Sonya Kest and her classmates at the AIPAC Policy Conference. Photo courtesy of Sonya Kest.

‘Connected For Good’

Thinking about the importance of unity, as I reflect on my experience at the AIPAC Policy Conference.

Every March, I enter the Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C. and get chills down my spine. I am always inspired to see so many diverse people—outside my Los Angeles bubble—standing up for Israel. The AIPAC Policy Conference is an opportunity for the pro-Israel community, all 18,000 that came to the conference, to unite, listen and speak up.

I have attended Policy Conference for the past three years, but this year felt very different. This year, three Democratic leaders boycotted AIPAC and to me, it is pretty frightening when American leaders are unwilling to stand up and support the Israel-America relationship. Nancy Pelosi even stated that “to be anti-Semitic, is to be anti-American.” This is something that I believe Americans must understand. With anti-Semitism on the rise in America, it is extremely important for America and Israel to stay connected. The conference was imbued with a real sense of urgency for unity, as the slogan chosen this year was “connected for good.”

A second theme of the event was love. Many speakers spoke about accepting and caring, rather than fighting. Arthur Brooks, social scientist, musician and writer for the Washington Post, was my favorite speaker of the three-day event. Brooks argues that we should love one another for our similarities instead of hating each other for our differences. Regarding the Palestinian issue, Brooks states that we must “persuade them with love.” This is a simple, yet rather novel approach, appealed to me. Another speaker, Dr. Yasmeen Fraiha, cofounder and executive director of Genesis and Israeli-Arab, shared how her mother taught her that “learning about her friend’s religion will only make her a better person.” I realized that if more communities come together to learn and appreciate each other, it could improve many issues. The road ahead is long, but the idea of paving it with peace and acceptance is very inspiring and a ray of light.

Many amazing speakers expressed the importance of unity, but I felt everyone was most united when Koolulam performed in the general session. Koolulam is an Israeli organization that connects people through music. The second they came on stage the whole room lit up. People’s arms wrapped around each other and everyone melted into one unit to create an amazing song. It didn’t matter where you were positioned in the room because everyone was sharing the same experience. This amazing Koolulam event is a great model for how we should be towards Israel. Race or religion don’t impact our ability to support Israel. If everyone stands hand in hand and supports Israel, we become a much stronger united voice.

Sonya Kest is a junior at Yula Girls High School in Los Angeles. 

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