Whenever I go to our nation’s Capitol, I get chills. The grandeur of the city, the seat of government, the idealism and commitment of people striving to do good. Yes, I am still among those who believe that most of the people who serve our nation in positions of leadership are good people trying to make a difference.
I am constantly inspired by the greatness of heroes, those whose names we know and so many of those we don’t. So to stand at the Lincoln Monument and read his words engraved on the walls is to stand in the center of greatness – not just in the shadow of a great sculpture, but of the words and values he espoused.
But then I had a moment… Standing not far from Lincoln, just outside of the pavilion, I always visit the spot with words engraved on the floor, showing where Dr. Martin Luther King stood as he gave his great “I Have a Dream” speech. To be in that spot where he inspired not only the crowd, not only our nation, but the world with hopes of equality and justice, is for me to be on Holy Ground. But the one thing that made this moment even sweeter is to be there with my students in our Confirmation class.
I travel to Washington every year with our 10th grade students in Confirmation. The year is about learning Jewish sources that relate to God, Torah and Israel to help them Confirm who they are as young Jewish adults. So to stand at the site where King spoke, to witness their compassion and outrage in the Hall of Remembrance at the U.S. Holocaust Museum, to see their inspiration in their eyes at the new MLK Monument, is to see the next Jewish generation’s future.
These 15 year olds joined another 250 students at the L’Taken Seminar of the Religious Action Center (RAC) of Reform Judaism. The term, “L’taken,” is the first word of L’taken olam b’malchut Shaddai – “To repair the world under the Kingdom of God.” Through the RAC, these Jewish teens from all across the country travel with their rabbis, educators and youth workers to learn about public policy issues from a Jewish perspective and then lobby our Members of Congress in their offices on Capitol Hill. They took what they learned from our seminars, from their visits to these monuments and memorials, and from our Jewish sources from centuries ago and from today… put them all together to make cogent arguments for change, justice and righteousness. They met representatives from the offices of Senator Chambliss, Senator Isakson, and Congressman Price. The students left DC feeling like they accomplished something. Even if our Members of Congress don’t vote in the direction our students requested, they did not sit quietly by. They learned about our system of government and they learned that our Jewish Tradition has a response to every issue.
I am proud of our students. I hope you are too. They took this opportunity seriously, shared their ideas with conviction and passion, and left as true young adults who care about their country as faithful Jews.
It was a sweet moment for me as a rabbi. “Much have I learned from my teachers, more from my colleagues but most of all from my students.” (Taanit 7a)
Rabbi Fred Greene is the rabbi at Beth Tikvah congregation. This piece was originally posted on his blog, Ayekah.