AJC New Jersey brought 12 members of their Leaders for Tomorrow (LFT) program to Washington, D.C., Feb. 10-11 to put their advocacy skills to use in meetings with members of Congress. LFT is AJC’s year-long program that prepares high school students to advocate for Israel and combat anti-Semitism in their college years and beyond. The following is a reflection from LFT participants Cara Flyer and Andrew Wilf.
As we boarded the Amtrak train from New Jersey to Washington, D.C., with our AJC New Jersey LFT cohort, I was filled with curiosity and excitement anticipating what would transpire over the next 48 hours. The program started at the hotel over lunch, with more than 100 high school students representing LFT cohorts from across the country. That afternoon we learned about advocacy strategies and techniques we could use during our meetings the next day on Capitol Hill. Collectively, we planned out our meetings and strategized about how to discuss issues with congressional staff members. We were told to expect the unexpected; little did we know how true that would be.
At our meetings the next morning in the halls of Congress, we planned to express our concerns about the rise of anti-Semitism on college campuses, and to speak about the legislation to foster peace in the Middle East. But our carefully rehearsed presentations had to be revisited as we recognized a need to advocate for an end to anti-Semitism, starting within the halls of Congress. Soon after learning about the controversial, anti-Semitic tweets Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) had made the evening before (in which she said, “It’s all about the Benjamins,” her misguided critique that U.S. lawmakers are paid by AIPAC for their support of Israel), we asked our representatives to condemn her language — and we largely succeeded. Many legislators we spoke to released statements that did just that. We had chosen to raise our voices and were profoundly moved by the impact we had. We felt proud to have successfully advocated on behalf of the Jewish people.
Our advocacy efforts were equally impactful on my fellow New Jersey LFT participant, Andrew Wilf, who noted that, “As a former Jewish day school student who has been a part of several Jewish programs, I thought I had seen it all. Even though I have a strong Jewish identification, this trip changed my outlook on what it means to be Jewish. Being able to immerse myself in an environment that was warm but at the same time serious, was very special. I left Washington with an even greater belief that we need to be proudly vocal as Jews. Being able to meet with politicians and discuss ways we can prevent anti-Semitism was crucial to making the experience special for me. Being able to discuss, advocate, and collaborate with our representatives in Washington, D.C., is the first step in combatting anti-Semitism.”
The trip opened our eyes to the concerns that the Jewish community faces each day as we observe the rise of anti-Semitic acts both in the U.S. and abroad, and to the importance of legislation that can further Israel’s relationships with other nations.
I left Washington much more knowledgeable and passionate about these causes. When we go off to college and even after, our LFT experiences will stand us in good stead in confrontations with anti-Semitism or anti-Israel bias, and provide us with the tools to advocate effectively for the global Jewish community.
If you know an exceptional high school student who would like to participate
in one of AJC New Jersey’s two LFT cohorts for the 2019-2020 school year
(based in the Millburn and greater Princeton areas), please reach out to
Dena Dubofsky, AJC New Jersey assistant director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or
Cara Flyer is a junior at Millburn High School and Andrew Wilf is a junior at Newark Academy.