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Even where you’d least expect it – the middle of Northern Iowa – one can stumble upon a more than 100-year-old Jewish community still practicing today. While embedded on the Monica Vernon campaign here in Black Hawk County, J Street National Political Associate Ben Sheridan and I went to help out at a rally in support of Hillary Clinton featuring Bernie Sanders. While making the rounds there, we bumped into a woman who was wearing a magen david. She turned out to be Erin Maidan, a Jewish educator at the only synagogue (Sons of Jacob, Waterloo) within hundreds of miles. Erin is a third-generation Iowan, whose family had been sponsored by the synagogue, which helped pay for their passage to Iowa from post-war Europe immediately following the Holocaust.
After a few minutes of conversation, Erin invited me and Ben to come speak at her Sunday school class this past Sunday morning and we happily accepted. We spent the better part of an hour talking to a b’nai mitzvah class about what J Street is and how Jewish values motivate us to do the work that we do. I’m not sure the diplomacy-first foreign policy nuances of J Street’s message necessarily sunk in, but what did is the obligation to stand up and speak out in the face of injustice. An obvious, organic line was drawn by the students to the current election and the tenor of the conversation that has come up in their community. We all decided it was best not to yell at someone who supports a candidate with whom you disagree, but it’s unfortunate that some very mean people today have such a large platform because it empowers others to be mean as well.
It was a very nice break from knocking doors and hitting the phones the past week, and Erin highlighted how important it was for the students to meet some Jewish professionals from outside of Iowa who are “out there changing the world.” As undeserved as it is, it’s nice to feel like a role model once in awhile!