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"Politiclueless": Getting Acclimated to D.C. through Machon Kaplan

"Politiclueless": Getting Acclimated to D.C. through Machon Kaplan

As passengers abandoned airplane mode, buzzes from CNN or New York Times lit up their phones; updating them of what had or hadn’t transpired domestically and abroad in the nearly five-hour flight between Arizona and DC.

I opened my phone to two Snapchats, a text from my mom, and a like on Instagram. 

I knew that I was in trouble when I sat down with my internship supervisor, Erin, on the first day and she asked me--probably rhetorically-- “So you’re the public policy intern?” and I responded, completely seriously with; “Well, I’m actually the social justice intern.” We both laughed--me nervously because I am not a public policy student and her because she thought that I was being witty. As she continued with our orientation, listing off tasks, expectations, and goals I began to think to myself: what have I done?

In terms of politics, I had been mostly clueless. I could name my state senators and a few of the representatives; I knew who Ruth Bader Ginsburg is, but mostly because I had just seen the movie about her; and the issues that I cared about were usually the ones that my “woke” friends in College Democrats had heard about and relayed to me.

At least that’s how I related to politics before participating in the RAC’s Machon Kaplan summer internship program. Machon Kaplan has given me the chance to live out politics. From organizing and social justice work on campus, I had learned to care about certain issues; but through Machon Kaplan, I have the chance to see those protests and petitions and calls for action actually change minds and uphold justice.

In Pirkei Avot, we learn that Rabbi Akiba, one of our greatest scholars, did not begin to learn Torah until he was 40 years old. However, as soon as his teacher taught him the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet, he did not stop studying until he had learned it all.

I still don’t recognize members of Congress when I walk down Constitution Avenue, and I didn’t read the entirety of Breyer’s dissent on the AMEX case. But I am young and I am interested and I am motivated, just like Rabbi Akiba was, to continue to learn about how I can make a difference and to not stop until I am satisfied.

This city is making me buzz--and not just from the CNN and New York Times notifications that are now lighting up my iPhone screen.

Rachel Levy is a 2018 Machon Kaplan participant and a rising Junior at the University of Michigan where she is studying Sociology of Health and Medicine and Judaic Studies. She was a member of NFTY Southwest in high school and is now the Reform Community Leader at U of M Hillel. This past year, she was a Hebrew Union College Founders Fellow and a JNet Engagement Fellow at U of M Hillel.

Machon Kaplan is an internship program for undergraduate students interested in Judaism and social justice. Based in Washington, D.C., it provides students with a meaningful social justice internship, the opportunity to engage in study related to their internships and and making change more broadly, as well as an open reflective community with whom to share their experience. Students learn, through study and action, the interrelationship of Judaism and American ideals, as well as how change happens. Learn more.

Published: 7/16/2018