The artwork on this note card was created by 5768 WRJ Art Calendar artist Césan d’Ornellas Levine.
I’ve loved working at the RAC these past six months and one of the highlights of my time at the RAC so far has been our L’Taken social justice seminars for high school students, where nearly 300 Reform Jewish teens come to Washington, D.C. for a weekend to learn about social justice, lobby on Capitol Hill and get inspiration to be lifelong Jewish advocates. Now, when I first applied for this job, I wasn’t particularly excited about L’Taken. While the idea of engaging high school students on important social justice issues sounded appealing, I thought back to how my classmates behaved in high school. Fortunately, it turned out I was wrong and running six L’Takens the past three months has reminded me why I love working for the RAC so much.
As the legislative assistant working on disability rights and LGBT rights, I had the opportunity to lead small group programs (or shuks as we call them at L’Taken) of forty students on both of these issues. As I led my program on LGBT rights every L’Taken weekend, I thought about how grateful I would have been to attend this shuk as a high school student. I had struggled to see how my Jewish and LGBT identities could coexist when I was in high school and I was grateful for the opportunity to show these students that not only could Jewish and LGBT identities coexist but that there are Jewish reasons to support LGBT rights. (Though, to be honest, it was great to see that many students didn’t even need to be taught this).
Working with these teens in programs and seeing their thoughtfulness and maturity during speech-writing and on Capitol Hill both gave me new purpose and energy, and reminded me of my own passion for working on these issues at the RAC. I advocate for disability rights for the student who shared that while he has been able to succeed in school and become a bar mitzvah despite being diagnosed with autism because of the support of his family and the laws in America, his cousins with autism in Mexico have struggled due to a lack of social and legal support. I advocate for LGBT rights for every student that went to Capitol Hill and proudly declared their sexual orientation or gender identity in meetings with Hill staff to demonstrate their zeal for passing non-discrimination laws. I advocate for affordable and accessible healthcare, as well as stem cell research, for the students who shared how advanced in stem cell research and more affordable health care could help their sick relatives.
In our everyday work in Washington, D.C. it is sometimes easy to lose sight of the people you are advocating for. However, interacting with hundreds of students every L’Taken reminded me not only of the people we are advocating for but also of our responsibility to create a more just world so future generations do not have to deal with the same discrimination, injustices and illnesses that we have endured.