Mr. Wadleigh was my high school government teacher. I loved his class, his enthusiasm for the mechanisms of government and his conviction that citizen activism was the most powerful lever in our system. I recall Mr. Wadleigh dressing up in Colonial costume just to bring the lectures alive.
These ideals were reinforced for me by watching my mom become engaged in the democratic process with our congressman, Representative Tom Lantos. As a teenager, Congressman Lantos had survived Nazi forced labor camps in his native Hungary and was ultimately saved by Raoul Wallenberg. Lantos’ life and activism were inspirations for me.
As I earned a degree in Political Science years later, my understanding of the nuances of our government system deepened as did my appreciation for the dedication of individuals who were dismissively called ‘bureaucrats.’ To me, our government and the people working in it were the instruments of bringing our national values into reality. Though often imprecise, our trajectory towards inclusion, aiding those in need, protecting minority citizens and opinions, caring for our infrastructure, expanding our knowledge and defending the homeland always seemed like the clear goals of our nation. Debating differences on policies was the crucible of our system. It helped define terms, clarify ideas and agendas and strengthened decisions.
Today, President Trump swore “to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States” as he assumed our highest office. My hope is that President Trump continue our trajectory towards inclusion but I continue to believe Mr. Wadleigh’s lessons.
Tomorrow thousands will meet in downtown Washington, D.C. and embrace Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel’s words, “When I marched… I felt my feet were praying.” Others will gather in synagogues and offer prayers including the Prayer for Country.
Prayer is only one part of our responsibility to our country. Citizen activism is also essential. Whether you are Republican, Democrat or Independent, this is not a time for complacency. We each must renew our efforts to get involved in local causes which we are passionate about. Whether it is through upcoming events of Tikkun Olam at Beth El (ToBE) or other avenues, pick one area to make a difference.
I have not met anyone who is indifferent about this moment… so get involved. It is time to be an activist and inspire each other to become the crucible of democracy.