Up Close in Washington, DC
WIF Fellows Yuval Ran, Eyal Jacobson, Yuval
Laster and Mushira Aboo Dia (Class 28) meeting with US Representative for North Carolina’s 11th congressional district, Mark Meadows during their Spring Institute in Washington, DC last week.
In the wake of the presidential elections, no place was more fitting to gain an understanding of the new political realities than the US capital. Over spring break, Class 28 of the Wexner Israel Fellowship embarked on their four-day Institute with an extremely engaging visit to Washington DC. We planned a varied schedule around group learning goals and arranged for sessions ranging from meetings with Jewish organizations and leaders to meetings at Capitol Hill and the Supreme Court. These encounters deepened our understanding of the work of American governmental institutions, the current challenges of the American Jewish Community and the unresolved questions for many on the Trump era.
Our visit opened with back-to-back meetings at AIPAC and J Street. The two organizations have chosen to cope with the multiple task of representing American Jews and supporting Israel in distinctively different ways. We tried to understand the reasons for the two approaches and their implications. What we took away from the meetings was that their tasks have become harder in recent years, with a younger generation of American Jews and the rising tensions between Israel’s government and the US Democratic administration as well as Jewish Democratic voters.
Our second day was set on a more personal note. It started with a tour of the National Museum of African American History, which opened last September. It presents the tragic, yet inspiring, history of African Americans in the United States. At the museum, one advances from the underground floors, which depict centuries of slavery and discrimination, to the upper floors that demonstrate African American’s tremendous contribution to their country throughout the years. The visualization of history raises many hard questions. I was wondering what the forces were that made discrimination persist for so long and how difficult dealing with the past must be.
On the evening of the same day we enjoyed the generous hospitality of Steven and Lisa Himmelfarb, who hosted us in their home for a meeting with a group of Wexner Heritage Alumni who reside in the DC area. Conversations were long and meaningful, taking many different directions, and will hopefully continue in the future.
Our third day included a tour of Congress and meetings with the Israeli Counselor for Congressional Affairs at the Israeli Embassy, a Republican Congressman and a Democrat Staffer. The work of Congress and the US-Israel relations stood at the center and, of course, the unresolved enigma of Trump in these contexts came up often. An ample follow-up for the Congress session was a discussion at the Washington Institute with an unparalleled panel of Middle East experts. It provided surprising and profound insights that go far beyond conventional views.
On the final day, we visited the US Digital Service — probably one of the more important government offices in the coming years — which holds the potential to transform government services as we know them. We have studied this issue at Harvard Kennedy School and our visit provided an opportunity for discussing past and future challenges. The lessons are very relevant for the Israeli public service.
The last leg of our DC journey consisted of a tour of the Supreme Court and a conversation with Justice Stephen Breyer, who explained very plainly and cordially some of the interesting insides of his post. As we returned, we could hear on the radio the debates on the confirmation of a new justice to the Supreme Court. We were fortunate to have such an unusual and rich week that will not be forgotten soon.