For the past two years, I have had the privilege of attending the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference. However, my experiences at each conference have been remarkably different.
During my first conference, I was a passive listener. I sat in each of the sessions, and paid attention to the speakers, but didn’t totally understand all of the content. I went to the lobbying session, but I sat in the back and let the adults do all the talking. While I still had a good experience being with my friends and learning a bit about Israel, I didn’t take every opportunity that the conference offered. I had the potential to do so much more.
However, this year, at my second policy conference, I took on a role as an active leader. The theme of the conference was “Choose to Lead,” and I did just that. During the meeting to prepare for lobbying, the group leader asked if anyone was interested in speaking. While I hesitated at first, knowing that I’d be speaking in front of 100 adults that I didn’t know, one of them being my congresswoman, Representative Karen Bass, I ended up raising my hand to volunteer to speak. Knowing that I’d be representing all the citizens in my district, but even further, representing high school activists at large, I decided that I wanted to take this opportunity. I sat down with my group leader, and together we wrote down some talking points.
I was assigned to talk to Representative Bass about security challenges in Israel, and how American aid can help ensure Israel’s safety. Representative Ted Deutsch and Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen recently introduced the U.S.-Israel Security Assistance Act (H.R. 5141), which would set the new memorandum of understanding that the United States would send $3.3 billion in military aid and $500 million in cooperative missile defense funding for the Iron Dome and other related programs. My goal was to ask Representative Bass to support, and possibly even co-sponsor, this bill.
As I walked over to Capitol Hill, I was extremely nervous, questioning whether or not I wanted to go through with this. While I care deeply about the safety of my homeland, I wasn’t sure whether or not it was my place to talk about it, especially in front of 100 people far older and wiser than myself. I worried that I’d sound stupid and make a fool of myself. However, I went through with it, and Representative Bass agreed to read the bill, and said she would most likely support it; however, she needed to see the specific wording first.
This experience was incredible, and I hope to use it as a stepping stone for future advocacy, whether it be for AIPAC, other Israel-related issues next year in college, or next week during the school walkout. It is so important as high schoolers that we advocate because we can and will make a difference. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Stand up for what you believe in because you will inspire change.