Washington Township native earns spot in summer social action internship

Jewish social justice is discovered in unique summer internship program

This summer, Freehold native Rachel Silverman and Washington Township resident Lee Wilson’s passion for Judaism, social justice and advocacy brought them to Washington, D.C. for the Machon Kaplan program at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.

Machon Kaplan is a summer study-internship program that engages students on critical social justice issues from both an academic and practical viewpoint. Program participants, such as Silverman and Wilson, intern at a public policy organization, such as the NAACP, Interfaith Alliance, AFL-CIO, HIAS, Public Citizen and the Jewish Federations of North America, seeing firsthand how groups pursue legislative advocacy, how policy is crafted and how interns can harness their own energy to make social change.

While in D.C., Silverman is working with the Center for Responsible Lending, whose goal is to work towards ensuring a fair, inclusive financial marketplace that creates opportunities for all responsible borrowers, regardless of their income. In working with the Center for Responsible Lending, Silverman’s goal is to gain a better understanding into the intersection of Judaism and social justice.

“Between programming at Machon Kaplan and my position as a public policy intern, I have learned so much about the political process and the role that nonprofits play in legislation,” said Silverman. “For example, when the Secretary of Energy released a statement affecting legislation that my nonprofit is involved with, I was part of the immediate response — researching, editing press releases, and even sitting in on a meeting with a policy member of the Senate HELP Committee.”

Silverman is a rising junior studying religion and sociology at Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr.

Wilson is working with HIAS, whose goal is to protect and advocate for refugees and assure that displaced people are treated with dignity. In working with HIAS, Wilson’s goal is to be a part of those standing up against unjust policies.

“I have had the wonderful opportunity to see how passionate a large portion of the Jewish community is…” Wilson said, “and I have learned how one voice can truly make a difference, because it creates a ripple effect that can have an impact, even if it is just a small one.”

Wilson is a rising senior studying international and global studies and economics at Brandeis University in Waltham, Mass. With the experience and knowledge gained from their time at university and in D.C., the two hope to engage other students on their campuses.

In addition to their placements, students take specially designed academic courses that teach the application of Jewish values to current social justice issues such as the environment, civil rights, LGBTQ equality and the separation of church and state, among others.

Most participants also live together, forming a residential community, participating in weekly programs that include exploring the city’s monuments and museums, as well as studying various Jewish texts that connect to the contemporary policy issues that they are advocating for at their internships.

To learn more about the Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action Internship program, please visit http://rac.org/mk.