June 18, 2024
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June 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Becoming a Jewish Leader Despite Unprecedented Times

The last couple of months have been an unprecedented challenge for everyone, from students to the workforce. As a student, I witnessed many of my friends losing planned summer jobs and internships, trying to figure out how to spend what is going to be a very strange summer.

It was in this environment that on Monday night I was sitting in on a seminar (via Zoom, of course), with Moshe Kinderlehrer, the publisher of this very paper. Unlike almost everyone I know, my summer internship with the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Government Advocacy Internship Program was not canceled, and business was running (almost) as usual. The internship consists of three parts: weekly seminars with influential people in all aspects of advocacy, taking that knowledge from the seminar and applying it to an internship with a local politician, and further refining.

One of the seminars was led by Mr. Kinderlehrer, who gave us an inside look into the advocacy process in the media. Specifically, he spoke about the process by which The Jewish Link operates. He also shared case studies where determined individuals engaging with the paper on an issue of interest (via op-eds, information on a pertinent news story, etc.) led to coverage of the issue by major [national] media.

We apply the knowledge we gain from each seminar to our “day jobs” as interns for state and city level politicians, mainly New York State assemblymen/senators, and members of the New York City Council. In my case, I’m interning for Assemblyman Walter Mosley, who represents the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights and parts of Bedford Stuyvesant and Crown Heights. So far, I haven’t really been able to use my new-found knowledge, but, as the summer progresses and things begin to open, I’ll hopefully be able to use the skills I’ve learned in my day-to-day responsibilities as an intern.

The last part of the program is a mentorship with a prominent figure in Jewish life. This person provides guidance throughout the internship and gives a unique insight into the world of political activism and Jewish relationships with the greater community. I feel incredibly privileged to have been paired with Rabbi Joseph Potasnik from the New York Board of Rabbis. As one of the leaders of the Jewish community on the frontlines of both the COVID-19 pandemic and racial justice protests, he’s been an incredible resource. He has invited me to sit in on some of the work that he does with the rest of New York’s faith communities and clergy, which has given me a much deeper understanding of the issues facing both the Jewish community and other people of faith in New York City.

I plan to use the insights I’ve gained from those meetings to help Assemblyman Mosley advocate for legislation which the faith communities of New York feel would benefit their constituents and the city at large.

Now for the big question. Why would I do this? What’s motivated me to spend my summer in the trenches of political advocacy work rather than, say, relaxing on the beach?

As someone from a Modern Orthodox background, I think it’s imperative that I learn how to effectively advocate and effectuate change. We often grouse around the Shabbos table about politics and how things need to be changed to better serve our communities; here’s an opportunity for me to learn how to do that. Instead of bemoaning a situation in our community that needs improvement, I will have the tools necessary to do something about it. Instead of merely blaming the politicians about an undesirable situation, I will have the means to lobby those very same politicians to correct the situation. Thanks to Mr. Kinderlehrer, instead of viewing the media as a hostile force never to be trusted, the media is now a friend and an agent to spur change on a far greater scale than would be possible alone.

Instead of being (by virtue of not doing anything) part of the problem, I will be part of the solution.


Avi Koenig is a participant in the 2020 Simon Wiesenthal Center Government Advocacy Internship Program. He is a rising freshman at the Macaulay Honors College at Queens College.

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