Bryan Gershkowitz, American University As a senior in college, I have been involved with the Israel advocacy community on campus for the last four years. Being able to have my voice heard on campus with regard to Israel has been one of the most exciting parts about being an advocate at American University. This year, for the first time, I got a chance to attend the AIPAC policy conference. It was there I realized just how important the last four years advocating on American’s campus have been. I walked into the convention center on Sunday, after getting yelled at by protesters (welcome to DC), to see thousands of people walking towards their sessions. Out of eighteen thousand people, I was running into people I knew. People from high school, college, and other communities at home were all gathered together to learn and grow as Israel advocates.
The individual breakout sessions were powerful and moving. I went to one session about working through the peace process on Israel’s southern border. The session was lead by one Israeli and one Arab. How, might you ask, would the two of these men end up working together with AIPAC? They built a relationship. They had met years ago and now both work in efforts for peace relations with Israel and its neighbors. In that room, I started to see the significance of building relationships and building a network. At some point that network becomes a community. Communities combine and you get eighteen thousand people with a strong love for Israel, in one place, to share their common passion for Israel advocacy.
All at once it clicked that this is how positive change was going to happen. Not necessarily by filling a convention center, but by building relationships. Similarly to how we build relationships on campus, I started the conference by hearing personal narratives, and learned from the people I was meeting. I was able to take what I had learned as a David Project Intern, and build effective relationships with people who had the same views I did. I could even get to know those with views that may have differed a little bit from mine.
At the end of the day, everyone at AIPAC wanted to see positive change happen for Israel. It is going to have to happen through conversation and the ability to relate to others. You don’t ever aim to defeat your peers, you aim to defeat your enemies. Relating to its neighbors and being able to productively interact with surrounding countries is how Israel is going to finally attain peace. Relationship models can be found anywhere: on an international stage, in a lecture in the convention center, even in your college’s best coffee shop. Regardless of where it happens, those relationships are vital.
On the topic of relationships, everyone at AIPAC policy conference was there because of their relationship with Israel. It was amazing how many people where there, for the same reason I was, to learn and grow as advocates on campuses, in synagogues, in churches, and so on. For a first timer at AIPAC, I was captivated by how much I had learned. I loved the breakout sessions and general sessions where we got to hear from Israeli entrepreneurial figures and presidential candidates.
However, one of the highlights of the conference was getting to see my “second family” from Los Angeles. AIPAC gave us a chance to grow as friends, while learning about Israel. We also got to visit the college fair. I was able to engage with other college campuses about what their pro-Israel community was doing. On top of that, I bumped into quite a few of the people I had met at the Relationship Building Institute over the summer!
The whole three days were incredible. You could feel from the minute you walked into the convention center just how powerful the relationship to Israel was. And as I am writing this I am trying to think of things that struck me negatively and I can’t...well okay fine, Trump saying “The Iran deal is a very bad deal, believe me!” twenty-two times. Okay, BELIEVE ME, that I could have done without. Beyond that, AIPAC does an amazing job at bringing together a group of people who can learn together and learn from one another. That is what truly amazed me about the conference. I was able to learn and grow with old friends, and people I barely knew, in order to work towards the same goal. Powerful, isn’t it?
Bryan Gershkowitz is the name and sarcasm is the ultimate game. Bryan has been involved with the pro-Israel community on campus for the last three years. He loves getting to meet new people and has enjoyed building relationships with people across American University's campus. He is excited for adventure and to see what the future brings after graduation.