Twenty-five Senior Fellows in JUF's Israel Education Center's Write On for Israel program flew to Washington, DC, on Tuesday to advocate for Israel with members of Illinois' Congressional delegation. Lori Komisar, who chaired the Fly-In told the Fellows, who are seniors in 10 Chicago-area high schools, that she was impressed with their knowledge, passion, confidence and eloquence. WOFI Senior Fellow Shelly Dekalo, who attends Chicagoland Jewish High School, shared this reflection on the experience.
Arriving at O'Hare at 4:30 a.m., I knew I had a long day ahead of me. In the back of my head however, I was aware that this was the culminating experience of my two-year commitment to Write On for Israel. I had been looking forward to this day since the start of the program: The opportunity to take everything I have learned and apply it all in one day was the true test to see exactly what I have gained from this experience.
After being split into groups based on the Congressional districts in which we live. and reviewing our talking points, we needed to become very familiar with the topics we were presenting (military funding for Israel, thwarting Iran's nuclear ambitions, protecting the charitable deduction and the visa waiver program). The goal was to cover as much as possible in our meetings with members of the Illinois Congressional delegation and their staffers, while getting to hear what each Representative had to say about the issue as well. Our group told some personal stories to make the issues that can seem so distant to people who are unfamiliar to them become real. My group had three meetings which went really well, and everyone was able to articulate their points eloquently. The three Representatives our group spoke with were all very pro-Israel and seemed well-informed about the issues. It was refreshing to hear all the support coming from DC, and the day made me more confident about the next four years in terms of Israel's security.
After lunch, we got to hear from a panel of young people who work on Capitol Hill, including one who is a graduate of WOFI. Theyshared how they got to where they are today. Many of us expect to become more involved in politics as we get older, so this was a great opportunity to hear about opportunities we can take advantage of, along with first hand advice as well. The panelists really spoke from the heart. They were all very passionate individuals, and it was really cool to see that they were able to pursue their passions and take it to a professional level.
Next on our agenda was a meeting with Representative Brad Schneider. I was very impressed with all the work he is doing and what he plans to achieve during his time in Washington. He shared some insight into the life of a newly elected Congressman, and the challenges and rewards that come with the job. I live in the 10th district, and I enjoyed hearing my own Congressman speak. It was particularly good to hear that Cong. Schneider -- whose son completed WOFI two years ago -- isso supportive of the work WOFI does. We then met with senior aides to Sens. Richard Durbin and Mark Kirk who addressed the issues that were on our agenda for the day. We were able to express our thanks to Sen. for his leading role when it comes to Israel's security, and to wish him a speedy recovery.
Next, we then went to the Eisenhower Executive Office Building to hear from Zachary Kelly who is President Obama's Interim Director of Jewish Outreach. He grew up in the northern suburbs of Chicago, so we had an instant connection. He told us about his experience as one of the five Jewish starters on Glenbrook North High School's varsity basketball team that won the Illinois state championship in 2005, and shared that he has played basketball with President Obama.
In a day filled with so many incredible meetings and people, Mr. Kelly was my favorite speaker because he had such a unique background and experience that led him to where he is today. He also seemed very genuine and appreciative of the opportunities he has gotten, and was very impressed with our group as well.
As the day drew to a close, some of us expressed surprise that everyone treated us like adults, even though a majority of us can't even vote yet. It was refreshing to meet so many people committed to forming bipartisan relationships and improving the system.
It is easy to be cynical and think we don't have a voice in issues that concern us, but our day in Washington demonstrated that we do have the opportunity to be heard. It was an honor to represent the Chicago pro-Israel community with my cohort this week. The trip proved to us that WOFI has done its job of making us eloquent speakers and passionate advocates for Israel who know how to make our voices be heard.
WOFI is generously funded by the Avi Chai Foundation and supported by JUF's Israel Education Center, an arm of the Department of Campus Affairs and Student Engagement. To learn more about the program please contact Emily Briskman, Director of JUF's Israel Education Center at EmilyBriskman@juf.org.