By Hannah Schlacter
In late February, I accompanied my 25-member Write On for Israel cohort as we traveled to Washington DC and met with members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation and officials of the Obama Administration to advocate for Israel, as well as to learn from a panel of pro-Israel Congressional staffers and scholars from the Washington Institute of Near East Policy.
Our advocacy centered on four key issues: thwarting Iran's nuclear capability, maintaining US military aid to Israel, passing the Visa Waiver for Israel Act, and maintaining the charitable tax deduction.
In small groups of 4-5 students, we engaged in stimulating discussions with our country's leaders. We were taken seriously. We demonstrated the knowledge, skills, and experiences we have learned throughout the two-year Write On program. We experienced our country's political process and our ability to both participate and influence it. We witnessed the role our own Chicago Jewish leaders have had in shaping our country's policy. We exemplified the importance of leadership programs that build the next generation of future leaders … my generation … my Write On peers. We made our pro-Israel impact.
But we did not just make an impact. We were impacted as well. The experiences of the day affected each of us and changed us in unique ways.
At the end of the day, as we enjoyed New York-style pizza and Coke in JUF's Washington office, we reflected on the day. I looked around the table at the exhausted but engaged faces of my peers and listened. Each person had his or her own comment, opinion, or question. Then I looked at the walls, covered in photographs of Jewish leaders with our country's Senators, Congressmen, Presidents, and Secretaries of State. The room was living proof of our Jewish community's bipartisan engagement, and I knew that my colleagues and I will maintain and grow this involvement.
Thanks to the confidence, education, and dedication we have gained from Write On, we will be the next generation of Jewish leaders. We will go off to our future destinations, each following his or her own path. It is time for us to move on to the next challenges that await us. As we prepare for the upcoming Passover holiday, I find myself comparing our next steps with the challenges that awaited our ancestors when they prepared to leave Egypt.
Some of us may go to Israel. Some will go to college campuses next year. Some may go on to be leaders on the Hill, working as staffers and eventually as policy makers. Some may go on to be leaders on their college campuses, being involved in Hillel and stewarding effective "Israel Peace Week" presences, projects, and campus-wide engagement. Some may go on to become Federation professionals or lay leaders, organizing a proactive, engaged Chicagoland Jewish community.
As we go on to discover ourselves and be discovered, we will always keep our Write On friendships, knowledge, skills, and experiences with us--even after we graduate from the program in April.
Each of us will make an impact in our own ways, but we will forever demonstrate the skill set and confidence we have learned and developed in Israel, Washington, and the monthly seminars we have attended. We have learned to advocate, research, network--be it with Write On Fellows, professionals, lay leaders, and alumni--to fulfill the privilege, passed down l'dor vador-from generation to generation-of leading our Jewish community into the future.
Hannah Schlacter is a senior at Stevenson High School and a Senior Fellow in Write On for Israel, a program of JUF's Israel Education Center. Current high school sophomores are encouraged to inquire about applying for the 2013-2015 cohort. For more information, contact email@example.com.