The 2020 Legislative Assistant Experience: Making Change in Unprecedented Times

December 16, 2020Courtney Cooperman and Josh Burg

So much in the world has been disrupted since March, but one thing that remains constant is the Reform Jewish Movement’s commitment to the pursuit of justice. As Eisendrath Legislative Assistants (LAs), we are working hard, just as past classes of LAs have, to advance the Reform Movement’s vision for a more whole, just, and compassionate world.

We’d be lying, though, if we said this year wasn’t a bit different from past LA years. With the Religious Action Center’s and Union for Reform Judaism’s physical offices closed, we’ve missed out on some of the camaraderie that comes from working in the RAC building and in the legislative team’s shared office space. And with government offices closed to visitors, congressional advocacy efforts have gone digital instead of meeting in person on Capitol Hill.

Despite these changes, much about the LA year remains the same. Foremost, the work is as compelling and meaningful as ever.

As LAs at the RAC, we combine our Reform Jewish values with our passion for social justice. The opportunity to dive headlong into an environment where our identities are closely tied to the work is one of the unique perks of the job. Through our advocacy, research, writing, organizing, and teaching, we can make a real impact on the issues we work on.

Within our first few months at the RAC, we have already published blog posts that raise awareness of critical social justice issues; helped Rabbi Jonah Pesner and other RAC leadership prepare for high-profile events; helped shape the Reform Movement’s messaging around the 2020 election; and represented the Reform Movement in meetings with interfaith coalition partners and elected officials. Frankly, the degree to which we are responsible for advancing the Reform Movement’s priorities felt a bit intimidating at first, but with time, training, and experience, we have become comfortable with the responsibility. Still, we would venture to say there is not a first job out of college quite like being a RAC LA!

We joined the RAC team this year at the height of the Reform Movement’s civic engagement campaign, Every Voice Every Vote. This campaign, which ultimately reached more than 550,000 individual voters, was a powerful introduction to the RAC’s far-reaching impact. We also had the opportunity to immediately pitch in and push forward this holy work as teachers in the Social Justice Academy.

Just weeks into our LA experience, we jumped right into the roles of educator and trainer, helping to facilitate the Social Justice Academy’s civic engagement unit for hundreds of teen organizers. Both of us have found tremendous joy in encouraging and mentoring Jewish teens to put their values into action by mobilizing their peers and communities to vote. Even through Zoom, we saw participants light up as they learned how they can use their voices to make a difference, regardless of whether they are old enough to vote.

Future LAs will continue to empower and inspire youth advocates for justice, whether that be through future installments of the Social Justice Academy or through the RAC’s flagship youth leadership development program, the Bernard and Audre Rapoport L’Taken Social Justice Seminar, when it is able to resume in person.

Beyond our day-to-day work, the RAC has offered us valuable opportunities to develop professional skills and relationships in a remote environment. From the legislative process and communications to community organizing and education we have been able to deepen and expand our skillsets. Though just a few months into the program, we have already found plentiful opportunities to network and find mentors, although without the traditional slew of “coffee chats” that past LAs have enjoyed.

The RAC, and the broader DC advocacy communities in which we participate, are incredibly supportive. Our colleagues at the RAC and coalition partners, many of whom have decades of experience as advocates, are excited to teach us, offer guidance, and answer our many questions.

There is also, of course, the lineage of past RAC LAs, a close-knit community of which we will forever be a part. In October, we were welcomed over Zoom into this extended family by nearly 50 former LAs who now work as lawyers, rabbis, congressional staffers, and much more. In addition to the hilarious stories and helpful tips they offered, all were eager to serve as professional resources. We have found that being an LA at the RAC has gifted us with lessons and relationships that will serve us for a lifetime, no matter where our paths may lead.

All things considered, there is nothing quite like being an LA at the RAC. It is so much more than just a first job after college. Being an LA is about joining a community of dedicated advocates and organizers committed to the pursuit of justice in our Jewish tradition. The work is equal parts exciting and exhausting, challenging yet fulfilling. Above all else, we end each day knowing we have played a part in healing our world. We are not sure we could imagine anything better.

The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism's Eisendrath Legislative Assistant Program is a year-long fellowship for people interested in Judaism, social justice, and policy. LAs are at the heart of every aspect of the Reform Movement's social justice work. Learn more and apply now at RAC.org/la.

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