As I write this blog post, Vice President Joe Biden is addressing 18,700-plus attendees at the Annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC. He is speaking passionately about the Jewish Democratic State of Israel. He is sharing his personal message and the official message from the U.S. Administration.
He is talking Israel…
The AIPAC Policy Conference brings thousands of out-of-town leaders, from communities across the U.S. and overseas, to DC to join the conversation and discussion about the unbreakable bonds between the American people and the Israeli people. As a Washingtonian, I welcome them to my city. And as a proud supporter of Israel, I thank them for standing with the State of Israel.
We Washingtonians know that the conversation about Israel, her successes, and her challenges do not just occur this weekend. They occur every day in our communities’ homes, in our communities’ schools, in our communities’ college campuses, in our communities’ synagogues (and other places of worship), in our city’s think tanks, in the halls of the U.S. Congress, at the State Department, and at The White House.
We talk. We listen. We learn. We repeat.
As Vice President Biden closes his remarks, this Sunday evening (e.g., so I can do a bit better job of writing the rest of this blog post — rather than multitasking as I listen and type), I think back to the conversation held about Israel in our community last Sunday. It was a conversation amongst teens and some of our community’s Jewish communal leaders. It was organized by The Jewish Federation of Greater Washington and the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. It was made possible by a generous donation from Washington community members Margo and Yoram Cohen.
“This day-long event brought together high school students from across the DC area to learn about Israel and what to expect when they go to college in the next few years,” said Noa Meir, the Director of the Israel Action Center at the JCRC.
I had the pleasure and honor of participating in this discussion as a moderator/speaker.
Sessions and breakout meetings included:
- Israel & Me — A Balancing Act: Jewish & Democratic; Am I Zionist; and Israel: Where Do I Stand?
- More than Cherry Tomatoes — Digging into the Real Issues: BDS: Myths & Facts; Keeping Up with the Narratives; and The New Face of Anti-Semitism
- From Theory to Practice: #Israel Online Activism; An Honest Conversation — How to Talk about the Conflict; and Answering the Big Questions.
Additional participating organizations included the Anti-Defamation League, BBYO (an acronym that formerly represented the B’nai B’rith Youth Organization), Habonim Dror Youth Movement, Hillel International, the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, Kids4Peace International, and a local congregation.
The students walked away from the event with more information about Israel from their peers and from the moderators. They also walked away with some really neat “I heart Israel” sunglasses.
They talked. They listened. They learned. They repeated — over the breakout sessions and opening/closing plenaries.
In 1983, well before any of the participants were born, Max Baer published an important book pertaining to this form of teen education and engagement. His book, “Dealing in Futures: The Story of a Jewish Youth Movement” chronicles the early days of BBYO and its early programming. In preparation for the conference, I re-read some of the book. The book spoke of a survey conducted by Dr. Samuel Blumenfield in 1944, which predated the establishment of the modern State of Israel that called for “leadership training in greater depth with an emphasis on Jewish content.”
It quoted Darrell D. Friedman, who in 1959 graduated from the leadership training program that was born from this survey 15 years earlier and who then served as the associate executive director for the Council of Jewish Federations and Welfare Funds. “If we are to survive as a people, the quality of our survival depends upon the commitment and attitudes that we give to our young people in their formative years,” said Friedman.
Although more than 70 years have passed since the Blumenfield survey and nearly 60 years have passed since the Friedman quote, the same principles hold true today. Our millennial generation, which I am a part of and these teen participants share with me, will be the next generation of not just Jewish leaders — but American leaders.
Tonight, Vice President Biden on several occasions spoke directly to the nearly 4,000 young persons attending the AIPAC conference. These 4,000 individuals and the attendees from last Sunday’s JCRC and Jewish Federation of Greater Washington conference are our ambassadors to the next generation.
They are listening. They are learning. They are getting ready. They are getting set. And they are talking about Israel today. And they will be talking about Israel tomorrow and into the future on college campuses and beyond.