Student Perspectives on L’Taken Seminar at Religious Action Center (RAC) in Washington, DC

Charlee –

The trip to D.C. changed the way I look about life. The first day in D.C. we learned about homelessness and I enjoyed that a lot because of the stories we heard and how we can help with this issue. That first night I had called my mom trying to explain everything that happened that day and we were on the phone for more than an hour. I liked this topic so much because of how powerful the speakers on behalf of the homeless were. One of them came in looking like a homeless man wearing many layers, i.e. a hat, sunglasses, and large pants. He looked homeless and sounded like it too. However the longer he spoke, his speech got louder and clearer and he started taking off some of the layers. I was shocked however I understood what was happening and it had a powerful effect on me, especially his story.

The day before we had gone to the train station and Rachel had brought cookies and we all were eating them. I guess someone had dropped part of one on the floor and a homeless man walked by, saw it, picked it up, and he ate it! It really freaked me out however I now understand why he would have done that after listening to the two men’s speeches that we heard when we were in D.C. That next day we went to a museum and we probably saw more than 20 homeless men and women playing instruments or music just to get some money for food, etc. We would dance to their music, smile at them and say hello to make them feel special and brighten their day which I learned from the speeches.

I felt that this was such a great experience working together as a group, writing our speeches, and making our presentations in order to make a difference.


Matt –

My experience in D.C. was amazing. I learned so many things and went to very interesting places. I learned how to lobby and what it was like to be in a campaign. The temple also went to the Holocaust Memorial and the Smithsonian. We wrote speeches to present to Senator Menendez and Congressman Lance. The two speeches were about poverty and GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Trans-gender) rights. For my part of the speech, I wrote about Jewish values for GLBT rights. The group I was in presented to representatives from the Senator’s and Congressman’s office. In addition, I made many new friends from all around the country. Overall, this was a great experience and I would love to do it again next year.


Aiden –

It is hard to describe my feelings when I first got off the train. I guess excitement was the main emotion that was pumping through my body. I was jumpy the whole way to the hotel. When we finally arrived, I was overtaken by the amount of openness and friendliness of all the fellow Jews. It is insane how many friends I made that I plan to stay in contact with. Besides socializing which was a major part of the experience, I felt I grew as a person during the seminar. I learned that it is truly possible for one person to make a difference. It is not everyday that you can say you lobbied to Congress and they listened to your words. The trips we took were also inspiring to say the least. The Holocaust Museum was too emotionally moving for words. It is one thing to read about it in a textbook then to actually walk through a cattle car used to transport Jews. It was chilling. The leaders of the program were passionate and really made the subjects interesting. Honestly, I would not give away this experience in a lifetime. Thank you for supporting this program.


Erika –

Walking into the lobby of what would be our home for the next three nights, the atmosphere was clearly buzzed. At the sign-up area, there were several men with kippahs bent over clipboards and the entire population seemed to have name-tags with their names, temples, and states (Betsy would have been in heaven). I went last year, but this feeling swallowed me again: yes, we all had suitcases, disheveled hair, name-tags, nervous chaperones, but we all felt oddly alike. All of the teens around us were Jews. And in Hunterdon Central, that’s weird.

Before I went to DC, I knew most of the people in our group. Rachel P. is my next-door neighbor and good friend and Aiden is my cousin. Even just by Saturday night I’d learned that Rachel W. drinks more water than anyone on the planet, Matt could depended upon for a funny quiet comment, Sam would laugh at just about any of my antics, Megan had the best music playlists on her iPod, Rachel S. was a pretty convincing writer, and Charlee liked sleeping. And by the end of the next night, I’d learned about 100 new names of people across the country.

Saying that the itinerary was ambitious is an understatement. By the end of the first night, we were to have gone to services led by a New Mexico temple, been fed (yay!), heard two speakers from the Coalition of the Homeless, and heard a lobby-prep speech. Throughout the weekend, we would have Havdallah at the Jefferson Memorial (with candles, moonlight, and quiet songs), visit the Holocaust Memorial, hear from RAC president, a representative of a Jewish disabled action committee, and specialists on different domestic and foreign policy issues; we would go to a full-immersion political action seminar, and ourselves become specialists in three issues (for me: global effects of AIDS, rebuilding infrastructure in third-world countries, and poverty in the United States). And, the climax, speak with the offices of the New Jersey Senators and Representatives.

This was my second year at the RAC L’Taken Seminar. It was, by no means, a repeat of last year. And I hope that it will remain a part of the confirmation curriculum for many years to come: there is no other group that is so well-organized and so tailored to the needs and capacity of the Jewish teenager. Who knows, maybe there’s a third year in my future.


Sami –

This weekend has been a great experience. Aside from the obvious fact of having the opportunity to lobby to the house and senators, but I also got to meet other Jews from around the country. Making new friends and becoming closer to my friends from Or Chadash was no doubt a good time.

The different topics to lobby about opened my eyes to the issues going on around the world and even in my own country. I lobbied for an act about anti-bullying towards gays. I didn’t realize how often gays are harassed verbally and physically. Over all I’ve had a great weekend and I hope I can do it all over again next year.


Rachel –

This year I was very lucky to attend the RAC trip to Washington D.C. It is a confirmation trip where you learn about applying Jewish beliefs to politics and things you believe in. The experience was one I will never forget. I got to meet a ton of new people and work with intelligent and very enthusiastic advisers. Our group really bonded well on the trip and we benefited a lot from it. I learned how to apply my life with what I believe in and make connections to Jewish text. I had the freedom to explore different seminars and work with many other Jewish students. I learned about energy saving and the real world. Which were just 2 of the seminars to choose from.

The days were long but very informative, and the free time was extremely fun. Three meals a day and an early start kept the experience wholesome and enjoyable. We traveled to do things other than the seminars. We went to Georgetown and the Smithsonian museums, some of our group chose air and space, and some chose modern art. We also went to the Holocaust memorial, and learned a lot about the past for Jews; and some of the more gruesome details of our pain and suffering. Everyday leading up to the Monday of our lobbying experience we worked on our speeches. We all chose a topic to speak about in front of a legislator or legislative assistant. They gave very good feedback, and they were also very proud of our work which gave us all a good feeling.

I had an amazing time on this trip and I was VERY sad to go home. The experience made you want to stay and learn more. As well as hang more with your new friends. In the end though I’m glad I can now apply these understandings to my life. I also keep in touch with many of my friends from their still!


Rachel –

I am so fortunate to have been able to participate in the wonderful L’Taken seminar that the RAC put on this year. From the moment we got there I knew it would be a great weekend, at dinner we sat with kids from New Mexico that very really nice, but I still didn’t really know how many amazing people that I would meet later! After dinner there was a homeless presentation, it changed my outlook on homelessness forever. They are really just like me and you but they got unlucky and lost their jobs, it wiped away the stereotype of “hobo” and “oh they don’t work hard” out of my head. Another powerful experience was visiting the Holocaust museum. We had all heard about and watched movies but seeing actual artifacts from the holocaust was a much different feeling. It was extremely upsetting, but I’m glad that I had the opportunity to see those things in person. The amazing weekend had to come to an end, but we got to lobby to congress. Most people my age would never even image lobbying for something you care about to one of your congress men or women! Overall it was an incredible weekend that I will never forget, and I cannot wait to return next year.