Members of the student delegation from St. Louis at the AIPAC Policy Conference.
As we celebrate Israel’s 66th birthday in May, I am reminded of my inspiring experience at the AIPAC Policy Conference in March. The three-day event made me a better Israel advocate because it gave me the knowledge that in order to change how the average American perceives Israel, I must become a better teacher about the State of Israel.
Fourteen thousand people attended the conference; more than 2,300 were students. People from all different backgrounds, faiths and ages joined together for a common cause. Pictures of Israel, inspiring quotes, landscape scenes and photographs of friendship between Americans and Israelis were constantly changing on the giant TV screens around the circumference of the enormous hall in Washington, D.C.’s convention center.
Soft music played in the background, nearly muted out by a single strong voice. He spoke English; the rough, strong-willed personality apparent in every word. His meaningful dialogue touched the hearts of every person sitting in the room. He spoke on a variety of topics including Iran’s nuclear capabilities, constant terror threats, Scarlett Johansson and the SodaStream boycott — each topic flowed smoothly to the next. “My friends, never forget — America and Israel stand for life. We stand together on the right side of the moral divide. We stand together on the right side of history. (Applause.) So stand tall, stand strong, stand proud.” These were the words of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the closing plenary.
AIPAC is a pro-Israel lobbying group whose mission is to “strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of Israel and the United States.” The annual conference promotes the U.S.-Israel alliance and includes lots of informational sessions and lobbying on Capitol Hill.
I learned so much at the conference and encourage everyone to become better educated about the history of the Middle East and the ongoing conflict. I realized people are simply uneducated about the region. Speakers told stories about how they used to know Israel (through news clips) and how they now view Israel after AIPAC-sponsored trips to the country. They showed us pictures from their various communities, such as Hispanic and African-American, and how they implemented Israeli solutions to life-threatening situations.
I felt most inspired by Rev. Chris Harris who told the story of how he is implementing relief programs from border communities in Israel into his hometown in Bronzeville, Ill. His neighborhood center, the Bronzeville Dream Center, will use the Israeli model of community-based trauma care to aid crime victims in his town.
“In the coming months, our Israeli partners are going to be teaching the people of Bronzeville how to do what we saw in the Jewish state,” he told thousands of conference attendees. The reverend said he wants to show America what is successfully done in Israel.
Becoming a pro-Israel activist can seem like a daunting task. There is so much to know and think about, such as the scary task of defending your nation against a person who doesn’t understand the situation the way you do. But really, a great Israel advocate begins with passion. Teens can read the Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel and other news publications to stay up to date on events in the Middle East.
Talking about the history of Israel with friends and showing the people around you that you are knowledgeable and passionate creates an Israel advocate. Remember, an advocate must always be respectful of the opposition’s opinion — we never want to set a bad example for the Jewish nation.
Creating pro-Israel school clubs is a great way to inspire your friends to join the Zionist movement. The more teachers we have, the more of an impact Israel activists can make. Finally, always be on the lookout for new opportunities to meet other activists and lobby your representatives. There are many organizations that offer teen programs about the State of Israel, such as AIPAC and your local Jewish federation. The amount of knowledge one can learn about Israel is endless and with continuous conversations, devotion and care for the subject matter, nearly everyone can become an informed activist.
We can collectively become teachers, educating the people around us to see Israel in our everyday lives. We can change the connotation of the word “Israel” from being associated with war, death, trauma and violence to a place of timeless innovations, continuous kindness and a ceaseless desire for peace in the Middle East. It all starts with one friend who feels inspired to advocate for the rights of this special country. Attendance at the AIPAC policy conference gives the insight, motivation, knowledge and foundation for a life-long passion for Israel advocacy. See you next year at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, March 1-4 for AIPAC Policy Conference 2015!