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Today. Tomorrow. Together.

Hillel students and professionals gather for annual AIPAC Policy Conference
by Shana Medel | Mar 3, 2020 |

Rose Ritch attended her first AIPAC Policy Conference when she was just 1 year old, wearing a bib with the words, “AIPAC Activist in Training.” Now, she’s president of Trojans for Israel at University of Southern California.

“Who knew a bib could predict the future? It came true because of the Jewish community at USC Hillel,” Ritch said. “Looking back, I can say that I would not be the person, leader or activist I am today without the support and resources they provided.”

Ritch was one of more than 4,000 students who traveled to Washington, D.C. on March 8 for the AIPAC Policy Conference, which drew a total of 18,000 participants, including more than 50 Hillel professionals. The three-day gathering featured educational sessions at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center. 

Adam Lehman, newly appointed president and CEO of Hillel International, addressed students from 630 high schools and college campuses, inviting them to connect with Hillel as they continue to strengthen their pro-Israel communities.

“I am personally inspired by your activism,” Lehman said. “Hillel is the central address for Israel engagement on campus. Lean on us and allow us to support you. Be my partner.”

In a separate session, Lehman took to the stage with his a cappella group JewKvox. The concert featured guest artist Noah Shufutinsky, a black Jewish rapper and student leader at George Washington University Hillel.

Their songs resonated with the conference’s theme: “Today. Tomorrow. Together.” The crowd erupted as Shufutinsky performed “Diaspora,” a Hebrew-English rap exploring the Jewish people’s connection to Israel, while JewKvox sang “Hava Nagila” on background vocals.

During the conference, Hillel International welcomed students and professionals with a breakfast at the Schusterman International Center. Hillel also hosted a reception at the Marriott Marquis for lay leaders and stakeholders to learn about Israel engagement on campus.

At the reception, Jewish Agency for Israel Fellow Lior Navon spoke about her proactive Israel initiatives at Johns Hopkins University Hillel. She said the Jewish identity of students doesn’t guarantee their interest in Israel programming. That’s why she creates spaces where curious students can use Israel as a gateway for conversations about hope, complexity and faith.

“Israel isn’t black and white, and that can help students develop varied perspectives about the world, paint their reality with many different colors, be a part of diverse communities and create dialogue,” Navon said. “Israel became a powerful learning tool that our students used to explore their passions and identities.”

The conference also featured other Hillel professionals in speaking roles, including Jonathan Falk, acting director of the Israel Action Program at Hillel International. He addressed a room of high school students during a panel titled, “Preparing for Campus Activism.”

Although each Hillel is different, Falk explained, there are two constants: programs are infused with Israel and Hillel professionals meet students where they are.

“Hillel be your home away from home — your place to rally and be yourself,” Falk said. “And at Hillel, you get to build community, together. It's easier when you are a team."

Jeremy Cronig, program manager for MitzVote and civic engagement at Hillel International, spoke on a separate panel about engaging Millennials and Generation Z. He linked voting with Jewish values, emphasizing Hillel’s goal to mobilize roughly 75% of students to vote in November’s general election.

“This is an engaged generation,” he said. “They enjoy becoming involved because it’s a value.”

Over the course of the conference, AIPAC recognized professionals and student leaders for their efforts to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship on campuses across the nation. 

Roey Shoshan, executive director of Hillel at University of Georgia, received the Ally of the Year Award. Ohio State University was honored with the Duke Rudman Leadership Award.

Yogev Ben-Yitschak, interim student body president of University of Wisconsin-Madison and Hillel student leader, was a third-timer at Policy Conference. He said engaging in conversations with other student government leaders was valuable.

“To see just how broad the base of support is for Israel, that students from across the country come together for this one cause, is really inspiring,” Ben-Yitschak said. “It shows that we’re not alone, and we’re never too young to make a difference.”





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