Weekend Teaches Confirmation Students the Legislative Process
In March, the upcoming Confirmation class and I had a wonderful weekend in Sacramento. We attended the L’Taken Seminar organized by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. L’Taken means “to repair.” The program is designed to expose students to a variety of public policy issues, explore the Jewish values surrounding these issues, and teach the skills of an effective advocate. Our students were joined by students from Congregation Shearith Israel in San Francisco and by our host congregation, Congregation B’nai Israel.
We arrived on Saturday and began with a review of the Reform movement’s involvement in the civil rights movement, as well as the biblical mandate to engage in tikkun olam, the repair of the world. Students were then given background on issues of current concern to our state: immigration reform, raising the minimum wage, providing paid sick days to employees, and comprehensive sexuality education. To give them a real sense of what is at stake in legislating these matters, the organizers had the students engage in some role playing. For example, they were given cards with specifics involved in immigration reform, e.g., border security and path to citizenship. The cards had a numerical value and a plus or minus valence representing one side or the other in the immigration debate. The students had to come up with proposed legislation taking into account all these political positions with the sum of their cards equaling zero. This helped them understand the give and take necessary to get a bill through the legislative process.
Sunday afternoon we took a break, spending time walking through old Sacramento, a real old West neighborhood transformed into a tourist spot with many candy shops, restaurants, and tattoo parlors. When we returned that evening, the students picked the issues they felt the most passionate about and prepared presentations for their state legislators. Our students chose immigration reform and comprehensive sexuality education. Their presentations comprised: a paragraph on why this issue is important for California, a paragraph on the Jewish values behind the issue, a personal connection, and the “ask.” In our case, on immigration, our “ask” was to thank the legislator for supporting the Trust Act whereby law enforcement can only detain an undocumented immigrant for possible deportation if that person has been convicted of a felony. Our other “ask” was to thank the legislator for supporting comprehensive sexuality education rather than accepting federal money to promote abstinence education.
On Monday we went to the State Capitol. Because B’nai Israel’s Rabbi Mona Alfi is also the Chaplain for the State Senate, we were able to visit the Senate chambers and learn about the duties of the Senate Chaplain. We then met with Assemblymember Jose Medina’s Legislative Director, Erica Costa, who was very impressed with how our students presented the issues and themselves. At Senator Richard Roth’s office, we met with his Director of Operations, but also received a surprise visit from the senator himself. Again, the students conducted themselves in an exemplary fashion.
The students found this weekend to be very inspiring. They even said they wanted to go again next year! I would like to thank the Legacy Fund and the Inland Empire United Jewish Federation for making this trip possible. If you would like to know more about the students’ experiences, please join us for Shabbat services on Friday, June 6, when they will speak about the L’Taken weekend.
Rabbi Suzanne Singer