This past week I spent four days in Washington, DC, attending the 2017 AIPAC Policy Conference. As a Reform Jew and a liberal young adult, I tend to struggle with some of the ideas that AIPAC embraces. However, I see great value in bringing my own progressive values to the AIPAC sphere, and productively engaging with thousands of other pro-Israel Americans.
During this particular conference, I was given the unique opportunity to speak on a panel. The panel, entitled “Amplifying High School Activism”, was hosted during a series of workshops and was attended by teenagers, young adults, and youth professionals of all backgrounds and affiliations. As I sat beside a rabbi, a conservative Jewish activist, and a Jewish day school student, the four of us answered questions about modern Zionism, youth-specific Israel engagement, productive Israel activism, and our own personal connections to the state of Israel.
Though our conversation was broad and sweeping, all of my answers seemed to come back to one common theme: being intelligently pro-Israel. The way I see it, if we do not teach open-mindedness, tolerance, active listening, and an ability to seek out multiple viewpoints as essential tools in the Israel education process, then we are setting our students up to fail. We must provide young people with access to as much information about Israel (including its beauty and its blemishes) as possible in order to allow for independent thinking and individual conclusion drawing.
Regardless of how passionate we are as individuals about the Jewish homeland, we will never be able to impress our passion onto others. We must instead help them to discover their own connections, forge their own paths, and ultimately become their own version of pro-Israel activists. In the end, those that learn from us may not reflect our own activism and opinions, but that’s the beauty of wholesome Israel education. We have the ability to empower and enable teenagers to think of Israel from an entirely different perspective and to help shape the next generation of Zionists. Their Zionism may look different than ours; they may take different actions, prioritize different values, hold different opinions, or engage in different discussions. But at the end of the day, they are loving, struggling with, and fighting for Israel too.
In order to host any conversation about Israel or prepare any young person to stand for the state of Israel, we must wholeheartedly embrace intelligent pro-Israel mindsets. We must allow the space to ask difficult questions, incorporate differing opinions, and coach each young person through their own exploration of Zionism.
Despite my struggle in fully aligning with AIPAC, I feel extremely fortunate to have had the opportunity to share these thoughts and opinions with participants at this year’s Policy Conference. From this experience, I discovered that being intelligently pro-Israel means practicing what you preach; actively listening to opinions that are not your own and utilizing the opportunity to create productive dialogue. Our world, and the state of Israel, will become more peaceful as we continue to listen, learn, and lean in to the difficult conversations.