The three-day conference left me feeling curious about certain issues I never even thought of before.
What do you get when you combine 50 high school students and a world-class Rabbi? You get the Kushner 2018 AIPAC delegation led by the one and only, Rabbi Richard Kirsch. As a high school freshman, this was my first AIPAC Policy Conference, and I was in for a surprise in so many ways. Our AIPAC club at school conducted numerous meetings to educate and prepare us for the conference, however, no one could have prepared us for the severe March snowstorm that we would encounter on the way to the Kushner’s annual Shabbaton in Baltimore.
With Shabbos nearing, our entire bus sang Kabbalat Shabbat and Maariv together, while we forged through the tough weather. We finally arrived at our hosts, only to find many of them had no power or heat, requiring us to eat Shabbat dinner in the dark and sleep in our winter coats. While many of us were slightly shaken from the experience, our Baltimore hosts were outstanding and we all bonded with food and zemirot (Shabbat songs).
After Shabbos and a very early wakeup call on Sunday morning, we drove to Washington D.C. for the start of the AIPAC Policy Conference. When we arrived, I could not believe my eyes—18,000 individuals, both Jews and non-Jews, coming together to support the state of Israel.
When we arrived, I could not believe my eyes—18,000 individuals, both Jews and non-Jews, coming together to support the state of Israel.
The days were filled with many different breakout sessions, which Rabbi Kirsch allowed us to select individually, according to our interest. We also had the opportunity to hear the general sessions and participate in festivities in the AIPAC Village. On Tuesday—lobbying day—we met with Senator Cory Booker and the Chiefs of Staff for Senator Bob Menendez and Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen.
A key issue throughout the conference, which was echoed by many of the speakers, was the introduction of the Taylor Force Act. The bill was named in honor of Taylor Force, a 28-year-old American tourist who was stabbed to death on March 8, 2016, in Tel Aviv by a Palestinian terrorist. The terrorist’s family gets paid each month by the Palestinian Authority, as do all terrorists that kill an Israeli or American. Currently, the money comes from aid that countries provide the Palestinian Authority, but Congress is now trying to pass the Taylor Force Act, which proposes that Americans stop providing aid to the Palestinian Authority if they continue to use the money to pay stipends to the terrorists and their families. It is astonishing to me that our own government could have a hand in funding terrorist actions. Especially after learning more about the bill at AIPAC, I hope that the bill will be passed immediately.
As for my first lobbying experience, it was exciting for me to have the opportunity to view politics up-close. There was an available microphone to anyone who felt the desire to share an opinion or ask a question. It was true democracy in action—each participant was given a chance to express their views and be heard by their representative.
I have to admit, that while I was excited to attend the AIPAC Policy Conference with my school, I was nervous about how I would be able to digest so many hours of presentations and lectures. But because there was such much pro-Israel energy in the room, I was able to not only soak up each presentation, but I came away wanting to hear even more. I will always have such vivid memories from my first AIPAC conference—the roaring applause for Ambassador Nikki Haley and the way Prime Minister Netanyahu left the podium to get closer to the audience. The three-day conference left me feeling curious about certain issues I never even thought of before. But I was also able to ask many questions and fill in pieces of history I was missing, allowing me to learn more about American-Israeli relations than I ever could have imagined.
I am extremely grateful to have had this amazing experience. As a grandchild of holocaust survivors, I feel especially blessed to be living in a country where a group of pro-Israel individuals can come together and share their beliefs. This was a great opportunity that I am happy I had the chance to experience.
Aviva Luxenberg is a freshman at Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School in Livingston, N.J.