You Should Know… Elliot Bell-Krasner

Elliot Bell Krasner. Photo by Jared Foretek.

Alexandria resident Elliot Bell-Krasner thinks a lot about the next generation of Jews and political leaders. A veteran of both Obama presidential campaigns, Bell-Krasner, 32, works for the American Council of Young Political Leaders, which organizes international exchanges for young political leaders and professionals from abroad and the United States.

But he also has a side gig teaching Sunday school at Temple Rodef Shalom in Falls Church, something he’s done since he was in college at George Washington University.

How did you get into teaching at Rodef Shalom?

I’d always wanted to go to college in D.C. because of my interest in politics and government, and I was at the Hillel looking at the schedule for services and I saw that there was a job listing for a Sunday school teacher. I mustered all my creativity to make a sample lesson plan and they hired me.

So here I was, a college student a week before classes were going to start at Rodef Shalom, and I had no idea what I was doing. I’d never been in a situation like that. My first year teaching kindergarten, I was just making it up as I went, but it was a lot of fun so I kept at it.

This is your 12th year teaching. What keeps you coming back?

I think instilling good values and ethics in young kids is really important, and there are a lot of those values and ethics that are grounded in Jewish tradition. I was one of those kids who was part of the labelling craze in the ‘90s. I was never labelled with ADD or ADHD, but my parents tried Ritalin one year and it was a horrible failure.

I’ve seen some of these kids have some of the struggles that I had growing up to be accepted, to not exactly have strong self-confidence or self-identity and one of the lessons we teach in fourth grade is all about accepting differences. Jewish tradition teaches that we were all created in God’s image and there is no one human being. We all look different, we all sound different. And that’s all part of the plan.

You’ve been at the American Council of Young Political Leaders for five years. What drives your work?

The idea is to foster diplomacy through cross-cultural communication. One of the best parts of my job is that I get to be a fly on the wall of these exchanges. When the international delegations come to the U.S., I get to sit in the meetings and just watch them interact and listen to their perspective. I’ve learned more in the last five years than I ever could’ve learned with an undergraduate and a master’s degree in international affairs.

When the international delegations come here, are there certain things that surprise them?

They know more about our politics and government than most Americans do. And they come prepared to discuss complex topics, and if they’re pushed on certain things that are going on in their own countries, they can push back. They know how to defend their home countries.

I also think that they realize that Americans don’t know much about their countries. It’s an educational opportunity for them but it’s also an opportunity for them to educate. They see it as an opportunity to give their perspective on what’s going on in their home countries.

Do you wish Americans broadly and American politicians had a more outward focus?

Absolutely. But that’s been a problem for our country for the entirety of its existence. Nationalism and America first basically started with the republic. I really do wish our politicians would be a little bit more open minded about different cultures and different politics.

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