Andrew Schramm is an alumna of the REALITY Israel Experience, which takes Teach For America corps members on a 12-day trip to Israel to explore educational models and the values that drive their professional aspirations and commitment to social justice. Earlier this year Andrew participated in a reunion for members of the REALITY community that was held in Los Angeles. He shares his reflections on one particular aspect of the experience: a society simulation exercise—also known as SIMSOC—designed to highlight inequalities that exist in society and how groups with access to different resources interact with one another.
We were frantic, panicked and without resources. The 20 of us were huddled in a small, hot room with no ventilation and the tension rose as we tried to figure out how we would pay to eat that afternoon, how we would survive.
The stress of determining how we could meet our needs felt real, despite the knowledge in the back of our minds that this was a simulation and we would return to normalcy at the end of the day. For people actually facing hunger on daily basis, though, there is no end in sight and that discomfort and stress is exponentially greater, which was a sobering lesson.
As part of our 2012 REALITY Israel Experience winter reunion, we were participating in SIMSOC, which stands for simulated society, an exercise where we were tasked with creating our ideal society. We were each assigned to a group, each of which had different resources, leadership positions and industries. Figuring out how our society would operate, how to distribute its resources, how to interact with other groups while ensuring our own group’s subsistence was difficult, to say the least.
My group, the red group, was given no resources. In order to survive, to actually live to the next day, we had to gain access to subsistence. If we went more than two days without turning in a subsistence ticket, we would die. When other groups approached us, often their intention was to help us since they realized we had nothing. However, in the beginning, we weren’t ready for their help. We were paranoid that other groups were trying to make money off of us and sabotage our success. When we were inflicted with a disease and needed to pay for an expensive treatment or die, another group generously offered the money. Despite this, we felt no sense of empowerment; instead we felt that there was little we could do to improve our circumstances.
After the simulation, we reflected at length, and it was difficult to wrap our minds around what had happened. People were disappointed with the way they carried themselves throughout the simulation, angered that our group of supposed leaders didn’t create a more equitable society. In essence, we saw that what we ended up creating was “the same or worse as what we have today,” in the words of one participant. This experience served as a microcosm to better understand the dynamics at play in our world that contribute to inequity, as well as our own strengths and weaknesses.
The SIMOSOC simulation was one of the most challenging and uncomfortable parts of the reunion. And yet, even while we struggled with the experience, it became very clear to us through it that the REALITY community is strong. We were able to tackle the difficult conversations because we did so alongside our friends who have helped us as we navigate our young adulthood and have been our partners and mentors as we grapple with issues bigger than ourselves—poverty, iniquity, the broken world. In other words: we started from a place of trust, and it enabled us to use what could have been a divisive experience to draw us closer together.
The shared experiences during the course of the entire reunion weekend, as we dove back into conversations about values-based leadership, personal mission and Judaism, helped me reconnect with the idea that I am here for a reason bigger than myself. I feel pushed, nudged toward the outer edges of my comfort zone as I am challenged to more fully come to terms with the injustice in the world and, more importantly, who I am, what my strengths are and how I can apply those strengths to make a difference.
Hours before this simulation we had heard Rabbi Sharon Brous from IKAR speak, a moving, inspiring experience that helped me understand the relevance of Torah in our world today. Despite this message that emphasized the inherent value in every human being, for which the world was made, we had failed to create a society that valued every human being—one in which every human being had dignity and was empowered.
This has changed the way I think about our government and the dynamics at play in the low-income communities in which we teach. For example, I have a different view of the forces influencing legislators in our country and the factors influencing the effectiveness of efforts to help the impoverished.
By challenging me to consider my strengths and passion and how they apply to the needs of the world, by giving me a more intimate understanding of the perspective of a community with few resources, my experiences with the REALITY community have contributed to my personal development and helped me discover how I can make a unique contribution to healing our broken world.