.  

Together we reflected on the connection and seemingly mirroring histories of what happened in the pre-war era in the 1930s and what is happening today. As rising seniors, many of us are concerned about the college application process and the impact that the violence currently being seen on campuses is having on our choices. We talked about the difficulties we are facing in our high schools and the implications of the hate we’re seeing all over the country, similar to the hate seen in pre-war Europe.  

Our group spoke to members of New Jersey’s congressional delegation to confirm their continued support for Israel as well as to encourage them to pass pro-Israel legislation and look at a broader view of the Israel-Hamas war. While some of the representatives’ aides assured avid support for Israel, others had concerns about the Israeli government’s actions. We had meaningful and enlightening discussions on this topic, expressing our opinions and feeling more hopeful of a mutual understanding. At each of these meetings, we explained our goals, gave the staff an Israel security update, requested or thanked them for supporting Israel security assistance acts, gave an update on the situation with Iran, and requested that they support an act to send additional aid to Israel to destroy terrorist tunnels.  

We met with Representative Tom Kean Jr.’s legislative aid, who listened to each of us carefully and told us that the representative avidly supports a thriving U.S.-Israel relationship and co-sponsored many Pro-Israel legislation.  

We met with Representative Bonnie Watson Coleman’s deputy chief of staff and legislative director where we collectively expressed our disappointment on the representative’s failure to vote to pass certain legislation regarding military aid to Israel and continued to recount our deep connections to the land of Israel as well as how the war is personally affecting our lives as Jewish Americans and our tough decisions on where to apply to colleges in the fall. The staffers listened to our concerns and spent more time with us than originally planned so they could hear each of our opinions and perspectives. They offered explanations for why the Representative was reluctant to pass specific legislation and told us the representative’s fond understanding of both sides of the conflict 

We met with Rep. Mikie Sherrill’s foreign affairs legislative aide who affirmed the representative’s support for Israel as well as her support for the Jewish communities within her district. He explained to us her unique perspective on the situation due to her intense military background and reassured us of her understanding of the imperative nature of Israel’s existence and safety within the region. And finally, we met with Senator Cory Booker’s foreign policy staffer. We expressed our concern over the rampant antisemitism going on at Rutgers University, shared our own experiences with antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric in our schools, and encouraged the Senator Booker to show his support for the frightened Jewish community at Rutgers and all over New Jersey by being more vocal on the topic of the U.S.-Israel relationship. 

At the forefront of each conversation were the hostages, many of them barely older than we are. We stood in front of the Capitol, held their photos up, and demanded that our government leaders do everything in their power to bring them home now.  

Not many teens have an opportunity to have their opinions heard by political leaders or to experience how our government works at this level. We were grateful for the chance, through our Jewish Federation, to contribute to the debate on existential issues facing the State of Israel and to share the experiences of young American Jews facing an unprecedented rise of antisemitism here at home.