In January, I had the extraordinary opportunity to go with our 10th graders to the Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, the Reform movement’s lobbying arm. Our students spent a packed 3 1/2 days of intensive learning, exploring and studying.
They learned how to lobby Congress. They learned about many of the social justice issues the Reform movement takes a position on, they met Jews from all over the country including those who say “y’all.” They wrote and presented passionate speeches to staff from Senator Booker and Congressman Pallone’s offices. It was such a privilege for me to watch our students go from complaining about how much school and homework they were going to miss, to sitting diligently at the computer excited to share what they were planning on saying to our representatives. Watching their speeches go from an essay of facts, or an idea like, "I care so you should do it," to growing those concepts into logical arguments with persuasive reasons from American, Jewish and personal perspectives was truly awe inspiring. Then to see them speak calmly, clearly and professionally at the representatives’ offices left me beaming with pride. I felt proud to be part of a country that encourages us to participate. I felt like I could forget about how difficult real politics are, because in that office, politicians were doing their job, listening and responding to their constituents. I felt so proud to be traveling with these amazing students as they learned and shared in this journey.
We also had the extraordinary opportunity to see how good we have it. As we were walking to the bus for the journey back to New Jersey, we walked alongside the friends we'd made from Texas. They too, had chosen to lobby on LGBT issues, along with Comprehensive Sex Education and other topics (Texas funds “abstinence-only” education). While they had been lucky enough to get face time with their congressman, not just a staffer, his response was disheartening to the students. He did not support any of the topics they called to his attention and made blanket statements which would make most of us cringe with their political incorrectness. We are truly blessed where we live. Our government isn't perfect. There is much worth lobbying over, but our LGBT students can find support for non-discrimination in our state. We are represented by people who want to protect and give equal access to those with different abilities or disabilities. We have representatives who believe government should be in the buisiness of social issues and protecting those who cannot protect or speak for themselves. None of the issues we advocated for may change in the 114th Congress, but it will not be because of our representatives.
At the RAC, students learned that they can truly be a part of something bigger. I hope they will not be disheartened that change and laws are sometimes slow to come. But instead, be energized to know that it is possible. At the beginning, there were those who weren't sure they could write a speech or stand up and speak to our representatives, but they did it. Now they know that they can continue to advocate from a local to a national level on all the subjects they are passionate about.
Thank you, TRT, for the opportunity to learn with these students. It was truly an honor, and I feel even more blessed to be an American.
Cantor Joanna Alexander