For me, going to American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference (AIPAC) meant taking advantage of a wonderful opportunity: an opportunity to learn and be challenged, and an opportunity to feel accepted by the Zionist community.
My favorite session of the first day was Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Campus Perspectives. The panel was made up of the StandWithUs President Roz Rothstein — an AIPAC campus fellow who has fought against a strong BDS community at the University of Michigan — and a staff member from Hillel International. Hearing them speak about how they have tirelessly fought against BDS and are having success gave me hope and ideas that I could apply when I go to college. They give me the courage to stand up for what I believe in, knowing I have a strong community to support me in my Israel advocacy. It was especially nice to see that protesters were properly handled so that conversations could still happen and everyone felt safe.
As one of maybe three Jews in my class of 400 in a northern Virginia public school, I always feel very alone in my Judaism and Zionism. I have grown up in a home where Zionism is a central value, and until recently I was never challenged on these ideas.
In 10th grade, I was assigned to read “The Lemon Tree” at school. It was billed as a narrative that showed both Israeli and Palestinian viewpoints equally. That was not my experience as a reader, and felt like it didn’t give my classmates the opportunity to understand the narratives on equal terms. During the classroom discussions after reading the book, everyone in my diverse class, including many Muslim students, were against Israel.
While I definitely didn’t agree with them, I didn’t know how to have a productive conversation, and I wanted to learn what to do if I was ever put in that situation again. I signed up for and participated in the Margo and Yoram Cohen Family Israel Engagement Fellowship (IEF), a program of the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), and was then invited to participate in a second year of IEF leadership training as part of the Teen Israel Committee. My involvement in the Teen Israel Committee in turn gave me the opportunity to attend the 2017 AIPAC Policy Conference.
I am participating in IEF for several reasons: The first is that I love Israel, and want to continue my Israel education and do what I can to help the Jewish Homeland. The second is that I also loved my IEF teachers Samantha Vinokor-Meinrath of the Jewish Federation and Jennifer Raskas and Alexis Schwartz of the JCRC, whose passion and energy made it that much more exciting to learn about Israel. Participating in the Teen Israel Committee gives me an excuse to see these wonderful ladies more. I also want to have a voice in planning the annual Talk Israel Conference that the Teen Committee gets to plan.
The biggest benefit of participating in IEF, however, is how it helps me prepare for confronting anti-Israel rhetoric when I go to college. As was said at the AIPAC Policy Conference this week, the only reason for supporting Israel shouldn’t simply be “I’m Jewish.” One should know the facts and know why and what they are supporting before they advocate for it. This makes you confident in your beliefs and allows you to advocate for those beliefs how you see fit. IEF has given me the information needed to start to formulate my beliefs, and the AIPAC Policy Conference is letting me continue the Israel education I need to properly decide my stance on complex issues concerning Israel.
I would like to start a Jewish Student Union at my school, but am afraid that no one will want to join and it will fail. I am also thinking about applying to be a StandWithUs High School Fellow, but that would entail creating a pro-Israel Club at my school, and I’m fearful that would get a lot of backlash. Lately I’ve heard more and more about the concept of intersectionality — the coupling of social justice issues, saying that you can’t be supportive of one if you aren’t supportive of all. The idea that Zionism and feminism are mutually exclusive is something I fundamentally disagree with, and I am caught in a bind when deciding how to participate in feminist activities.
The AIPAC Policy Conference has gave me the opportunity to see that I am not alone in my struggle with these issues (and many more). The conference also gave me opportunities to discuss relevant issues in my everyday life — such as BDS, the environment, and the Zionism/feminism debate — with experts involved with all of these topics.
I would like to thank AIPAC, the JCRC, and The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington for giving me the amazing opportunity to broaden my horizons by going to AIPAC Policy Conference!