A group of sixth graders from the Milton Gottesman Jewish Day School of the Nation’s Capital (MILTON) recently embarked on a trip to the National Museum of African American History and Culture as part of a justice-themed immersive learning week. At the museum, the students, led by Gottesman teacher Fani Bettmann, were joined by two representatives from Tzedek DC, a Greater Washington Jewish community legal services nonprofit organization devoted to closing the justice gap for low-income families facing debt-related crises.
Together, the students and legal-aid professionals explored the museum and learned about crucial moments of injustice toward African Americans throughout American history. They began their tour by looking at pictures and artifacts from the era of slavery and questioning how these fit with our Declaration of Independence’s claim that “all men are created equal.” They followed the collections through the Civil Rights Era, learning about the many victories of the African-American community, but also the many challenges that still exist for African Americans today.
After walking through the exhibits, the group gathered to discuss Tzedek DC’s work and how it relates to what they had just seen in the museum. For instance, Ariel Levinson-Waldman, the founding president and director-counsel at Tzedek DC, talked to the students about the suspension of drivers’ licenses for unpaid traffic tickets without inquiry into the person’s ability to pay those tickets. The students discussed the seriousness of someone losing their license, and how this prevents them from getting to the grocery store, bringing their children to the doctor, or getting to work to make the money that is needed to pay off their debts.
As an Avodah Jewish Service Corps Fellow for Tzedek DC, Elana Handelman works to connect college graduates with anti-poverty nonprofits. Handelman shared her personal experiences meeting with clients and spoke about how she sees Jewish values play out in her job every day.
While many of the societal challenges displayed in the museum have yet to be solved, this trip is just one example of how the Jewish community is coming together to help develop the next generation of leaders in pursuing social justice.
By Elana Handelman