Since childhood, Alyson Malinger has had two passions — politics and journalism.
As a high school student four years ago, she took part in L’Taken, a weekend-long social justice seminar in Washington, DC, run by the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. It included intense discussions of social issues and lobbying legislators on Capitol Hill.
“The program really sparked my interest in the political spectrum,” she told NJ Jewish News in an Aug. 27 phone interview.
The 19-year-old from Aberdeen has kept that spark alive at Indiana University, where she is beginning her sophomore year as a journalism major with a concentration in political and civic engagement.
That follows on her experience this summer in the RAC’s Machon Kaplan Summer Social Action Internship, working as a public policy and communications intern at the RAC office in Washington. “I attended briefings and hearings on the Hill on any issues that I wanted to go to, in addition to all the things I was assigned to do.”
Malinger said she could “sense the gridlock” in Congress, “but I absolutely loved the experience.”
One of the high points of her summer was meeting actress Susan Sarandon, who testified at a hearing on hate crimes against homeless people.
Another was bowling at the White House. “I was there with someone on the president’s national security staff, but unfortunately President Obama and his family were not there,” she said.
Malinger also had a conversation with Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.). “He is not someone I agree with, but it was amazing,” she told NJJN.
What seems to have made a more far-reaching impact was being introduced to Gabrielle Giffords — the former House member from Arizona who in 2011 was severely wounded by a rampaging mentally ill man outside a supermarket in Tucson and has become an ardent gun control advocate.
That experience helped Malinger focus on a primary area of interest — the connection between mental illness and gun violence. “This is a large issue,” she said.
Malinger, a reporter on the Indiana Daily Student, said the internship helped clarify her career goals.
“I definitely want to be back in DC,” she said. “I know I do not want to go into the public relations field, and it is great to know what I don’t want to do. But I definitely want to go back to Washington and make a difference in the world. DC is the place to do it. Having had the experience at the RAC, I need to intern at a newspaper or a TV station.”
“This has been her dream since the sixth grade,” said her father, Rabbi Laurence Malinger, religious leader at Temple Shalom in Aberdeen. “My wife, Samantha, and I have always supported Alyson’s dream. She has always been a gifted writer and having been exposed to a lot of opportunities in the Jewish communities, she has been able to take her skills and her love of the Jewish community and combine the two. We are very proud of her.”