Imagine 400 high school students who share a passion for Israel, coming together to support and advocate for their common interest.
Last November, along with fellow students at Golda Och Academy, I attended the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Schusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit. The summit was held in Washington D.C. and ran from November 6-8. Attending were high school students from all over the country, delegations from schools, youth groups, and other Israel advocacy groups.
When we arrived at the hotel holding the summit, we were told that over the course of those three days, we would learn about Israel, the American-Israel alliance, problems in the Middle East and how they affect Israel. We’d discuss AIPAC and its positions on controversial issues, and how to advocate for Israel on a political level.
At the end of the summit, we would put the skills and knowledge that we learned to use, and lobby a member of Congress.
AIPAC succeeded in all of these elements promised, and made a lasting impression on me and the rest of the participants.
At our first session, we met with one of the AIPAC National Field Organizers. “You don’t need to know about Israel, you need to know how you feel about Israel,” the organizer said. “Then you can be an advocate.”
We were taught that AIPAC’s mandate is “to maintain and strengthen the U.S.-Israel alliance through direct involvement in the American political process” and that “lobbying once” is an oxymoron.
On our second and longest day of the summit, we attended many sessions which specialized in different areas. A few of them focused on the background of different issues in the Middle East. There we learned that it is not as simple as “Arabs hate Israel,” but that there are many underlying problems that cause the uneasy relationships in the Middle East and around the world.
Other sessions focused on the importance of lobbying Congress members, and how to do so effectively. We were familiarized with the positions that AIPAC takes on each issue, and how to present them in a professional yet personal and conversational way to our political representatives.
While most of the day was filled with structural information, it was nice to take a break from it all during lunch, when we heard four inspiring speakers.
The first speaker was Bakari Sellers, an African-American congressman from South Carolina who spoke of his support for Israel. The second was a Catholic girl from the South who got involved in pro-Israel activity in college. The third speaker was a Muslim who got involved at the on-campus Hillel in college and AIPAC, and has become a strong Israel supporter.
The fourth speaker was a Hispanic college student who attended an AIPAC policy conference and has become a pro-Israel leader on her college campus.
These four speakers inspired me because they all had such a passion for Israel and what the country symbolizes, and none of them was Jewish. It helped me realize that Jews are not the only people who care about Israel, and that we are not alone in our support.
Later that day, we selected from a few sessions led by different members of AIPAC. I attended a workshop titled “Engagement Petitions” by Jonathan Kessler, the AIPAC leadership development director. He challenged us to think of ways to increase support for Israel without money, speakers, followers, and help.
Then he told us to pick up pen and paper. “You are the most powerful person in the world,” he said. He spoke about the ways we can make a difference by simply writing the words “I support Israel” and getting people to sign it. He spoke of a few students on a college campus who gathered signatures for such a petition, and how their idea spread all over the country.
On our third day, my delegation had the honor of lobbying a staffer of Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ). We spoke to the staffer for 30 minutes, discussing the positions that AIPAC takes and putting the information and skills we had mastered to use. The staffer was very informed and he received our message clearly. He agreed that we must continue to support Israel in the U.S. and that the U.S.-Israel alliance is symbiotic.
Leaving Capitol Hill, my fellow advocates and I felt as though we made a difference and that we can influence people to support Israel. And yet to make a stronger and long-lasting effect, we must continue lobbying, and we must get more people involved because Israel needs all the support she can get.
So whether you are a high school student, on a college campus, at Capitol Hill, or anywhere else, you can make a difference. Get involved!
Kineret Brokman, 15, attends Golda Och Academy and is a member of Nu’s teen board.