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Monday, December 10, 2012

Panim el Panim 2012

This past week about 30 students from Yeshivah of Flatbush went down to Washington D.C. to participate in Panim el Panim, a 3 day seminar that teaches leadership and lobbying skills. This was an eye opening, hands on learning experience. We learned about various issues such as homelessness and Internet privacy. We participated in various activities to help us better understand and come face to face with these issues. A speaker from the homelessness coalition spoke to us about the challenges and realities of being homeless. In addition we took the food stamp challenge to experience how a family of four living off of food stamps has to budget themselves when they shop for food. This forced us to really look at prices and see how much money we actually spend on food and how much we take it for granted. We also interacted with homeless people at a local park in Washington. We spoke with them and gave them socks, hats, and gloves to help them get through the winter. It was shocking to hear their stories and a really eye-opening experience to speak with them and to hear how much faith they have in G-d and to see that they are normal people just like us who have fallen into an unfortunate situation. We had many debriefing sessions where we discussed what we learned and how we can bring what we learned back home.

In addition to learning about homelessness we also discussed issues that we felt were important to us. We learned how to effectively lobby our congress member and/or his staff member and how important it is for us, at such a young age to voice what we believe in. We had discussions and broke into groups to prepare for our meetings. When we walked up to Capitol Hill Wednesday morning we were ready and well prepared. The group I was with had an appointment scheduled with a staff-person from the office of Bob Turner, a congressman who was not re-elected this year. Although Congressman Turner was not re-elected his staffer will continue to work for other congress members and will keep in mind the issues we spoke about. After that meeting we were able to get a second meeting with a staff member of Yvette Clarke, who is the congresswoman of the district our school is located in. We were able to get this meeting due to connections Joey Cohen-Saban (HS '11) had made on previous lobbying missions to the office. He was with our group and was able to call up the staff member from his phone and arrange a meeting on the spot. This showed us that these meetings really do matter and not only do we have the power to create a relationship with out congressmen, but also that it is extremely easy to do so. We spoke with the staff member of Yvette Clarke on three issues we felt were important to us. We discussed the current situation in Israel, the intensity of the fiscal cliff, and the need for more government funded scholarships. After discussing these issues with the staffer, we took his business card, left the office, and headed out for a tour of the Capitol. Our meeting, however didn't stop there. After we left we made sure to email the staffer about the meeting we had just had to thank him for his time and restate our issues. We also sent out emails to the congresswoman to let her know that we had stopped by and explained to her the issues we spoke about. We intend to maintain a relationship with the congresswoman and the staff member and to hopefully return to Washington and lobby them again in the future.

After a wonderful tour of the Capitol we went to go watch the Senate which was in session. This gave us a chance to see how the senate actually works, as we were able to see it firsthand. We made our way back for one last debriefing session and discussed how everything we learned, experienced, and discussed during the course of the seminar could be brought back to our homes and schools and that we could continue to impact and affect our world and the lives of others around us, even in the simplest of ways. Panim el Panim was an incredible, life-changing experience that will remain part of us as we finish high school and move on with our lives. The things we learned will help us and will stay in our minds as we are figuring out what we want to do and who we want to be.   ~Jacqueline Baum, 3W