Finding their political voices

Finding their political voices

Representative Josh Gottheimer talks to students at Yavneh in Paramus

Congressman Josh Gottheimer takes a question from a student at the Yavneh Academy in Paramus during a program on political activism.
Congressman Josh Gottheimer takes a question from a student at the Yavneh Academy in Paramus during a program on political activism.

Parents send their kids to school to learn. They learn how to read and write, they learn about history and math, and at the Yavneh Academy in Paramus they learn about the importance of using their voices to make positive changes in their environment and their country.

Dr. Aliza Frohlich, the director of guidance at Yavneh’s middle school, oversees the advisory program; part of that program’s focus is “Do not stand idly by.” This biblical directive is connected to “bullying and cheating within the school, and expands to getting involved with political action,” Dr. Frohlich said. Every student should know that bullying will not be tolerated; they should not just stand by and say nothing. They have the power to do something. The program empowers students to speak up and have a chance to make a difference.

As they get older, students learn that they have the power to make a difference in the political arena, if they so desire. Rabbi Jonathan Knapp, Yavneh’s principal, spoke about the activism that these students are learning. They learn, he said, that they must “stand up to eradicate evil and to protect peace.”

Teach NJS is a division of the Orthodox Union that works to gain funding for nonpublic schools. Part of its programming includes bringing congressional representatives and senators to local schools. As part of Teach NJS, Representative Josh Gottheimer (D-5th Dist.) paid a visit to 113 very politically aware seventh graders. He told these young people how much he enjoys meeting students, and he encouraged them to follow their political aspirations and lobby for issues that are important to them.

The congressman was even so honest as to talk to the audience about the anti-Semitism that he experienced in his own campaign, how upsetting it was to him, and how important education is in eradicating these issues. When he was asked about bullying, Mr. Gottheimer said, “As Americans, we should value and treat one another with respect. My advice to middle schoolers is that we must be brave and stand up against hate in all its forms. Hate and intolerance have no place in the greatest democracy in the world.”

An innocent onlooker might assume that because these students are only 13 years old, their questions would be benign. But they weren’t. These students came up with questions ranging from “What is a typical day for a congressman?” to “What do you think about President Trump’s plans for healthcare in the United States?” A lot of time was spent asking and answering questions about the state of Israel, a subject that is very close to these
students’ hearts.

Congressman Gottheimer accepts a presentation from two Yavneh students at the assembly.
Congressman Gottheimer accepts a presentation from two Yavneh students at the assembly.

Mr. Gottheimer talked about his accomplishments since he was sworn into office for his first term in January. They include an amendment he introduced to help veterans — both those fresh out of the service and those who are older — get jobs. He told the students that his hopes for his time in office include “working on Israel, fixing tax codes, and fixing roads, bridges, and trains.” The students were surprised to hear that New Jersey has been rated as having the ninth worst roads in the country.

“Students at the Yavneh School were passionately engaged in learning about American civics and good government, and their questions made it clear that they share my unshakeable commitment to Israel and its security,” Mr. Gottheimer said. “I look forward to seeing the great things these young people will do in service of our community and nation.”

Ozzie Wimpfheimer, one of the seventh graders, was very excited about hearing from Mr. Gottheimer. “I thought the congressman really answered the questions very well, for kids who either knew generally what was going on in Washington or kids who didn’t even know who their  congressman was,” Ozzie said. “He explained every question to all the kids. He would dissect the question and explain that first, and then explain everything that he was talking about.

“I feel like he really got to every kid in the room.”

And did he learn anything from Mr. Gottheimer? Yes, Ozzie said. “I personally felt like he really covered everything that he came here to do. He spoke about Israel and what it is like to be a congressman. I mostly enjoyed him talking about his day-to-day life, learning what a congressman does every day, and how he manages it.”

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