Local high school students selected to attend AIPAC’s Schusterman Advocacy Institute in Washington

by | Dec 5, 2016 | Other News

For three days last month, more than 400 high school students from across the nation attended AIPAC’s Schusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit in Washington, D.C for Israel advocacy and political activism training.

Six students from Tidewater attended, with two nominated by local synagogues: Haley Bartel, a Norfolk Collegiate junior from Ohef Sholom Temple, and Evan Gordan, a Cape Henry junior from Congregation Beth El. They learned how to effectively strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship through direct involvement in the American political process, and lobbied members of Congress on the final day of the Summit. Their reflections of the Summit follow:

Haley Bartel

I can easily say that the AIPAC High School Summit was one of the best experiences of my life.

I loved Israel growing up, and when I visited in 2011, I felt an immediate connection. As a budding young Jewish adult, I felt this was the one place in the world where I was truly accepted. However, with time, that connection took a backseat to everything else in my life. Israel was important to me, but it wasn’t fresh in my mind. The AIPAC Summit changed that.

I had no idea what to expect. I’d been to conventions through BBYO, and had a mix of experiences. Before the convention began, all of the teenagers were hanging out in the lobby socializing. I looked around and was astonished. It wasn’t a BBYO convention—that was for sure! There were Orthodox Jews, Reform Jews, Americans, Israelis—you name it. The group’s diversity immediately gave me a good feeling.

Throughout the night, I met people from all over. The thing that amazed me the most about this was that people came from so far away, all different corners of the nation, in fact, because they loved Israel. I learned so much that night, not only about the Israeli-American relationship, but about what I can do as a Jewish teenager to defend my homeland.

Another thing that surprised me was that not everyone was Jewish. For example, one of the speakers I met was Christian. When she was younger, her dad would read her current events and she would hear about the awful things occurring in the Middle East. As a young child, it upset her. But, there was always one common hero: Israel. She said she wanted to be a part of the good that Israel was doing for the world, and that’s why she joined AIPAC.

The highlight for me was lobbying Congress. Initially, this frightened me, as I had no idea what it meant to lobby Congress, much less how to do so. However, the convention offered a series of programs to prepare me for the process. When it came time to lobby, I felt ready. The coolest part was that I was speaking on a topic that Congress was voting on that same day! It was insane to know that I had a part in that decision.

Attending was one of the best decisions of my life. I learned things I will use forever and made life-long friends. I am grateful to this wonderful organization for giving me this once-in-a-lifetime experience. I cannot wait to get more involved.


Growing up in a Jewish, very pro-Israel household, AIPAC was an acronym that was talked about all the time. I knew it was a pro-Israel group but that was about it; I never really paid it any mind. All I cared about was that AIPAC supported Israel. So when I was invited to go to the AIPAC Schusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit of course I said yes. I was eager to learn about the organization that my parents talk so fondly about.

The Summit was incredible. While there, I met other Jewish teens like myself from all across the country, all who were interested and devoted to the safety of Israel. I was pleasantly surprised to find that I still have a lot to learn about American Israeli affairs (I considered myself very learned on the subject). AIPAC not only enhanced my knowledge on Israeli issues, but it also taught me that just knowing the facts doesn’t make a difference. The Summit taught me that just knowing the information, the treaties and bills and deals, etc. is only the first half in truly making a difference on American Israeli relations; the second half is using this information through advocacy, which the summit taught me to do, as well. The most useful (and my favorite) lesson was how to lobby. My group lobbied John Thomas (chief of staff to Congressman Scott Rigell). This was an experience I will never forget. The amount of knowledge I gained and people I met is frankly overwhelming. I recommend any junior of senior to attend the Summit. I promise you won’t regret it.