Editor, Daily Nexus,
This past weekend I was afforded a wonderful opportunity. Through UCSB Hillel I traveled to our nation’s capital along with 15 other UCSB and SBCC students to attend the Charlotte B. and Jack J. Spitzer B’nai B’rith Forum on Public Policy. Our delegation was the largest in attendance at the conference, which brought 270 Jewish students from across the country together for three days to discuss this year’s theme “Universally Human, Distinctively Jewish.”
The workshops and speakers addressed our responsibility as a small percentage of the population to make a difference by taking action on social issues like sex education, the global AIDS pandemic, domestic and global poverty, global climate change, the genocide in Darfur, domestic abuse, worker’s rights, global hunger, women’s reproductive rights and gay marriage. While the intensity of the three days can be overpowering, it is also highly motivational and inspirational. Ruth Messinger, president of the American Jewish World Service, an organization that works to alleviate global social problems, reminded us that “[we] do not have the convenience to always be overwhelmed.” Ms. Messinger was one of the keynote speakers along with Howard Dean, chair of the Democratic National Committee; Ken Mehlman, chair of the Republican National Committee; Nadine Strossen, president of the American Civil Liberties Union and a young woman by the name of Karen Austrian who began a grassroots program for empowering teenage girls in Kenya. Karen studied in Kenya her junior year, abroad from Columbia University, and the day after she graduated returned to Kenya and Kibera, the largest slum in Africa, to help young women create a sustainable program for living in the harsh conditions with which they are faced.
The conference did not just inform us about social justice needs, it taught us skills for accomplishing our goals. Meetings on organization, informing the media, advocacy writing and lobbying prepared our delegation for the sessions we had with congressmen and senators Tuesday morning at the Capitol Building. The purpose of this letter is not only to inform you of my experiences, but to encourage you to find an issue that you are passionate about and get involved to make a difference because as Rabbi Hillel said, “If not now, when?”