By: Sarah Cohen, NFTY Chicago Area (CAR) President
In October, I attended the AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) High School Summit to represent NFTY along with other leaders from around North America. Before attending the High School Summit, I didn’t know exactly what it would entail. I knew I would learn new and insightful information regarding Israel, meet Israel advocates from around the country, and have the opportunity to put my knowledge into action by lobbying my Congress member. What I didn’t know was how impactful of an experience I would have and the lasting effect that it would have on me.
The AIPAC High School Summit consists of Jewish, Israel advocate leaders from all different backgrounds. Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist Jews from public schools to Jewish days schools to youth groups (like NFTY) were brought together to share our unique relationships with Israel. Over the weekend I found that this sharing of ideas and backgrounds would expand beyond Israel to our beliefs and values regarding Judaism and our everyday interests.
Following a program, a fellow participant and I began to share our backgrounds. She was from a modern Orthodox household in a suburb of Los Angeles and attended a Jewish day school. I am from a Reform household in a suburb of Chicago and attend a large public school. We began asking each other questions on everything from “how do you practice Shabbat” to “what classes do you take in school?” We didn’t let our very different upbringings hold us back from finding Jewish rituals, songs, and politics that we all both loved. I was so intrigued that our extensively different backgrounds led us to have such similar interests. We utilized this unique opportunity to learn from each other and to truly understand different ways of practicing Judaism and going through everyday life.
Not only did I have the chance to meet and learn about someone new, but I realized how we all came from drastically different backgrounds, yet all had the same drive to support Israel. We all had our own “why” for attending the conference, we all had a different connection to Israel, and we all had different opinions on Israel’s policies, yet we all came together for a common goal of being pro-Israel advocates. When engaging in conversation regarding Israel or our everyday lives, we truly listened to each other and let our differences bring us closer together, rather than separate us. It was amazing to see the inclusivity and exploration that occurred between me and someone from such a different background. It truly opened my eyes to the power of how big of an effect a single conversation can have.