By Ben Tinsley
For college students (and Dallas natives) Rachel Frish and Megan Sims, June and July 2015 marked The Summer of Jewish Social Justice — and perhaps the beginning of the next phase of their young lives after graduation.
Frish, 21, a senior at the University of Kansas in Lawrence, Kansas, and Sims, 19, a sophomore at Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts, temporarily relocated to Washington, D.C. for these months to be summer interns in the Machon Kaplan program at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. As part of that program, Frish and Sims learned about Judaism, social justice, advocacy — and about the way the professional world works.
The results were amazing, Rachel Frish said.
“I was able to camp outside the (U.S.) Supreme Court and wait for the decisions about the death penalty, the EPA and redistricting,” she said. “I got to go in the room as the justices handed down their decisions, which was really cool.”
Megan Sims said as far as she is concerned, Machon Kaplan offers the perfect internship.
“Since being here, I’ve gotten so many opportunities that I wouldn’t have had otherwise — including the chance to make lobby visits, learn from brilliant teachers, and have a community of like-minded Jews to spend time with here in D.C.,” Sims said.
The two Dallas-area students made incredible strides during their time in D.C., agreed Rabbi Michael Namath, program director at the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism who heads the Machon Kaplan program.
“Their internship supervisors have been impressed with their ability to quickly learn how to be a supportive member of the staff team of the organization,” the rabbi said. “They have both been valuable members of the community.”
Rabbi Namath explained that this summer study-internship program engages students on critical social justice issues from both a practical and an academic viewpoint. Participants such as Rachel Frish and Megan Sims intern at various public policy organizations such as the AFL-CIO, the NAACP, Citizens For Global Solutions, or the Interfaith Alliance.
Sims, the daughter of Mike and Michelle Sims of Dallas, worked with the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) whose goal is to provide social change for the needs of Jewish women.
In working with the NCJW, Sims’ goal was to learn about advocacy work, become more attuned to Washington, and gain writing experience.
Frish, the daughter of Robert and Kathryn Frish of Dallas, worked with the Interfaith Alliance, whose goal is to protect religious freedom. Her goal was to gain professional experience working with a nonprofit organization.
Students in this program get a firsthand look at how groups pursue legislative advocacy, how policy is crafted and how interns can harness their own energy to make social change, Rabbi Namath said.
“The program is an effective opportunity to help college students connect Judaism and social justice,” the rabbi explained. “In addition the students are able to gain real-world experience through their internships. They live and learn as part of a special community of like-minded peers.”
Students in this internship program take “specially designed academic courses that teach the application of Jewish values to current social justice issues such as the environment, civil rights, LGBT equality and church-state separation, among others,” according to Rabbi Namath.
Most of the students live together and participate in weekly programs that include exploring the city’s monuments and museums. Additionally, this communal group studies various Jewish texts that connect to the contemporary policy issues for which they are advocating.
Sims, who intends to major in folklore and mythology at Harvard, said in high school, she was involved with the Dallas Area Federation of Temple Youth (DAFTY), including serving as social action vice president during her junior year.
She participated in the Religious Action Center’s L’Taken conference for high school students during her sophomore year, during which is when, she said, she got an opportunity to learn about Jewish social justice and lobby Congress. She said she already knew about the opportunity the RAC offers from the L’Taken conference.
Frish, a communications major at the University of Kansas, said she has always been passionate about community service and the idea of social justice — that everyone should be treated equally and have equal resources and happy, healthy lives.
“This is something I am passionate about,” Frish said. “A friend of mine put this program on my radar and I thank him for that.”
Rabbi Michael Namath said this is a crucial program for young Jews looking to discover their Jewish identity and cultivate a passion for social justice.
“Social justice is a core value of Judaism,” he said. “Helping students to understand that deep connection allows them to express their faith.”
Frish said she couldn’t be happier with the way her summer turned out.
“This solidifies my passion for social justice, as well as the idea I want to work in a nonprofit one day,” Frish said. “This is where I want to be.”
Sims had similar thoughts.
“I’ve had some great opportunities to connect with people, including my coworkers and other people I’ve networked with,” Sims said. “I’m hoping the chance to spend the summer here will help me even more in my future career path in the long run.”