Locals attend AIPAC’s annual Schusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit

by | Nov 20, 2015 | Other News

Grant Campion and Matthew Specht on AIPAC’s main stage.

Grant Campion and Matthew Specht on AIPAC’s main stage.

The first day of a three-day-long Israel advocacy summit began before the crack of dawn on Sunday, Nov. 1. A dark and cold morning, the clocks had just turned back an hour and some were still awake celebrating Halloween. However, three Jewish nomads were on a mission greater than candy, horror, costumes, and pranks. We were on our way to meet hundreds of teens, chaperones and AIPAC staff to be educated on the importance of the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

Grant Campion, a Norfolk Collegiate junior from Ohef Sholom Temple and Matthew Specht, a First Colonial junior from Congregation Beth El were selected by their rabbis to attend the Schusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit based on their maturity, academic performance, and advocacy within the Tidewater Jewish community. As program associate for United Jewish Federation of Tidewater’s Community Relations Council, I was the chaperone, and together we set off on a journey that would change our lives.

When the trip began, we were strangers. We sat far apart from one another, pondering how the future events would unfold. The goal was to sleep the whole ride up and arrive in D.C. well rested and alert for the program. When the train reached Union Station, we grabbed a taxi and headed toward the Grand Hyatt Hotel. By 5 pm, everyone was dressed in business attire and prepared to attend orientation meetings. From 6 am wake up calls to 11:30 pm curfews; the summit was a non-stop event. The conference’s goal was to engage students in a dialogue about the importance of the United States’ bipartisan support of Israel. AIPAC achieved this goal through lectures, interactive lessons, and bonding exercises.

For two days, discussions pertained to the Iran deal, the BDS movement, and the recent Palestinian incitement. An interactive Israel map activity that explained how Israel’s border has changed over time, lectures on issues in the West Bank and Gaza and a history lesson on the countries surrounding Israel and their relationship with Israel took place. On the last night there was a carnival for the students to let loose and have some fun with their new friends. These talks, activities, and bonding exercises were all in preparation for the third day: lobbying in the Capitol. Each student group had appointments with one of their state’s representatives to lobby for Israel. Tidewater’s delegates met with Representative Scott Rigell’s legislative director, John Thomas.

Matthew Specht left Rigell’s office and the summit with great confidence, “Not only was it inspirational to learn the stories of Jewish teenagers like me, I also learned how to educate others about Israel to the best of my ability.”

Grant Campion departed the meeting at the Capitol saying, “It is amazing to see how much of a difference one person alone or a collective group of people with the same ideas and values can make. I will continue to use the skills and values I learned for the rest of my life.”

These students carried themselves with poise and confidence while passionately discussing the important issues facing Israel. They managed to hit all the important points and still made time to get to know Thomas, who gave them advice on school and how to get internships in D.C. Specht and Thomas each shared their relationships to Israel. It was in those personal moments that the students forgot their nerves and realized they had a voice that matters. Political efficacy wasn’t just something they learned about in a classroom anymore; these young men implemented everything they had learned in the past few days while establishing an important relationship with an influential person. Leaving Capitol Hill, they felt accomplished and ready to head home to brag about all they had learned.

The train ride back to Norfolk was a different experience. These three wanderers were no longer strangers. We sat closer and reminisced with one another about the trip. Each had been altered by their time spent at the summit. Bonding had taken place with each other, with peers, with political figures, and with the state of Israel.

by Gabriella Grune, CRC program associate