By Talia Levin, Hagalil USY
This past week, USYers and alumni attended the AIPAC Conference in Washington D.C. However; two months prior several USYers also attended the Schusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit.
When I first arrived in Washington D.C. for the AIPAC High School Summit I was skeptical.
My assumptions going in were that AIPAC was considered “right wing.” I was expecting to hear a lot coming from a biased perspective. Instead, I learned all about advocating for American-Israeli relations.
From Sunday to Tuesday, in between lots of playing the ‘Jewish Geography’ game (I traveled to the conference with my school and won a contest for being the first person to spot a non-school friend at the summit; it was a fellow Hagalil USYer), there were countless informative sessions.
We learned how to lobby people in power,including student government leaders, political candidates, and elected politicians with engaging dialogue, not debate.
We discussed how to talk about Israel, stressing the importance of making it mean something to everyone and providing factual information.
I particularly learned a lot listened to a panel of students who were AIPAC liaisons on their campuses. They spoke about how Israel advocacy looks at different colleges and universities.
It’s really interesting to see how students, just a few years older than me, deal with different issues. One student spoke about how they got uninterested peers involved, while another discussed confronting anti-Israel student initiatives on campus.
We also heard diverse perspectives, including from non-Jews of many different backgrounds, about why they advocated for Israel. Members of other minority groups related to the experience of Jews in regards to Israel.
I discovered there was a universal desire to help others in similar situations. That was an idea I had never considered before.
It was really eye opening to see that it wasn’t only Jews who felt that Israel is important. This made the conference’s goal feel more authentic.
We ended the conference by lobbying a congressional staffer who works for Josh Gottheimer, my representative from New Jersey’s 5th district.
We talked to him about topics that had come up recently like Hamas and the Boycott Divestment Sanctions Movement (BDS), which advocates for boycotting of Israeli goods, and what should be done.
It was incredible to feel like we could affect our legislators, who often seem very far from us. But what really made the conference an interesting experience to be with 14 other USYers from around the country.
We got to know each other and learn from our different experiences. We stayed in hotel rooms together and prayed together three times a day in an egalitarian prayer space.
This reminded me of the small but mighty egalitarian communities in Israel which ensure a comfortable religious space for all.
Reflecting back on the summit overall, I wish I could say it helped me find more answers about Israel, but like most good Israel programming it gave me a lot more questions.
I am nowhere closer to knowing what to think. Israel is complicated and it should be. If we think we understood the issues, we are ignoring nuances. With time and experience I have developed a complicated but strong relationship to the State.
I am not even close to fully understanding, but thanks to USY and the Schusterman Summit, I am gaining more information to strive for solutions while maintaining a strong love for my homeland.