By: Maddy Albert, Participant, Mitzvah Corps D.C.
Before I arrived NFTY Mitzvah Corps, in my mind the RAC was simply an acronym which connoted an image of the School House Rock “I’m Just A Bill” cartoon and the White House filled with Reform Jewish rabbis and Jewish teens. I wasn’t too far off track.
On Monday, we learned just how the RAC involves young people like us in doing G-d’s work through a beautiful story, otherwise known as the upstream and downstream metaphor. The story begins with a town, as many stories do, which is home to a beautiful river that runs all the way through it.
One day, the townspeople notice a man drowning in the river. They hold an emergency town meeting where it’s decided that a lifeguard stand will be placed in the middle of the river to save any future drowners. When this decision still results in more drownings, the town decides to take more precautions toward saving people in danger, such as reaching a log into the river for stragglers to grab onto. This method still leads to three deaths out of ten.
Finally, one man speaks up at a now weekly town meeting: “Why don’t we go upstream and figure out why so many people are drowning in the first place?” He offers to the group. Only when the town council discovers and attacks the source of the misfortunate does the situation amend itself.
This metaphor offers a profound message to our group, explaining why we pursue advocacy.
Reflecting on most of my previous service experiences, many of my efforts can be considered downstream actions. Attacking the effects of a broader issue without analyzing the problem. By working with the RAC this week and confronting the people in charge, we truly learn how to travel upstream to begin to amend social issues and do tikkun olam, repair the world.
Although we only have a week here in DC, Jewish tradition teaches: “You are not obligated to complete the task, but neither are you free to desist from it.” Our efforts spark curiosity and motivation to address these tasks for the rest of our lives. We may not be able to stop every person from drowning, but we can figure out why they’re there.