Rebecca Oestreicher - '20
This summer I had the pleasure and honor of participating in the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Government Advocacy Internship Program. This was the program’s third year and included me as one of seventeen Jewish college students selected from the tri-state area to participate. The program consists of three parts: placement in a New York City legislator’s office, weekly seminars with experts in various areas of government advocacy, and pairing with a established Jewish mentor.
I was placed in the Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr.’s office in the External Affairs department. While there I did the typical intern things of filing, making phone calls, and updating spreadsheets. However the people in the office also wanted to make sure I got real experience and had something to take away at the end of the summer. I got to write articles for the newsletter, attend press conferences, and do research for a grant proposal.
The people in the office really made an effort to make me feel included, productive, and helpful. So I would like thank Wanda, Dirk, Edwin, John, Matthew, Keith, and Cathy for making me feel so welcome and part of the team.
At first, I was surprised that all the interns weren’t put into Jewish elected officials’ offices. It turns out that this was purposeful. Relationships with influencers outside the Jewish community need to be cultivated in order to drive understanding for a wider number of individuals.
By educating and curating these relationships, Jewish causes and values can create a bigger impact. For example, Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is not Jewish however, because of his relationships with the Jewish community in the Bronx and all of New York City he is known as a strong advocate and defender of Israel.
My mentor works for the Israeli consulate in New York. He gave me advice and answered all the questions I could throw at him. It was profoundly interesting to have an inside look at American-Israeli relations.
The weekly lectures were probably my favorite part of the internship. Sometimes it was a schlep to get to them from the Bronx but they were always worth it. Each one focused on a different part of government advocacy, such as grass roots activism and raising funds, and each one was a pleasure.
Through the seminars I also learned more about Judaism and my relationship with my own observance. There was no minimum or maximum “Jewishness” from my fellow participants -- they ranged from reform to orthodox and everything in between. Thus I learned not just through the speakers but through the friends I made. Because they were my peers I wasn’t afraid to ask them questions I would be too intimidated to ask established persons like the rabbis and scholars who lectured us.
Overall, I had a very busy and meaningful summer. The connections, friendships, and insights I gained this summer are more than I could have ever hoped to get out of a program I discovered from a Hillel newsletter. Although, I never did get to meet the Bronx Borough President...
Guest Speaker, Marty Rosen - Simon Wiesenthal's attorney