On Thursday, May 2, a large majority of the 179 seniors at the Frisch School took an annual trip to Washington, D.C., to lobby members of Congress on the topic of Israel. The students split into 16 groups of approximately 10 students per group, with each group lobbying one or two members of Congress. They visited 32 members of Congress total, with 23 Democrats and 9 Republicans, the majority of whom were state representatives. Each Congress member was chosen based on either their committee assignment in foreign affairs or appropriations, or their state affiliation with either New York or New Jersey; party allegiances were not a contributing factor when the appointments were scheduled. Students were expected to research their Congress members’ voting records ahead of time and plan accordingly.
Prior to the day in Washington, senior students received three days of “Washington prep” at the Frisch School, in which they attended lessons on Israel advocacy, learned more about the topics they would discuss at their meetings, divided responsibilities for each topic, and held mock congressional meetings with members of the Frisch faculty.
The program focused on giving students the responsibility of managing their own meetings. Each group of students was tasked with dividing up responsibilities among themselves, determining who would have speaking roles, and doing individual research. In the weeks leading up to the program, volunteer students cold-called the offices of Congress members and scheduled meetings; every meeting of the day was scheduled by a Frisch student. Furthermore, in the conferences themselves, students would not be joined by a Frisch School faculty member, meaning that the students directed the sessions independently of adult assistance and took responsibility for the success of the day. “I think the best part of this program is that it is completely student-centered,” says Rabbi David Sher, head of the Israel Advocacy department at the Frisch School and the faculty member in charge of the annual Washington trip. “It’s an empowering message that they are the next generation responsible for ensuring the strength of the U.S.-Israel relationship and that they already have the ability to begin making a difference.”
The students focused on three key topics of discussion regarding Israel: foreign aid, the BDS movement and Iran. The students stressed the importance of continuing to send aid to Israel, as well as the political and military benefits gained from supporting the only democracy in the Middle East and one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world. They also requested that members of Congress cosponsor a pending bill that opposes the BDS movement’s ideals and restates America’s unwavering relationship with Israel. They additionally encouraged enforcing sanctions against Iran, keeping a close eye on the country’s nuclear activities and ensuring that their presence in the region did not have a negative influence on the Middle East as a whole.
The students’ experiences were valuable in a number of ways, with each student taking something different from the experience. “I think it gave me more of a concrete idea of how politicians interact with the people they serve, and how important connections between officials and constituents are,” says Tabitha Klein, a senior who spent hours scheduling meetings with members of Congress and met personally with Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. “I had always been interested in public service and political involvement, and this visit really helped me solidify my hopes to help people via government involvement in the future.”
The grueling schedule of the senior grade’s Washington trip required students to arrive at the Frisch building by 6:30 a.m. After arriving at Capitol Hill at 12:30 p.m., students spent several hours meeting with members of Congress before boarding four buses, briefly visiting the University of Maryland Hillel for dinner and Maariv, and arriving back at the Frisch building at 10:30 p.m. School was canceled for seniors the next day, and seniors will now cease to have regular classes for the rest of the year, exploring various educational opportunities until their graduation on June 6.
By Brooke Schwartz
Brooke Schwartz is a senior at Frisch and a Jewish Link intern.