by Becca Anolick
Urban Mitzvah Corps, Participant
Friday morning UMC 2011 embarked on an amazing trip to Washington DC to visit the Religious Action Center (RAC), and lobby in Congress. Some of us had already lobbied Congress, through the RAC’s L’taken program, while others of us had never lobbied before. I was among those who had never lobbied, and while the entire weekend was enthralling, I spent a good deal of time, especially on the bus ride down, worrying about what it would be like.
After a six-hour bus trip, stuck in traffic and getting rained upon by a broken AC unit, we arrived at the Palomar Hotel, which is the best hotel I have ever stayed at. We were given our room assignments and keys, and approximately thirty minutes to change into Shabbat attire. 5:15, we began walking to the RAC, a walk that is less than ten minutes. We had a program on homelessness and economic justice before having services with the interns at the RAC and Shabbat dinner. After stopping back at the hotel to change, we had some free time, in which we had an amazing dance party in Dupont Circle, and then held our evening ritual circling a statue of Gandhi that is located next to the RAC.
Saturday morning, we rose bright and early for services, which my group led. The theme, growing as a Jewish adult, was extremely important because Jenna Wyatt became a Bat Mitzvah that morning. After services, we had two more programs, one about the environment, and one about reproductive rights. We ate lunch and then headed back to the hotel for some free time in our rooms and the pool. At 5:30, we boarded our bus and headed to Georgetown for dinner and shopping. We spent a couple of hours walking around the busy area and going to stores, before boarding our bus again and going to see a few monuments. At the Lincoln Memorial we took a group picture and saw the reflection pool completely drained. The Vietnam Memorial, which I had only seen once in the daylight where you had to squint to make out a thing, was extremely touching; I realized that in the dark it takes on a light of your own, and you can make out ever feature of the soldiers, including the whites of their eyes. We ended our ‘historical’ tour at the Jefferson Memorial, where a few girls saw a wedding proposal take place. The evening ended on the roof of Andy, one of our Student Life Coordinators, rooftops, with a very beautiful havdalah service.
Sunday we woke early again, and headed back to the RAC for more activities. The most meaningful activity for me took place this morning. Amelia, one of the RAC staff members, ran a program on bullying. I felt the whole community grow more connected as we talked about bullying within our schools, and as we talked of ways to fix our own community. After lunch, we were given small slips of paper with our names, our state district numbers, and the different topics we could lobby for. My first choice was LGBT rights and bullying, which I was given to lobby for. The majority of the afternoon Sunday was speech writing. Pens scratched on paper and people grew frustrated with themselves and with writing, but in the end we had all written amazing speeches for the next morning. We walked back to the hotel for some free time, where I sat at the desk in my hotel room writing neater copies of my representative speech. Around 6:30, we all walked to Dupont Circle, where we had free time and dinner, before gathering back around Gandhi at 9:30 for evening ritual. Then we went to our rooms to prepare for another busy day.
Monday morning, we woke, got packed, dressed for lobbying, and walked to the RAC with our luggage. We had breakfast quickly, and then got on the bus, heading for Capitol Hill. When we arrived, those of us lobbying to Senator Robert Menendez had to rush up the hill so we would not arrive late. Around 9:30, about fourteen of us sat around a conference table reading our speeches to one of the Senator’s staff members, while those who were lobbying for other Senator’s went to them.
After lunch in a congressional cafeteria, we broke into our state districts and went to lobby to our House Representatives. My group, Jared Plaxe, Matt Stern, Allie Mazzella, Jake Resnikoff, and myself, found ourselves at a small, cramped table, with Representative Rodney Frelinghuysen across from us. I was shaking as I read my speech, and as the others read their speeches, because I knew that he does not share the same beliefs that we were lobbying for, but at the same time, I was proud of the others and myself. The fact that we were able to voice our opinions to a man who does not believe as we do, and a man who most likely was not swayed from his opinion from what we said, shows that we are proud to be who we are and that we are strong.
The entire DC trip meant a lot to me. I feel like over the course of the long weekend the community grew stronger and more connected. We are no longer split into groups of people who spend their whole time together. Yes, we may not share the same opinions as every person here, but that is the point of a community. We are all heard, whether it is within UMC, or in the government, and although we might not always agree, we’ll always listen. As we were told at the RAC, if you put two Jews in a room together, you get three opinions. So if you put 38 Jews in a room together you get 57 opinions, and we’ll all work together to make sure every opinion is heard.