Fireworks, Sunshine, and Expectations
Hannah Helfman is a participant in the Religious Action Center's Machon Kaplan summer program for college students. She is a student at Dickinson College and an intern at Jewish Women International.
I was excited to come to DC this summer for many reasons, but one of the things I most anticipated was spending the Fourth of July at our nation's capitol. Hailing from Catonsville, MD, a small town just a step outside Baltimore City, Fourth of July has always been a huge deal. I thought that DC's Independence Day might be the only celebration that could rival Catonsville annual Independence Day festivities, including the Grand Parade along our main street and fireworks at my high school, reportedly drawing about 60, 000 people each year. Needless to say, I was expecting a lot from DC. Walking around the mall during the day, my visiting friends from home and I saw a fair amount of patriotic hubbub, but a much smaller percentage of people than I expected were dressed in a three-color palate--I was nerdily decked out in a blue dress and red accessories (complete with white nail polish, of course). And as far as the fireworks, I know everyone else raved about the spectacle, but I would not be a true Catonsvillian if I was satisfied with a display that felt only about ten minutes long; last year's Catonsville fireworks lasted close to an hour.
Okay, so DC, you disappointed me in terms of an Independence Day jamboree, and granted, I have probably analyzed this day much more than anyone should, but I do have to say that you, DC, have far surpassed all of my other expectations.
I was excited to live in a city this summer, but I never thought that the fact that I am in DC specifically would have such an impact on my experience, not just because of the government-focused and tourist aspects, but the city itself is a place in which I have fallen in love. Everything (free) there is to do, the presence of young people, and even the building height limit -- I swear it's sunnier here than in downtown Baltimore -- make this a place in which I have promised myself I will live again.
I also didn't realize how perfect my internship would be. I was excited to be working at Jewish Women International, but it never occurred to me that, while most of the other Machon Kaplan participants wanted an internship involving advocacy and government, an experience like that would have done very little for me in the long run. At JWI, I am working within the programming department, working on projects ranging from helping to organize summer seminars, to help brainstorm ideas for religious texts that correlate to modern issues, to writing passages and programs that will be printed for use in an upcoming international convention for an organization currently partnering with JWI. This is the type of work I envision myself doing after college. I'm not interested in being involved in the politics of a non-profit; I want to be in the office creating programs and doing the work of the organization. I realize how lucky I am that seemingly by chance I am able to do the type of work I've always wanted to try. I also realize that although I made no request of working in a Jewish-affiliated organization in my application for the Machon Kaplan program, this summer has been a great chance for me to see how my faith can be a part of my future career. When I was six I told my mother that I would be a rabbi, and throughout middle and high school I intended on being the director of education at a Hebrew school. When I discovered that I would be happiest in more of an office setting, I wondered how Judaism would be a part of my life. I had always thought I would end up in some position of the Jewish community, but suddenly, it would be very likely that I would have no professional connection to Judaism. I knew that Jewish businesses existed, but never thought I would have the opportunity to experience how one works before I would enter the workforce and see where I might end up. JWI is based upon Jewish values, but it serves all women everywhere. I love the balance of social action and Judaism that is present in every project we do. I am now thoroughly convinced that I belong in this type of organization: a non-profit that does fantastic, tangible work, but where Judaism remains an every-day influence.
DC, you have shown me a fantastic summer and have given me so many terrific opportunities. Just promise me that on July 4, 2010, you'll make your fireworks display just a little longer.