As he heads toward his junior year at Macalester College in St. Paul, Minn., Noah Westreich has developed a keen interest in the workings of Washington, DC, politics.
For the past two summers, he has held internships with Jewish organizations and worked in areas of social justice — last year at the American Jewish Committee’s Latino and Latin American Institute, then, this July, as one of 20 college students in Machon Kaplan, an internship program sponsored by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.
“I am starting to understand how DC works as the central circuit board of the United States. There is so much going on all the time with legislation and events and politics. I really feel that when I get back to school and back home to Montclair I will advocate for the things I feel strongly about,” he said.
Westreich spoke with NJ Jewish News in a July 18 phone interview as he wrapped up 12 days as one of 20 college students in Machon Kaplan.
Machon means “institute” in Hebrew. The “Kaplan” comes from the late Kivie Kaplan of Boston, a vice-chair of the Union for Reform Judaism and, later, national president of the NAACP.
The interns are assigned to organizations active in such social justice areas as racial equality, Middle East peace, and gay rights advocacy.
Noah worked with the Interfaith Alliance, a coalition of liberal religious movements.
His job was to monitor hearings of the House Homeland Security Committee covering the alleged radicalization of America’s Muslim community.
“What I felt was there was really a stereotyping of the Muslim community and not real understanding,” he said. “I watched the hearings and responded with letters to the editors supporting our coalition partners to speak out against the hearings.
“In my personal opinion,” said Westreich, “I found them pretty one-sided. I heard four Muslims testifying, and the one dissenting voice had the most reasonable opposition.”
Westreich did not work with Muslims on the project, but attended a symposium on understanding Muslims in America sponsored by the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, which monitors anti-Muslim discrimination and is a partner organization of the RAC. “I never felt any tension,” he said. “Actually, I identified with the discrimination against them.”
The experience has left Westreich “definitely inspired to get involved in the legislative process.”
Westreich, a graduate of Montclair High School, will spend the rest of the summer with his parents. His mother, Lisa, is a social worker at Montclair State University; his father, Larry, is a psychiatrist.
As he returns to his life as a sociology major at Macalester with a minor in Middle Eastern studies and Islamic civilization, he has not yet drafted a blueprint for his career.
“It is much too early to make plans,” he said.