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Interning in Washington was outstanding experience
August 31st, 2012
On June 11, I along with 19 other Jewish college students from around the United States became Washington, D.C., interns through the Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action Internship Program.
Zachary Cherny at the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Photo provided by Brianne K. Nadeau, Rabinowitz Dorf Communications.
This opportunity is offered through the Religious Action Center (RAC), which is the D.C. office of the Union of Reform Judaism.
The RAC educates and mobilizes the Reform Jewish community on legislative and social concerns, advocating on more than 70 different issues, including economic justice, civil rights, religious liberty, Israel, and more.
Machon Kaplan participants balance an internship while participating in weekly classes and activities run through the RAC.
While for my internship I worked directly at the RAC, other participants found themselves at organizations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and The United Nations Foundation.
All the Machon Kaplan participants lived on the same dormitory floor in the Ivory Tower at the George Washington University campus.
On my first day of the internship, I saw many new faces, from different schools and from different parts of the United States. I knew that despite our differences, this group of young Jewish college students would be something special and this experience would be one that would influence us all.
The first day included traditional introduction activities such as becoming acquainted with the computer systems, reviewing staff charts, and reading manuals.
However, on the second day I found myself sitting in on a Senate hearing on the Employment Non-Discrimination Act. Witnessing my first Senate hearing was an amazing and exciting way to start my internship. Similarly, being able to hear former “Saturday Night Live” star and now-Senator Al Franken talk was an added plus.
Strength in numbers
Throughout my summer, I was able to participate in other amazing opportunities that became highlights of my summer interning in Washington, D.C.
Aside from my daily job of researching and writing about the current political activities, I had the opportunity to see the process and outcome of our nation’s politics.
For every research related project I was assigned, there was an adjoining opportunity to visit Capitol Hill and help the RAC lobby for its causes.
I attended the Senate Hearing on the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, heard members of Congress speak on behalf of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), lobbied directly to Senators and Congressmen on the Farm Bill, and stood on the steps of the Supreme Court building when the court upheld the Affordable Health Care Act.
I realized how the efforts of an individual and a group can go a long way. Although I was not the most senior official involved with all the policy I was working with, I could see that my work as an intern made a difference.
On all the work that I did over the summer, I knew that it was benefiting and facilitating the process to help the RAC run cohesively and aid it in advocating its issues.
Although the RAC is influential on its own, I realized the true power of strength in numbers. The RAC forms coalitions with other like-minded organizations and individuals, and its effect is multiplied by working with others.
One of the major projects that I was involved with was assisting with the RAC’s policy towards the Farm Bill. If it not for the RAC partnering with other organizations, like Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger, its message would not have carried the same weight.
Besides my numerous 9-to-5 responsibilities, I was able to see some of the nation’s most amazing monuments and museums, including The Smithsonian, The National Archives, The Library of Congress, The Newseum, and the Supreme Court. I visited the Vietnam, Korean, and World War II Memorials, as well as Arlington National Cemetery.
Additionally, I attended a Washington Nationals baseball game, watched the Fourth of July fireworks at the National Mall, explored all the historic neighborhoods of D.C., and went to a few concerts at venues like the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts and U Street Music Hall.
To top it all off, towards the end of my internship I bowled in the Harry S. Truman Bowling Alley at the White House.
Throughout my entire experience, the one thing that I truly valued was the united Jewish community that Machon Kaplan created.
During the summer, all the interns became a cohesive group of progressive-minded Jews working together to create positive change in America. We became a support group for one another.
Every Friday, all the Machon Kaplan participants congregated at the RACs headquarters, 2027 Massachusetts Ave., for Shabbat services. Our program director, Rabbi Michael Namath, provided programming that helped tie Jewish ideals to our experience in D.C.
My summer was filled with meeting new people, seeing new sights, and experiencing amazing events in American history and politics. Likewise, I learned the true power that an individual and a group can have on society.
If it were not for Rabbi Marc Berkson of Congregation Emanu-El B’ne Jeshurun, I would have never known about this amazing opportunity. Thanks to his recommendation to apply, my summer interning at the RAC through the Machon Kaplan Summer Internship Program has been an unforgettable and valuable experience that I carry with me throughout my life.
Zachary Cherny of Mequon is a senior and an honors student at the University of Wisconsin-Madison majoring in history.