My Experience with AIPAC
Read this story in Focus
By Jamie Kerner
It occurred to me, right before boarding the four-hour Amtrak train heading to Washington DC, how little I knew about Israel and United States relations and our collective foreign affairs. I knew I was chosen to spend the next three days in our nation’s Capital as a High School Delegate representing the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the largest Israeli/American lobbying organization. I also knew I would be lobbying Connecticut’s 4th District head staffer under Congressman Jim Himes. But, why was I chosen? What did I need to learn? What did I have to do to prepare and participate?
Ok, let’s play a game of true or false. True or False: AIPAC is pro-Israel lobbying group that helps to strengthen, protect, and promote the US-Israel relationship, and involves pro-Israel activists of all genders, races, ages, and religions to be active politically and build strong relationships with their members of Congress.
If you answered true, you are correct! Ding, Ding, Ding, give that kid a prize!
Never in a million years did I think I would get the opportunity to be involved with such an amazing group and gain such an incredible eye opening experience.
Every week, my BBYO advisor sends out email updates about future events and activities. However, the e-mail I received this past September was different. I was offered the opportunity to apply for the AIPAC Shusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit. I applied, not even thinking I had even a chance of getting accepted.
Within only a few days later, I was notified by AIPAC with a surprising offer. I was being offered the opportunity to spend three days in November in Washington D.C. with this delegation. I was ecstatic! I spent the next couple of weeks preparing everything from reading different newspapers for up-to-date news from Israel, researching background information about the U.S.-Israel relationship, and deciding what business attire I needed to pack.
Finally, November 3 came, the morning I was leaving for AIPAC.
After a five hour train ride, I finally arrived in Washington D.C., ready and nervous for the next three days. Our back-to-back “sessions” began at 5:00 pm on the first evening and did not end until 10:30 pm later that night. The following day, all of the sessions were about lobbying and building relations and engaging with congressmen. The next day was also filled with sessions, but instead we learned about Israel and its neighboring countries. I thought those two days were very interesting. I learned a lot and think that I will be able to use this information to help people of our generation gain a better understanding of the challenges and it’s complications out in the mid-east.
On the last day all 400 students who attended this summit walked to Capitol Hill as a united group. We broke up into smaller groups and met with a staffer from our districts congressional offices. Since I was part of the committee from Temple Sholom in Greenwich, CT, we met with Rachel Kelly, head staffer under 4th District of Connecticut Congressman Jim Himes.
Just sitting in Representative Himes office, being in the Capitol Building, and using all of the knowledge I had learned to lobby was such an amazing feeling. After the hour long meeting discussing our hopes for continued US-Israeli partnership with Ms. Kelly, I felt so accomplished and proud of what I had learned in such a short time.
I never would have guessed that I would go to Washington D.C. and lobby a congressman. I think it was one of the most amazing and awarding experiences someone our age can do.
I left D.C. later that day feeling like I had done something important in my life–like I had made difference in the “real world.” I hope that later in life, whether I am lobbying or doing something else with purpose, I can feel just as inspired as I felt those first few days in November and continue to leave my mark on the world.
To anybody reading this, I highly suggest getting involved with a lobbying organization, such as the AIPAC conference. No matter your faith, gender, race, or age, you can make a difference. Take it from me, someone who would never have pictured herself doing something like this. I came out of the summit feeling like I had made a difference and had done something to benefit other people in the world. Personally, I felt that is the best sense of accomplishment someone can feel. I have begun to leave my mark on the world. I know that I will continue to do so throughout my life.