photo 2Family vacations certainly provide more relaxing interactions. Family missions provide more meaningful, long-lasting experiences.

Our family traveled together to Washington, D.C., for the Norpac mission last week. Being part of a record-breaking 1500-person mission made the effort seem all the more important. And for our two teenagers, we provided a fascinating and awe-inspiring experience in current events, political science, history, economics, foreign policy, public speaking, and the democratic system, all in one single (and very long) day!

The Norpac mission mobilizes a cross-section of our broad community. We come from various political backgrounds but we are united in agreement on the importance of a strong U.S.-Israel relationship and we are committed to ensuring bipartisan support for that relationship.

Imagine the logistics of a fully immersive one-day experience, providing transportation, food, briefings, and meaningful experiences for each participant. The Norpac leadership team, with dedicated volunteer support, ensured impressive and flawless execution.

After an early morning minyan, we boarded our bus from Englewood at 6 a.m. Norpac’s president, Dr. Ben Chouake, provided a personal briefing, and we were given updated information to prepare for our Congressional meetings. Our rabbi, Shmuel Goldin, interacted with our kids, encouraged them, and made them feel special for participating. When we arrived at the Washington Convention Center, we felt the importance of the mission, as everyone gathered to hear inspiring and passionate words from Senators Mark Kirk (R-Illinois), Ben Cardin (D-Maryland) and our own Robert Menendez (D-NJ.)

On our way to Capitol Hill, we passed the Newseum, which opened in 2008 and celebrates the freedoms and protections guaranteed to us under the first amendment to the Constitution. The words of that amendment are carved in the stone façade, reminding us of the blessings of living in the United States. Freedom of religion. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. My kids were reminded of their lessons from the classroom, prominently positioned on Pennsylvania Avenue.

We met first with Congressman Steve Stivers (R-Ohio) who had just returned from his first trip to Israel. Before we could get started, Congressman Stivers shared his impressions, his keen insights and understandings, and his strong support for America’s critical ally in the Middle East. He listened intently as my kids then presented our perspective on the Iran nuclear negotiations, and he agreed with them fully.

In the hallway, we experienced the origins of the term “lobbying.” We ran into Congressman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) as he was on his way to a vote on the house floor. He graciously spent a few moments with us, listening to our key priorities and especially thanking our kids for taking the time and making the effort to travel to Washington to participate in our democratic system.

We then walked across Capitol Hill to the Senate side for our meeting with Senator Rob Portman (R-Ohio.) He, too, had just returned from Israel, and shared his observations and reflections on his trip. The senator made a big impression on our kids, thanking them not only for coming to Washington but also for advocating effectively on an issue about which they truly care.

Spending the day on the Norpac mission brought me back to my own experiences working on Capitol Hill in the early 1980s, when I had served as a legislative assistant to a member of Congress. While I remember meeting with constituents, I really don’t remember meeting with many teenagers who made the effort to come to Washington, a point I reinforced with my kids. I remember the majesty of Washington, the energy of the Congress, and the importance of our work. I also remember feeling very privileged to have a small role in shaping U.S. legislative policy at such a young age.

As we embarked on our bus ride back home, we marveled about the day, and about how truly fortunate we are. Face-to-face meetings with members of the U.S. House and Senate. The freedom to speak our minds and raise our voices. The ability to wear our kippot proudly in the epicenter of U.S. power and decision-making. We commented on the personal decency and genuine interest shown by these elected representatives. We noted how they decorated their offices with personal memorabilia from their home states and districts. And we remarked on their reliance on young, energetic, smart staff members to keep them up-to-date on the legislation and issues raised.

My wife and I hope our two teens long will remember this inspiring and fully immersive family mission. We hope that as they chart their life paths, they will be particularly appreciative of the opportunities we in the United States have to express ourselves directly before our elected representatives.

We pray that by working together — citizens and elected officials — we will find peaceful resolutions to the global conflicts we face.

 

Originally published in the New Jersey Jewish Standard