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Message from the Executive Director on PANIM programs

December 23, 2009

Dear Friends,

As many of you know, BBYO recently became the home for PANIM: The Institute of Jewish Leadership and Values. In bringing on PANIM, it was our expectation that PANIM’s expertise in civics and values programming would provide new opportunities for the Jewish community to engage Jewish teens interested in service, advocacy, philanthropy and grappling with social issues. Last month, I had an opportunity to visit with 80 teens from four Jewish Day Schools - The Abraham Joshua Heschel School (New York, NY), Chicagoland Jewish High School (Deerfield, IL), Herzl/RHMA (Denver, CO) and Milken Community High School (Los Angeles, CA) - participating in the first Panim el Panim seminar of the year. Since 1988, Panim el Panim has been the cornerstone of PANIM programming, welcoming to DC diverse groups of 10th to 12th grade students from around the country. I had been to Panim el Panim seminars in the past and have always been moved by the ways in which teens feel empowered by their newfound understanding of the political process and the Jewish values entwined in one’s commitment to social action after the program.

There are always special moments that arise when young people come together and are encouraged to reach beyond themselves. When these gatherings take place in Washington DC, the chances of something special happening increase dramatically. During my visit to the Panim el Panim seminar, I had the good fortune of witnessing one of those special moments.

This special moment happened on the steps of the U.S. Capitol building as the teens lined up for a group picture, with the dome of the Capitol as their backdrop. Following the picture, they had a chance encounter with Representative John Lewis (D-GA), who was leaving the House chamber and heading back to his office. The enthusiasm of our teens drew him to the group where they began a dialogue. Congressman Lewis mesmerized the delegates with his personal account of the Civil Rights Movement and the 1963 March on Washington. He acknowledged that at that time, as he fought for his own voting rights, he never imagined that he could hold a seat in Congress. He looked curiously at the nametag of a participant from the Abraham Joshua Heschel School. When asked by the teen if he knew Rabbi Heschel, he smiled as he recalled walking arm in arm with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Rabbi Heschel from Selma to Mobile Alabama in 1965. He shared his thoughts on the partnership between young Jews and African Americans on voter registration drives across the South. Representative Lewis stressed the importance of believing in a goal, and instructed the teens to “keep the faith.” Seeing the symbolism in the past and the future coming together through that exchange was a powerful reminder of the importance of the work that we do.

The Panim el Panim seminar introduces teens, no matter their affiliation, to “learning moments,” through volunteer experiences at DC area shelters, advocacy simulations, or “Street Torah” with the homeless. The programming empowers teens to strengthen their leadership skills by engaging in the world around them, or, as Maddie K. from Deerfield, IL found, “an enduring investment in my personal opinion and the advocacy skills I need to change the world.”

When teens believe in themselves and their ability to make a difference we are accomplishing our goals. This is one example of how the PANIM Institute provides Jewish teens with high-quality content and experiences so that a movement of young activists, inspired by Jewish values, are ready to take on the challenges facing society and the Jewish community.

I look forward to sharing with you more stories throughout the year. Please feel free to share any thoughts you might have about BBYO and the work of the PANIM Institute.

All my best,

Matthew Grossman Executive Director, BBYO, Inc.

BBYO International Office
800 Eighth Street NW
Washington, DC 20001
P: 202.857.6633 / F: 202.857.6568

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