Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Dinner at the Supreme Court

That's right. Mm-hm. I had dinner at the Supreme Court tonight. Oh, and I took a picture with Justice Samuel Alito. Uh-huh.


Okay, so the organization that I got this internship through is having a 2-day lobby mission to Washington. They invited all the interns to participate in as much of the programming as possible. And the major highlight of today was having a dinner reception at the Supreme Court and then being addressed by Justice Alito.

So I left work early today (more about what I did today later), and headed out of Rayburn, the House building where I work, up Independence Avenue and left on First Street down to the Supreme Court building. The Court building is just a gigantic marble edifice, really a beautiful structure. I met a few other interns and we walked around to the Maryland Avenue entrance, through a small grassy area with some benches and flower beds. Then we went into the Supreme Court building, where we walked through a metal detector and put our stuff through an x-ray machine. About every forty feet was a new guard, presumably to keep people from going nuts and trying to get into the offices of the justices or something.

Anyway, we rode up one floor to the East Wing Conference Room, where a buffet dinner was set up (the food was AMAZING and totally beat cereal and milk). I noticed a man who wasn't wearing a kippa walk into the room, but I didn't realize that he was Justice Alito. First of all, he's young. Like fifty or so. I always associate being a Supreme Court Justice with being somewhat ancient and decrepit, so his youthfulness threw me off. By the time I understood who he was, though, he was so surrounded by people that it wasn't even worth it to try and talk to him. And the truth was, he didn't remember anyone after he saw him/her. When so many people are thrust in your face like that, it's all just a blur. So even though I didn't get to talk to him, I don't regret it at all. What would I have gained, anyway?

Am I regretting now that I didn't talk to him?

Well, too late now.

I got a picture with him, at any rate.

After dinner, we all filed into the chamber of the Supreme Court, where Alito spoke to us. He didn't talk for so long, actually, and answered a lot of questions. I took notes of his speech, but because I'm assuming that no one expected that it would be published, I won't write what he said. Sorry - I keep leaving these tantalizing little bits of information that I can't expand upon. The truth is, Alito didn't say anything too earth-shattering. He talked about how fighting for religious rights is important to him (this was tailored to his Orthodox audience) and didn't really give such personal answers to a lot of the questions.

It was mostly just fascinating to actually BE in the Supreme Court, and to look at the bench, and realize that we were sitting in one of the most powerful bodies of government in the United States. Major things have happened in that room - Brown v. Board of Ed, Miranda v. Arizona, the recent partial-birth abortion ban - things that changed American life, that affected the way that things like school, and police arrests, and reproductive rights are all run. THAT was incredible.

And the building itself! All gorgeous, clean marble, open space, huge pillars - it lends a feeling of power and strength to the whole experience, which is of course what the architect intended.

At the same time, I tried not to be overawed. True, it's the Supreme Court of the United States, where major decisions and verdicts are handed down. But there's no kedusha to it, no inherent holiness, and it's an institution that prides itself on being divorced from religious influence. That's not a Jewish concept. There is never an occasion in Jewish life when an observant Jew purposely separates him or herself from the influence of halacha and hashkafa (okay, okay, I'm talking about an ideal life here). What makes us special is that we don't integrate Torah into everyday life - we integrate everyday life into Torah.

Am I getting preachy? I think it's maybe because I spend most of the day in a very goyish environment - bad language, casual talk about drinking - that I almost need to go to the other extreme and very clearly delineate lines between myself and such behavior. That is not the way I talk, not what I do to enjoy myself, and not an okay lifestyle for me. I'm sure that there are people out there who would vehemently disagree with my approach. But that's what's best for me, the Apple, as a halachic, hashkafic Jewish girl working in an environment not necessarily conducive to or encouraging of Torah values.

On a lighter note, here's what I did the rest of the day and on Monday:
This morning started off soooooooooooo slowly - no phones, no faxes, no mail, nothing - and all the interns were sitting around practically ready to scream with boredom. Then Kelly (the intern supervisor) gave me a big ole stack of constituent letters to update, so I had something to do. And wouldn't you know it, the second I start doing a lot of work, the phones begin to ring, people come in and out of the office to meet with staffers and the Congressman, and in general the pace picks up.

Then - and this was embarassing - apparently the Congressman was going to be introducing some homeland security amendment that would be debated on the House floor. Well, apparently no one felt a need to tell the interns about this, but we started getting all these phone calls about the amendment: "Is the Congressman going to issue a Dear Colleague about this?" "Is this the Congressman's amendment?" "Can I speak to the legislative aide about this amendment?" The problem was that I didn't know what the amendment had to do with, and Kelly wasn't around, so I danced around the questions. Actually, I transferred a bunch of people to the press secretary's voicemail, which was incorrect. Oops.

Oh, and I bungled a call to the Chief of Staff. She wasn't too pleased.

And I kept forgetting that I should IM staffers rather than go over to them. I know people don't mind too much, since I'm still relatively new, but I don't want them to think that I'm dumb. One of my favorite quotes from All Creatures Great and Small, by James Herriot, is when one veterinarian says to the other, roughtly quoted, "This job affords you some great chances to make a chump of yourself." Well, guess what. So does interning in Congress, apparently.

Finished calling ALL 232 Democratic offices in the House and getting the name of the trade LA (this was a feverish two hours of nonstop phone-calling).

Spoke on the phone to some psycho constituent who yelled at me and then subsequently at everyone else he spoke to. He was really nutso - he had written a letter and gotten a response back, but was mad about the response. He had written in about the comprehensive immigration bill that the Senate was trying to pass and was really p.o. that the government was trying to increase the number of highly-skilled workers in the country.
"Why do we need so many highly-skilled workers, huh?" he yelled at me.
I felt like saying, "Because they're highly skilled, duh." But I didn't. And when I kept saying, "Okay, okay, and may I have your name please?" he snarled back, "Okay? Is that the only word you know in the English language? Why you trying to get rid of me? Huh?"
Finally I just snapped and said, "Because you're being rude and abusive and I don't want to be spoken to that way!"
Then I hung up. He was really mad and called again. Because he had been so rude, we transferred him to the tax counsel and then the legislative director, who proceeded to have a great conversation with the constituent during which he pointed out to him that this country was founded by immigrants. The constituent didn't have much to say after that.

Answered the phone (what else?)

Did a crossword puzzle (in my downtime, i.e. when the phones don't ring and the faxes don't come in).

Handed out newspapers and Congressional newsletters to all staffers

Went to a briefing on China's success in the world economy (snore, snore, snore. In fact, it was so bad that I left after half an hour).

Made the cover for the weekly press clips packet.

All in all, it's been a full two days. Tomorrow I'm taking off of work to participate in more programming with the organization, so we'll see how it goes. We're going to meet with top Senate leaders and then we're off to the White House.

Stay tuned!


jackie said...

Wow--you are doing such cool stuff! I wish my internship were that exciting!

Sounds like it isn't the easiest place for a frum girl, but you seem to be doing fine.

How's the living situation? And the internet situation? Do you blog from work?....

Scraps said...

Such an exciting life you lead! Okay, so all the paperwork and phone calls and general office stuff is less than thrilling (especially dealing with abusive callers), but dinner at the Supreme Court sounds pretty darn cool. :)