What Sandy taught the AIPAC delegation

Noa Kattler Kupetz

Life Editor

The 2012 Milken Delegation at the AIPAC High School Summit

We could have just sent an email. Instead, we prioritized the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) over schoolwork and severe weather warnings, and stormed straight into Hurricane Sandy. As the Washington, DC skies darkened, eighteen Milken students, along with staff chaperones Elda Dagan and Ronit Shaltiel, remained hopeful of still having the chance to lobby Congress and get back to Los Angeles on schedule.

We had traveled across the country to attend the AIPAC Schusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit, and lobby our congressman– but due to the extreme weather conditions that shut down the Federal Government, the lobbying was cancelled.

“Do what’s hard by desire,” Jonathan Kessler, AIPAC’s Leadership Development Director, taught during a session devoted to the topic of effective advocacy.

Kessler was referring to our presence in D.C.; in the midst of a hurricane, here we were, taking a solid first step towards becoming advocates for Israel.

To replace physically standing before Congress, AIPAC’s first plan was to videotape every delegation, and electronically lobby. When technical issues canceled out this plan, the three hundred students attending the conference were urged to write a letter to their congressmen. But a letter is something we could have written from home, simply placing a stamp and our feelings on a paper, or just clicking send on a keypad.

Along with our flights and homework schedule, we changed our focus, and the goal went from lobbying to learning. Extensive sessions devoted to the topics of Iran’s nuclear threat, Egypt, Syria, and the importance of the American-Israeli relationship were added into the extra days.

“Lobbying once is an oxymoron,” Kessler said. We have yet to even lobby once, but we all sent a first letter. Who knows how many of us will send the important follow-up letter, or furthermore devote our lives to solidifying the relationship between America and Israel? But when we witnessed the excitement as a friend from Long Island received a response from his congressman within fifteen minutes of emailing him, we felt the potential we contain.

I spent last year in Israel on the Tiferet Fellowship, and the past week in the midst of a historically powerful hurricane, with three hundred kids who share similar feelings of my love towards the state. Kessler told us to focus on the challenge; we challenged ourselves to realize that we aren’t just a future force of power, but can be a current one too.

Almost every child was affected by the storm, whether it be by flight, train, and bus cancellations, or actual damage to their homes. Our minds ran wild with thoughts of the work we were missing at home, and with anticipation for the clouds to disappear. But the danger of the dark sky also reminded us of what we often forget in the flurry of our lives—what is essential is to take a breath, look at our priorities, and work for what we love. I love Israel, and this is just the beginning.

So we could have stayed in Los Angeles. We could have completely avoided the mess of wind and fear that surrounded the hotel, and circulated through our worried parents minds. We could’ve just sent an email, but that would have been easy.