By: Raechel Banks, Rebekah Sedwin, David Thalenberg, and Morgan Weidner, Staff Team, Mitzvah Corps D.C.
“You shall not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” ~Exodus 22:21
Since Sunday, almost a week now, 33 young adults from coast to coast have been exploring what it means to take action against social injustice, specifically as a group of 33 Jewish young adults. They have explored the question of, “What makes social action an inherently Jewish idea, and as a Jew, why is it important that I perform acts of tikkun olam?” In the book of Exodus, God reminds us that we were strangers, or slaves, in Egypt, and therefore it is our duty not to “wrong or oppress a stranger.” For the last 5 days, they have taken these words from God and far exceeded what God has asked us as a Jewish people to do.
As we head into Shabbat, and a much needed day of rest, we’d love to share with you all of the incredible things that Mitzvah Corps DC has accomplished this week! The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (The RAC) has been a place where the group has been learning each afternoon. A major concept that we’ve been working on is the interplay between action, education, and advocacy. In regards to the action piece, each morning, the teens have been working at three different job sites: Martha’s Table, A Wider Circle, and Sasha Bruce. They have been hard at work organizing a women’s “closet” that those in need can shop in, preparing food to be served to the hungry on food trucks, sorting donated clothing and selling items at a thrift store, and refurbishing used furniture to go out on the showroom floor for people to buy at a heavily reduced cost.
As for education, each day the teens have participated in engaging experiences in which they are learning new ways to reach out to someone in need, hearing from speakers with real stories of their own homelessness from the National Coalition for the Homeless and hand-delivering bags of toiletries to those who are in need on the streets of D.C., learning about economic, racial, and climate justice, exploring the ties between social justice and American history though exploration of the Smithsonian museums, and so much more. A major concept that struck our teens this week is the idea of “upstream” verses “downstream” action. They’ve realized the importance of downstream action, which is essentially the work they have been doing all week at their job sites, but now recognize that upstream action — or doing something to help fix the root of the problem rather than just helping to alleviate the consequences of the real program — is truly why we are here, and what they feel is their purpose.
That being said, today our teens had a thrilling opportunity to practice advocacy by lobby their senators and representatives on Capitol Hill. They wrote speeches to deliver to them on one of four topics: hunger, homelessness, climate, and voting rights. The Legislative Assistants at the RAC taught them yesterday all about how lobbying works and how to write a great speech. They have blown us away with their words! We have learned this week the true power of the voices of 33 teenagers, and just how effective they can be. We can’t wait to see how their thoughts have impacted their representatives and senators stance on these issues!
In addition to a jam-packed week of action, education, and advocacy, we have had a chance to explore what our nation’s capital has to offer in a variety of ways! We have eaten food from different cultures, and from restaurants that serve both healthy and locally-sourced foods. We’ve climbed (in an elevator) to the top of the Washington Monument and have seen what DC looks like from 555 feet in the air. We’ve walked more miles than can be counted on ten fingers, and have wear in our shoes to prove it. We’ve walked around Georgetown and other neighborhoods of this incredible city, explored the Smithsonian museums, played Frisbee and kickball, took a tour of the White House and monuments, and built our own “communities” out of graham crackers, icing, and gum drops (which were delicious!).
Elie Wiesel said, “In Jewish history there are no coincidences.” It is not a coincidence that these teens from all over the country were brought together here in D.C. this week…it is b’sheirt, or meant to be. When together, they will accomplish insurmountable things, and change the world we live in.