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Teens Travel to Washington, DC, to Take on Human Rights and Genocide

July 15, 2011


For three days teens participate in advocacy, hands on service and lobbying at Capitol Hill

On Sunday, June 26, 61 teens from across the United States, Canada and Bulgaria came together in Washington, DC, for a unique summit called "Human Rights and Genocide Summit " (HRGS) focused on exploring the Jewish values related to standing up for groups in need. The HRGS, sponsored by the PANIM Institute of BBYO, asks participants to answer the following questions: What is Genocide? Where are Human Rights being challenged? What's the Jewish response to genocide? And, what can I do?

Participants arrived at their answers through meetings with experts, policy leaders and advocates over the three-day summit.  Highlights of the learning sessions included:

  • A session on "What is Human Trafficking?" lead by Free the Slaves and FAIR Fund
  • A Teen Coordinator lead session of Stand Up for Each Other, BBYO’s campaign for inclusion and respect focusing on LGBTQ issues.
  • Visiting the Preventing Genocide Exhibit with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Committee on Conscience
  • Updates on Darfur and the Congo with  Naama Haviv, the Assistant Director of Jewish World Watch and Dahlia Rockovitz, the Advocacy Coordinator of American Jewish World Service
  • How to Create an Effective Advocacy Campaign with the National Student Director of STAND, the student led division of Genocide Intervention Network.

At the conclusion of the learning sessions, the teens had the opportunity to meet with their Members of Congress on human trafficking and genocide prevention. The Canadian delegation met with the Embassy of Canada.

"As the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, it pains me to learn about the genocide spread throughout our society, both in the past and even now.  I am constantly thinking "How can I help, how can I stop this atrocity?" said Joey Kader, 16 years old, from Ellicott City, MD.  "By participating in the Summit I’ll be able to raise awareness on this extremely important issue, because if the citizens stand idly by, then the politicians have no motivation for tackling genocide, one of the most horrific issues of mankind."

The teens participating in the HRGS and all Teen Issue Summits are teens that have shown a commitment to leadership and service in their schools, youth groups, and communities.   Seventeen of the participants recently returned from the March of the Living, a two week trip through Poland and Israel with a focus on the Holocaust.

Two of those teens, Jesse Freedman, of Toronto, Canada and Laurel Cohen of Winter Park, Florida, are serving as Teen Coordinators for the HRGS.  Freedman says that "The trip (MOTL) was powerful, but we can’t let the trip just end."

The HRGS was an opportunity for teens that are passionate about the issues of human rights and genocide to learn how to take the next steps with advocacy.

"I believe that the most important reason for teens to be involved in service and advocacy is so that we remember that just because our lives are stressful as we apply to college and navigate the many things that consume our high school days, there are still people in the world who have been struggling with basic human issues who still need our attention," says Cohen.

Mikah Goldman, program manager of the HRGS, says "The teens really left feeling empowered and motivated to be change leaders."

The HRGS is a Teen Issue Summit offered by the PANIM Institute of BBYO, in partnership with  American Jewish World Service, Fair Fund, Free the Slaves, Holocaust Genocide & Human Rights Education Center, Jewish World Watch and STAND The Student Lead Division of Genocide Intervention.

HRGS is an extension of PANIM’s premier program, Panim el Panim. Since 1988, over 16,000 teens from more than 200 communities have traveled to Washington, DC, to participate in Panim el Panim.  Each seminar brings together diverse groups of 10th-12th grade students from around the country to explore a wide range of issues and public policy and social activism through a Jewish lens.

For more information about the summit, go to

See the HRGS in the Press:

Winter Park/Maitland Observer Never Again: A Teen Takes Action to Honor Those Words

Canadian Jewish News: Toronto Teen Co-Chair Human Rights Summit

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