Sign In Forgot Password

A Kol Ami Trip To D.C. - The Start Of A Long Road

03/02/2023 05:00:27 PM


Rabbi Malcolm Cohen

I stared up at the Capitol Building. Its white, stone columns majestically stood to attention as a chill wind swept across the wide plaza. I shivered as I zipped my coat but sighed, satisfied at a good day’s work. Glancing fondly over my shoulder I saw four teenagers from Kol Ami who I had chaperoned on this trip, Lark Berger, Ember Berk, Amanda Biava, and Eli White, laughing as they took photos of each other at that famous site.
What had transpired was a long weekend of learning how to persuade our elected representatives, of every political stripe, to support issues we cared about. Organized by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (The R.A.C.), the L’taken Seminar teaches young people how to speak truth to power but to do it in a realistic, pragmatic way.
That doesn’t mean idealism isn’t involved. I saw how passionate the young Kol Ami members were about Mental Health, Gun Violence Prevention, and Climate Justice, how they carefully crafted speeches which they delivered with confidence to staffers in the offices of Congressmen and women from both legislative chambers. My eyes glistened as they took the brave step of sharing personal stories in order to cut straight to the hearts of the listeners. I witnessed them think on their feet when challenged, look legislators dead in the eye, and refuse to be intimidated even while stalking the corridors of power.
Nevertheless, the message I wanted to impress upon them, and which I know they took to heart is the teaching in our holy, rabbinic text, Pirke Avot, which states, “It’s not for us to finish the work but neither should we feel free to desist from it”. This weekend was just a beginning. Any time we were met with encouragement, we showed gratitude. Any time staffers smiled patronizingly at us and promised to get back to us, we resolved to be persistent in our follow-up. I told these teenagers that folks in power, who disagree with us, often count on us running out of steam and gradually giving up, our energy dissipating in a fog of frustration.
Just because this group took a bunch of light-hearted selfies overlooking the National Mall, doesn’t mean they didn’t come to work, to show resilience, to ignore discouraging short-term inertia for the triumph of the long-game. I’ll be going to bed tonight exhausted but safe in the knowledge that our future is in good hands. Kol Ami’s young members came to D.C, they saw, they didn’t quite conquer yet, but that’s just a matter of time.
Tue, June 6 2023 17 Sivan 5783