By Leah Berger, Beth-El Temple Center, Belmont, MA. Leah (bottom row, far right) was one of two NFTY-NE teens who attended the AIPAC Schusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit with a delegation of NFTY teens from around the country.
I went into the AIPAC Schusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit expecting a lot of things. I thought I would learn about Israel advocacy, make new friends, and have an impact on the vote of a House representative by the end of the event. I experienced all of those things but also so much more. I learned things about Reform Judaism and Israel education that I would not have been able to explore outside of AIPAC.
When I got to the hotel hosting the Summit, I was surprised to see so many Orthodox and Modern Orthodox Jews. Because of my experience in organizations like Young Judaea, a pluralist environment is something I am accustomed to but as a Reform Jew I had never experienced being a minority in a Jewish setting before. While I was learning about Israel advocacy, I also found myself learning about how to advocate for and defend the Reform movement to people who did not see me as a legitimate Jew. Despite the difference I had with my peers attending the Summit, we all had a love of Israel in common and that tied us together.
I also found myself disagreeing with some of the teachings of AIPAC. Because I have spent so much time in Israel I thought it would be impossible not to agree with everything that a Zionist organization was teaching. I left the event with new questions about Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and with the understanding that it is essential for one to form their own opinion and expose themselves to different perspectives.
My experience at the AIPAC High School Summit shook up everything I thought I knew about being a Zionist, Reform Jew which is exactly why I enjoyed it so much. I left DC with valuable advocacy tools, new friends, and lobbying experience; but I also left with a rekindled spark of interest in exploring my Jewish identity. No NFTY event could give me as many new perspectives as AIPAC did and spending time with a pluralist, Zionist, Jewish community, was so valuable.