By: Samantha Ebner (12th Grade)
This past week, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held its annual Policy Conference at the Convention Center in Washington, D.C. This year was my fourth and final high school Conference, and, as usual, I was extremely impressed.
When I attended my first Policy Conference in ninth grade, I was shocked to see people of all different races, religions, and ethnicities uniting for Israel. The diversity among the people there drove me to become more involved in AIPAC; looking around and seeing people of different backgrounds with their own “Israel story” inspired me to think about why I support Israel and why I think it is important to continue the strong relationship between these powerful countries.
This year, the Policy Conference held around 300 sessions led by prominent figures such as Benjamin Netanyahu, Michael Bloomberg, Mike Pence, Chuck Schumer, David Friedman, and many more. I really enjoyed learning about why these influential people support Israel. What makes AIPAC and this even so special is also the fact that the speakers were split between Republican and Democrat, which showed the audience that Israel is an American priority, despite their disagreement on worldly issues. Although split on controversial matters, the bipartisan speakers were able to unite for Israel.
While I appreciated hearing from these distinguished figures, Jahan Berns was my favorite speaker from this Policy Conference. Berns, originally from Uganda, lost her father when she was only six years old. She broke down into tears recalling the time that her father was stripped away from her home and forced to fight for independence in Uganda. Her father was killed in the war and she never got to see him again. For middle school, Burns attended a Catholic school and began to study the Bible. She learned about the Jewish people and Israel and was fascinated to find similarities among the Jewish story and her own community. As she studied the wars that led to Israeli independence, she found parallels between her own father’s story. She connected specifically to Theodore Herzl’s dreams and those of her own father, and was able to finally accept the fact that her father’s death was not in vain. Just like Herzl, she believed her father fought for a greater good. Her speech further proved to me how important Israel is to the world and other countries.
This year’s Policy Conference reinforced my drive to continue to speak out in support of Israel. Having the ability to lobby senators, congressmen, and congresswomen gave me the courage and determination to advocate for everything that I believe in, beyond Israel. Although this is my last high school Policy Conference, I hope to take everything I have learned through AIPAC with me in the future and to keep fighting for justice and equality for Israel.