iEngage: Hartman Summer Internship: Continuing the Jewish Mentorship Tradition

OP-EDS & REVIEWS

By Gil Troy, iEngage — Shalom Hartman Institute, 3-22-12

The new bestselling tell-all memoir by Mimi Alford, the 19-year-old Monica Lewinsky of the John Kennedy White House, who detailed her 18-month-long affair with JFK, has once again made the phrase “White House intern” a mark of shame rather than a badge of honor. More broadly, the internship, a lovely, often life-changing rite of passage, is the latest sacred cow under attack.
 
Reductionist radicals who only view society through the prism of power as exploitative, have assailed internships as providing organizations with free labor, giving rich kids a form of affirmative action, because only they can afford internships, and muscling out workers who need the paying jobs. These attempts to pathologize what for many young people and organizations is a constructive win-win, mentorship growth opportunity, overlooks an essential Jewish value which internships epitomize, the beauty of learning by doing.
 
This summer, we at the Shalom Hartman Institute hope to have a tikkun, repairing the breach by creating the right kind of internship.
 
Despite being the People of the Book, Jews have a profound, historical, even theological appreciation for the educational osmosis that occurs when a talented young person shadows a worthy role model. Two of the greatest Biblical leaders were first nurtured as interns. Joshua was, we learn in Numbers 11:28, “the attendant of Moses from his youth.” In his role as Moses’ assistant, protege and shadow, Joshua received the ultimate opportunity, the most intimate look at the greatest moment for Moses and the Jewish people – the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. Exodus 23:13 says, “Moses rose up and Joshua, his attendant.” In both cases the Hebrew root of the word shin-resh-taf speaks of service, of ministering, of intense devotion.
 
Similarly, the great prophet Samuel was an intern to Eli at Shiloh. Although that career choice seemed to have been made for him by his Jewish mother ­- an action that became so common it became a staple of American popular culture – Samuel 1, 3:1 says “the boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli.”
 
Although statistics are unreliable, the world capital of internships may be Washington, DC. Every summer, America’s hot, muggy capital attracts swarms of young, fresh-faced college and post-college students, eager to work for senators, representatives, government agencies, NGO’s, thinktanks, authors, and, most coveted of all, the president, at least symbolically, in the White House. These earnest, dressed-for-success young men and women have their own hangouts, their own rental patterns, their own group rituals. Some can afford not to work for money, but others will hustle as waiters or in other capacities at night to finance their daytime dream-job. Each one ends up with an individualized experience that can range from frustrating grunt work to what feels like profound, holy work, as it did to Samuel and Joshua.
 
The Zionist movement has long treasured the ideal of peer leadership, not for cheap labor but for ideological purity. The combination of role-modeling and on-the-job training has empowered generations of Jewish leaders in Israel and abroad. Peer leadership reinforces the traditional Jewish value of learning by doing with the Zionist commitment to self-reliance, authenticity, and returning to history.
 
A successful internship depends on the intern – but it also depends on the mentor. A successful internship flourishes as what the philosopher Martin Buber called an “I-Thou” relationship, not as an “I-it.” An “I-it” internship throws at the young person a pile of unappealing work that no one else wants to do. An “I-Thou” internship requires investment from the mentor, who models an approach to work and to the mission behind the work, so that even filing and answering correspondence can feel important. Not everyone who has an uncompleted to-do list can handle an intern. The “I-Thou” mentor takes the time to pass on a suitable project that stretches the intern, that teaches the intern, that builds a relationship – many of which last for decades.
 
This year, at the Shalom Hartman Institute, we are launching an iEngage Shalom Hartman Summer Internship that we hope will model how to train young people, in the same way we hope our iEngage project will model a new way to talk about and appreciate Israel. The three critical elements in building what we hope will be lasting relationships with a cadre of talented young people every year are: study in the morning, learning about the foundations of Judaism together, with each other as hevruta, as learning partners, with top Hartman scholars, work in the afternoon on the Engaging Israel project, either working closely with one of the EI scholars on a particular research project or working in small groups on some of the projects the EI team has identified as essential next steps in our educational mission, and finally, a commitment in the following school year to host one EI Hartman program on campus, to put the learning to work.
 
Beyond that, we expect our interns to breathe in the atmosphere of the city of Jerusalem and this think tank over the summer – enjoying many free lunches – as rabbis, scholars, ministers, teachers, philosophers, and activists gather on the Hartman campus in Jerusalem and do what we hope the interns will do – work together, think together, laugh together, bond together, and learn together. Click here for more information on the iEngage internship program.
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