by Rabbi Jim Prosnit, March 2019/Adar I-Adar II 5779
In this season of “lasts” for me, one thing that stands out is chaperoning my final Confirmation Class trip to Washington D.C. For 28 years our tenth grade students from B’nai Israel have participated in the Religious Action Center’s L’Taken/Social Justice Seminar. It is a remarkable opportunity for our students to be introduced to some of the key issues facing our nation and to the legislative process.
Our students miss a couple of days of school, but most agree that they shouldn’t let high school classes get in the way of their education!
Five or six times a year the RAC hosts upwards of two hundred students from around the country and introduces them to political topics about which the Reform movement has long been concerned. After spending an intense issue oriented weekend (far more time spent on the issues than on being a DC tourist) the students spend Sunday evening focused on the particular legislation that they would like to discuss with our representatives. They prepare detailed papers that tackle the issues on three levels: why is it important to our country? Why is it important to me as a Jew? And why am I as a teenager concerned with the topic?
Their topics can include everything from climate change and economic justice to LGBTQ rights, immigration reform and support of Israel.
As a chaperone and observer, it is always impressive to watch our students speak persuasively and passionately about the issues they studied. The legislative assistants of our representatives that listen to their presentations invariably comment on our students’ preparation and sophistication in the issues they address. The LA’s take notes and make it clear that they will inform their bosses of the students’ points of view.
One of the things that our kids take away from the experience is the importance (and relative ease) of adding their voice to the political process. We learn that representatives are influenced by their constituents and it doesn’t take a lot to get a perspective heard. One of the RAC’s leaders tells the story of speaking to a congressional LA and learning that “the phone was ringing off the hook” on a particular piece of legislation. He asked, “How many calls does it take for your member of congress to feel that the phones are ringing off the hook?” The answer — “a couple of dozen.” So among the most important lessons for young and old alike is not to squander our voices.
Public service is also a theme of the weekend. Our students meet young adults who are either working on the Hill or working for some advocacy group in DC. Several of our former Confirmands who now live in Washington, tell me that it was the L’takein seminar that they took during their Confirmation year that first planted the seed for their current work.
By the way – The Religious Action Center for Adults too! Registration is now open for the Consultation on Conscience May 19-21, 2019
Every two years a delegation from B’nai Israel attends this remarkable program and hears directly from some of the most influential Senators, Congressman and Public leaders of the day. It is a unique opportunity – for more information go to RAC.org or contact Rabbi Schultz.