Name: Rachel Silverman
Class Year: 2019
Major: Religion and Sociology
Hometown: Freehold, N.J.
Internship Placement: Keshet
Job Title: Advocacy Intern
What’s happening at your internship?
I’m interning at Keshet, a national organization that works for full LGBTQ equality and inclusion in Jewish life. My main focus is on the Massachusetts Ballot Initiative. In 2016, Massachusetts passed protections for transgender people in public spaces, and this November there will be a measure trying to repeal the law. Keshet is mobilizing the Massachusetts Jewish community to stand up for transgender rights and ensure that these important protections remain.
As part of this effort, I am reaching out to and following up with different Jewish organizations and communities in Massachusetts about getting involved in our campaign. My big project will be leading a Jewish Community Canvas Day in July. I am also organizing and moderating a webinar to educate the Jewish community on this campaign and how they can take action. Another project is working with our rabbinic intern on creating a resource that Jewish clergy can use to incorporate the campaign in their High Holiday services—from trans text studies, to ideas for sermons, to alternative rituals they can do to honor transgender lives and commit to trans advocacy.
Why did you apply for this internship?
I am extremely interested in Jewish social justice. Much of this comes from my academics; as a religion and sociology dual major I have learned about faith-based organizing. Last summer, I did a Jewish social justice program in D.C. and interned at a nonprofit where I got to see how faith-based advocacy operates on a federal level. Then, through the LILAC Externship Program, I shadowed two rabbis who are advocates in their communities. This is the kind of leader I want to be, and I now plan on becoming a rabbi and community organizer.
On the last day of my D.C. internship last summer, my supervisor told me that she wants to “fight for people like her.” That really struck a chord in me; I want to advocate for my communities. Our Hillel rabbinic intern suggested that I intern at Keshet; when I found out that an LGBTQ Jewish nonprofit exists, I immediately knew that this was my next step. I am lucky enough to have a rabbinic student and organizer as my supervisor, which makes this experience even more helpful and meaningful.
What has been your favorite part of this internship?
I represented Keshet at an event raising awareness for the ballot initiative where Joy Ladin, a trans Jewish professor and poet, spoke. Last semester, I read her memoir for my Queer Religion class at Haverford, so I was extremely excited. I had planned on incorporating her work into my senior thesis, and here she was! I had the opportunity to ask her questions relating to my thesis firsthand, and she told me she’d be happy to stay in touch. What I thought would simply be an interview for my thesis turned into a two-hour very sincere and mutual conversation. I went from being her fan to making a hopefully lifelong connection!
What is most rewarding about your internship?
I love how representing Keshet at events has allowed me to connect with people in the community. The best experience was when I staffed our table at Pride. I held a sign with a rainbow Star of David that read “proud to be queer and Jewish.” I loved seeing people’s faces light up as they saw the sign and ran to my table. Many of them had no idea that a Jewish LGBTQ organization existed, and as I told them about the work we do and ways they can get involved, it was great seeing how happy they were (many were shocked, because like me, many people were brought up thinking Jewishness and queerness were incompatible).