Seniors at the Frisch School in Paramus got a firsthand look at the world of politics last week when they traveled to Washington for a day of lobbying.
After a week of preparation, 137 students set out on April ‘6 to meet with 41 members of Congress and legislative aides to promote issues such as the Iran Nonproliferation Act and to speak in favor of keeping pressure on Hamas.
"The idea is, we’re a Modern Orthodox Zionist school," said Rabbi Joshua Wald, a Talmud teacher at Frisch and adviser to its American Israel Student Activism Committee. "One of our goals is for the seniors to be able to engage in the modern world in many different ways, being able to speak up for what they believe in, and be effective advocates for Israel."
A week before the trip, Wald and Frisch Principal Kalman Stein chose the topics and helped the students research their positions. While, they acknowledged, there are many issues of interest to the Jewish community from poverty to the genocide in Darfur they selected those topics highlighted by AIPAC and Norpac.
"We decided to keep it straightforward," Wald said. "We [went] with Iran, which is on everybody’s mind, and also Israel foreign aid and the three [kidnapped] soldiers."
This was the second year the senior class has gone to Washington to lobby, and with the positive feedback they have received from both students and Capitol Hill, Stein said he hopes it will become an annual trip.
"It was magnificent to watch them do their research," Stein said. "They were more prepared than some of the adult groups I’ve seen go off to lobby."
Students were divided into groups of eight, and each was able to attend two meetings. Eitan Kagedan, a 17-year-old student from Teaneck, met with aides from the offices of Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Rep. Robert Wexler (D-Fla.). Kagedan said he had never had an interest in politics before, but noted that the trip "had a real impact" on him.
His group of eight went into the meeting with McCain’s aide expecting to recite a prepared monologue of talking points, but instead, they enjoyed a casual conversation.
"We just talked back and forth and he gave us tips," Kagedan said. "It was a real discussion."
Some of the meetings were very brief five-minute sessions with an aide but most of them were "amazing," Wald said. Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-Dist. 8) sat down with the kids for a half-hour, he said, and they received similar receptions in most of the meetings, which, he said, did a lot for the students’ confidence.
"The most important impact on the students is [that] once they’ve done this and done it well, they will never be afraid to walk into an important person’s office and lobby for something important to them or the community,"
Elisheva Rubin shared Kagedan’s disinterest in politics before the trip, but said that the reception the students received changed that.
"I walked away with a whole new outlook," she said. "They took into consideration what we thought, and they were really interested in our opinions on the issues."
Rubin’s group met with an aide from Sen. Richard Durban’s office and with Christopher Stevens, a United Nations Middle East expert who works with the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Other leaders who met with Frisch students include Rep. Steve Rothman (D-Dist 9), Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), and Rep. Scott Garrett (R-Dist 5). The students have begun sending thank-you notes to their hosts and have already received appreciation from the Hill for their participation.
"It is truly an honor to meet with students of the Frisch School in Paramus year after year," said Rothman. "Each time, I am impressed by the depth of their knowledge and their passion."