When people heard I was interning in a politician’s office, the response was always, “How much coffee will you be brewing?” They expected I was in for a tedious summer of excessive grunt work. But the reality was far from that. I constantly was engaged in work that was educational and stimulating. Every day, each hour, had a new event. Whether it was writing a letter, or researching legislation, there were very few uneventful or repetitive days.
On the first day, I began answering the phones and unexpectedly was asked to write response letters to constituents. (Yes, they were edited afterwards.) Not even for a moment was the position tedious or overbearing. Part of this was due to the nature of the man I was working for, Assemblyman Gary Schaer. His sincerity and leadership skills created an atmosphere where we felt a responsibility to the consituents, the people.
Assemblyman Schaer is the 36th legislative district representative in the New Jersey General Assembly. He presides over the State’s budget committee, and his presence is felt in Trenton. He is also the only Orthodox Jew in the legislature, and this helped, especially because I am shomer Shabbos, too. It also made me realize that I could get involved with work that most typically is thought to be beyond the reach of practicing Jews. The experience sort of mirrored that of attending wrestling camp. In both instances, opportunities that were usually beyond the realm of practicality were opened to me. I saw a man that worked for this great nation and practiced the religion that guided him.
Schaer made a difference because explained to those who asked what it meant to be a practicing Jew, and broke down barriers of miscommunication, misapprehension and cultural divides. He helps maintain an understanding of the Jewish communities in New Jersey, and reinforces New Jersey’s support for Israel.
I also became involved with the general public. Too often I am distanced from people outside of the Jewish community, and I failed to comprehend other realities, concerns, and experiences. I was enlightened because of my job in dealing with constituents.
One great experience I would otherwise not have had was listening in on a briefing call by former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren, at the height of Protective Edge. I learned more about the details of what was going on in the Middle East in one hour than I had reading the pages of The Wall Street Journal.
An even greater experience was the day the General Assembly had, in an unusual turn of events, scheduled a vote for three bills on a day in the summer. Unbelievably, I was able to ride down to Trenton with the assemblyman and speak with him on the way there and back. We spoke about some of the less apparent political and financial realities inherent in a democratic government. I found out how one is able to be a Jewish legislator during sessions. The car talk was just the beginning. I followed the assemblyman through the politicking and caucuses prior to the vote. I spoke with some of the most influential people in Jersey: the Speaker, deputy speaker, and many legislators. Assemblyman Schaer kindly introduced me to many different people, and this opened up a plethora of conversations that continued throughout the day.
From the moment I walked into the capitol building, a ceaseless grin wrapped my face. I bathed in the opportunities presented and the experience of walking into the state house not as a visitor but as part of the staff of one of the most influential legislators.
That day in session had an impact that will help guide me through the future of the state effectively, as a proud Jewish American. I saw Schaer fight for his constituents, and honor the principles and plans that got him elected. For all the rhetoric about how politicians are the lowest of the low, I saw that there are many exceptions to that rule.
This internship translated the theoretical politics I studied while at the Tikvah Summer Institute earlier in the summer. Those lessons at Tikvah proved valuable every day at work. During my downtime, I was able to research and develop a paper about the viability of commercial drones and how they could be integrated into the New Jersey transportation system. In doing that, I learn how bills are formed, developed, and considered in the realm of federal, state, and local issues. This project is now under review, and holds the potential to impact discussion on how to integrate commercial drone activity, which is fast becoming a very pertinent and meaningful issue in the country and state–Amazon’s trial video of commercial drone shipping is but one capability.
The Jewish Link gave me opportunities to write about a variety of eclectic experiences over the course of this summer. The three events I wrote about have linked together to form a conjoined expansion of my life. From Tikvah, to a Jewish experience at wrestling camp, to my State Assembly internship, I have broadened my life experience and depth of thought. All three stories in some way have expanded my story and allowed me to return to academics with a renewed sense of purpose and guidance, and I am glad to know that this summer expanded my vision and meaning immeasurably.
Aaron Eckstein is a JLBC intern and a senior at TABC. This summer, he previously attended the Tikvah Summer Institute and a wrestling camp and looks forward to a college career involving ROTC.
By Aaron Eckstein