04 April 2016
The Teen Israel Committee, the most recent in a series of partnership programs between the JCRC and The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington, sent a student delegation to this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC. The Committee is comprised of student alumni from each of the past four cohorts of the Israel Engagement Fellowship, and provides Israel advocacy education and leadership development to high school students prior to their arrival on college campuses. The students build upon their experiences in the Israel Engagement Fellowship, a program generously funded by Margo and Yoram Cohen, and are encouraged to assume leadership roles in a community project of their choice. Below, Adi Golan, Sarah Sachar, and Nina Saadat, student members of the Teen Israel Community, reflect on their Conference experiences.
Adi Golan: I was fortunate enough to attend this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference in DC, courtesy of The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and the JCRC! I went with two other girls. We met a few weeks before to learn about and plan for this special three day event and prepare for the Talk Israel conference hosted by Federation and JCRC the week before AIPAC. I had little knowledge of AIPAC going in, but it exceeded all my expectations.
Let me start with the amount of people in attendance. It was quite challenging to be among 18,000 people, but it was much easier during the various breakout sessions, where I got to meet many other campus delegates from around the country! In a fantastic session, ‘Israel around the World,’ I met another student who is now a good friend of mine. A paramedic from Magen David Adom (Israel’s Red Cross) spoke about her experiences helping in Nepal and Haiti after the earthquakes, and how Israel’s team is the first or one of the first on the scenes of natural disasters around the world. I thought it was really interesting to learn that Israeli paramedics don’t only treat other Israelis, but also Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, despite what the media shows.
Another great breakout session I attended was ‘The Growing Role of Women in Politics,’ which featured a bipartisan panel of women in politics. They stressed the importance of having women involved as much as possible in the political world and giving our voices a chance to be heard. They are all working towards evening the playing field and eliminating the male majority in politics. This conference showed me all of the wonderful things Israel has to offer, and the power we can have when 18,000 people come together to advocate for Israel.
Sarah Sachar: The AIPAC Policy Conference was an unforgettable experience that left me with much more information to consider when forming my opinions on Israel. Hearing different opinions gave me an opportunity to understand other perspectives and reaffirm my own beliefs. Another aspect of the conference that was truly unforgettable was the speeches given by prominent officials and presidential candidates. I was surprised and saddened by the reactions of the crowd to some of the speakers but was pleased to hear the statement from the AIPAC leadership reprimanding those who were disrespectful.
I appreciate that the JCRC and The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington offered me the ability to have this experience. As a young advocate for Israel, I believe that anyone who supports Israel should attend AIPAC at some point in their life.
Nina Saadat: For me, and for many others I’m sure, AIPAC was a dizzying experience. Moving through security was stressful; finding committees, being on time, looking presentable while doing it – none of that was easy. However, I’m thrilled I was there. The conference opened my mind and the speakers were fascinating. Despite the challenge of being attentive and focused during such vigorous days, I managed to absorb a lot of information. Admittedly, there were a lot of times when I just didn’t know enough already to follow in the discussions, but I find myself much more knowledgeable than I was before.
Of course, it was very exciting to hear the presidential candidates. The most compelling session I attended was ‘Fighting for Assad: Analyzing Hezbollah’s Future.’ Listening to the speakers was engaging and a little distressing. It made me want to learn more about the conflict, especially about the revolutionary government of Iran. The speakers very eloquently showed me that none of these issues of terrorism and violence exist in a vacuum, but are strongly connected to specific events miles and years away from where they are now. Another exciting session I attended was ‘Amplifying High School Activism.’ It was very refreshing to see activists from such diverse backgrounds with such unique strategies for promoting Israel. The college fair gave me the opportunity to talk to student representatives from colleges and universities all around the country. There were so many other young people at AIPAC – an excellent sign for the future.
In conclusion, AIPAC has made me feel charged and ready to continue pursuing Israel activism. It was stimulating and I hope to do it again next year. I made some connections with very intelligent and passionate students that I am eager to continue between now and the next AIPAC conference. I saw very important people speak, from presidential candidates to academics, all of whom had the same goal – to stress and strengthen America’s relationship with Israel. This gives me a bright view of the future.