Two months on Capitol Hill

October 7, 2005

Im finally starting to get this place, Capitol Hill
That is what I said to myself after receiving positive feedback on the press release I was asked to write. This was the first real assignment I had been given in the congressional office in which I was interning, and I certainly wanted to make a good impression. Sure, I had already learned to efficiently run errands and log mail, but I wanted to successfully sink my teeth into legislative work. Well, the press secretary found me before any of the chiefs of staff, and a press release about the Equal Pay Amendment turned out to be my first assignment

It was not long into my internship that I began to realize that no one really ever gets Capitol Hill, or understands all of its intricacies. Rather, there is just always more to learn, more to learn, and yet even more to learn.

You see, this summer I interned for the Institute of Public Affairs run by the Orthodox Union (OU). The IPA is a non-partisan center for research of public policy and advocacy and runs an annual summer internship program on Capitol Hill, exposing Jewish college students to important avenues of political and religious activism. Most of the interns are assigned to congressional offices and work in a variety of political areas. I was privileged to intern for two offices, those of House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer (D-MD) as well as Senator Kent Conrad (D-ND).

My IPA summer internship provided an invaluable learning and growing experience. I am indebted to the Orthodox Union for the tremendous opportunity that I was given. I can attest, firsthand, that it is NOT easy to obtain an internship on Capitol Hill. Getting an internship in Washington DC often requires connections, I learned, and the IPA was my connection. So first off, I am thankful for the special opportunity to work in not one, but two congressional offices, and to experience both the House of Representatives and the United States Senate. However, my placement in congressional offices was just the beginning.

Undoubtedly, my summer consisted of hard work and long hours at times, but effort and persistence is amply rewarded on Capitol Hill. I was free to walk the United States Capitol as I pleased (which is quite a feat in todays post 9-ll world), and to view proceedings on the floor of the House of Representatives and the Senate on a regular basis. I was able to have lunch as a guest of Senator Conrad in the Senate Dining room, an area reserved strictly for senators and their guests. I had the opportunity to arrange meetings with several members of Congress and the Senate in their personal offices. I was even able to participate in a minyan with Senator Joe Lieberman in his inner-office one afternoon.

While gaining from my hours spent on Capitol Hill, so much of the benefit of my experience came from the superb programming of the IPA. This consisted of weekly lectures and discussions with prominent political and religious voices on everything from stem-cell research to terrorism to the enigma of the orthodox Jew in a secular government. I am extremely grateful to the Orthodox Union, specifically the tremendous work of director Nathan Diament and program coordinators Seth Jacobson and Rena Barth.

My summer internship was not just an opportunity for growth in my knowledge and understanding of politics. It is true that I am a politics major at Brandeis University;

however, the trip provided an even greater opportunity for growth toward my life-long major, yiddishkite (Jewishness). Each day in Washington presented ever new opportunities to serve as a representative of observant Judaism;

whether in my wearing a kippa at all times, leaving the office early on Friday afternoons to prepare for Shabbat, bringing kosher food into office meetings, or simply doing my part to be the best office employee I could be, I strived, each day and with each task, to positively represent Judaism, the IPA, and the Orthodox Union.

From my experiences in Washington I was able to get a closer look at the work of the Jewish community in American politics. I gleaned two important ideas:
1.Regarding the ever-important issue of Israel, the Jewish community has put countless amounts of work into this area of American foreign policy. We are making a difference! This is hard to deny when one thinks about the gala banquet for the annual policy conference of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee). This culminating event of the pro Israel lobby organization draws attendance from over two thirds of the United States House of Representatives and half of the Senate. One of my final evenings in Washington, I attended the closing event of the AIPAC summer intern speaker series, hosting Congresswomen Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Congressman Kendrick Meek (D-FL). Both of their speeches highlighted the importance of the continuing relationship between the United States and Israel and reaffirmed American support for Israel in the face of extremism. This talk was attended by hundreds of high school and college students. This summer Hoyer is set to lead a delegation of Democratic members of Congress to Israel. Just two years prior, Hoyer led the largest Congressional delegation in Israels history. Such support of Israel and the US-Israel relationship can be heard from Democrats and Republicans, Jews and Gentiles, Whites, African Americans, Asians and others alike. The Jewish community is making tremendous strides, and the effort must continue.

2.While the Jewish community is finding success in the fight for Israel in America, we must not get complacent and think that the fight is already won. There is still work to do. There will always be ignorance and hatred in the world. This point struck me when I visited the White House on my final day in Washington, the morning after the inspiring AIPAC lecture. An anti-violence and anti-war protestor had set up a booth near the rear side of the White House. On her stand, among many other slogans, was posted a statement along the lines of Stop funding Israel. Stop funding the only democracy in the Middle East? One of the very few nations in the region committed to peace and stability? From an example like this, we see there is still work to be done in fighting the ignorance, and double standards shot at Israel every day in the world media. The Jewish community must keep pushing ahead, but Israel will win her fight because, in the words of Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, no other nation in history faced with comparable challenges has ever adhered to a higher standard of human rights, been more sensitive to the safety of innocent civilians, tried harder to operate under the rule of law, or been willing to take more risks for peace (The Case for Israel).

It is my hope that I have been able to maximize the experience provided to me by the IPA and the Orthodox Union this summer. The political knowledge I have gained will accompany me as a senior in college and on to law school, helping me reach knew levels of clarity and understanding of issues surrounding the American Jewish community and Israel. I intend to spread this knowledge on my campus and beyond. The experience and growth obtained through my two months on Capitol Hill as an orthodox Jew will remain with me for the rest of my life.

Editors Note: A version of this article appeared a version of this article appeared originally in the St. Louis Jewish Light.

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