The Next Generation of Campus Leaders in Israel Advocacy
Reports from AIPAC’s Schusterman High School Advocacy Summit
There I was, an eager freshman at the University of Maryland, sitting alone in my black and white hounds tooth trench coat with leather leggings, making my best effort to get comfortable. My advisor from BBYO (the B’nai Brith Youth Organization, a global organization of Jewish teenagers aimed at providing young Jews with powerful Jewish experiences) had suggested that I attend this high school summit in Washington DC as a way to explore my potential future involvement with pro-Israel advocacy. At that moment, I was harshly rethinking my choice to attend. I knew nothing about AIPAC, lobbying, or Israeli politics. I had just wanted a new experience. And a free trip to DC wasn’t so bad. But I felt painfully out of place. That is, until I met Marissa, a college peer facilitator at the conference. As it turned out, Marissa lived down the street from me in Overland Park, Kansas, and had even babysat a good friend of mine — Jewish geography at its best. It was not until I met Marissa that I became motivated to get out of my comfort zone throughout the summit, and later on, continue with AIPAC into college. She demonstrated how important this organization is to the people involved and to the safety of Israel, which was crucial for me to hear about from someone that I looked up to.
A smattering of students from all over the US attend the AIPAC High School Summit each year in order to either to be taught or to teach about the pro-Israel movement. The conference was about getting high school students onto their feet when it comes to getting involved in politics and pro-Israel advocacy. The day consisted of many sessions that the students could choose from as well as general sessions where major people in the organization spoke. This includes sessions like Lobbying 101, the Iran Deal, and History of the Israel-American relationship.
With all this, it would be expected that a sizeable amount of the 500 high school students in attendance would go on to become involved on their respective campuses when they entered college. Like Marissa, Terps for Israel Vice President and UMD’s AIPAC Campus Liaison Jonathan Allen was one of these college peer facilitators at the high school summit. I felt it essential to hear from Jonathan’s point of view, and to hear how he thinks the event is able to shape the up and coming leaders of campus advocacy for Israel.
As one of 50 college peer facilitators in attendance, Jonathan’s main role at the summit was to mentor and inspire the high school students. Even with all of his outstanding accomplishments in AIPAC, he did not think that he would be able to inspire students that are just a few years younger than himself. Everyone has a different story as to how and why they entered pro-Israel advocacy, but Jonathan’s was quite unique compared to most whose first interaction is at AIPAC’s High School Summit. His rabbi, who was extremely involved in AIPAC, was the one who suggested he try AIPAC by attending the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington D.C.. the organization’s annual gathering of all of its members and this country’s largest gathering of pro-Israel advocates. There, Jonathan had the ability to talk to over a dozen Congressmen, and in the excitement of the moment, came to the realization that Israel advocacy was something that he both enjoyed and cared about. After attending Policy Conference, he next attended the Saban Leadership Conference, (an annual gathering of campus leaders for advocacy training) and then his final stop was the High School Summit last year, attending as a college peer facilitator. Returning now for the second time, Jonathan has only been able to experience the event from, “outside looking in,” as he put it, but remains extremely positive nonetheless. “I felt as though I had met the future leaders of the pro-Israel movement,” Jonathan said, describing what he took away from his first experience at the summit, “and [I saw] them start to get involved because of this conference.”
Jonathan described to me the way the first-timers responded to the new teachings of outreach, effectiveness, lobbying and basics of pro-Israel advocacy, and one could just tell how passionate he was when explaining these moments. Yes, some students go for the trip to DC, but some are deeply influenced by the people, the surroundings, and the strength in such a short amount of time. The students were now more informed on the issues as well as how to lobby and apply it in the proper setting. Despite the fact that he himself hadn’t attended the event in high school, and it therefore had no bearing on his decision to become an advocate for Israel, Jonathan feels as though the event has incredible potential to act as a, “pipeline for students to get involved on campus,” when they arrive at their respective universities.
In the end, my perception of the conference was that it was an incredibly substantial experience not only for the high school students, but also for college campuses and the pro-Israel movement. The teens attending were the next generation of leaders, and their attendance should hopefully indicate that pro-Israel advocacy will continue to grow and thrive on college campuses across the country.