Shara Katlin, 18, of Lawrenceville spent several days in the nation’s capital earlier this spring but she was not there to see the sights.
Instead, she engaged in discussions of Jewish values in connection with efforts to prevent human rights atrocities.
The second annual Human Rights and Genocide Summit, sponsored by the BBYO youth group’s Panim Institute, drew 30 teens from across North America and the United Kingdom.
Katlin, the daughter of Evette and Cantor Arthur Katlin of Adath Israel Congregation in Lawrenceville, was the only New Jerseyan at the June 3-5 summit, and the first from the Princeton area to attend.
Katlin said that at the summit experts, policy leaders, and advocates conveyed a wealth of information on human rights abuses, particularly forms of slavery — including human trafficking, child labor, and sexual exploitation — around the world.
“I learned that slavery is extremely widespread and most people don’t know about it,” said Katlin, a graduate of Lawrence High School who will attend Rider University in the fall. “It’s really important to raise awareness, to talk about it with our senators, to just reach out and educate wherever possible, especially to the younger teen population.”
Katlin said that Jews in particular should focus attention on issues of human rights and genocide.
“I feel that as Jews we have this obligation to help heal the world, to help people in need, and to really raise awareness and show people that this stuff does exist and that we need to do something about it,” she said.
Katlin said that the high point of the trip was her visit to the Capitol Hill office of Sen. Frank Lautenberg (D-NJ), where she gained some experience in lobbying.
“That was really the bulk of the summit,” said Katlin. “That’s where we gained all our knowledge and information and really got to put it into practice.”
Katlin is also a graduate of Jewish Community High School at Gratz College near Philadelphia, where she attended classes twice a week. She was also active in the local chapter and region of United Synagogue Youth, served on the JCHS Knesset, and was a volunteer helping students and adults with special needs. A JCHS teacher recommended the BBYO summit.
In conjunction with BBYO, the summit was sponsored by the American Jewish World Service, Free the Slaves, Holocaust Genocide & Human Rights Education Center, Jewish World Watch, and Invisible Children.
The program is an extension of Panim el Panim, a BBYO program that brings students to Washington to learn about public policy and social activism in a Jewish setting.
Katlin said she plans to remain involved in human rights issues when she attends Rider and hopes to have more opportunities to lobby legislators.
“It was so worthwhile and I would recommend it to anyone else,” she said. “I felt like I was meant to be there. It was an amazing experience and I learned so much.”