By Mr. Phil Jacobs, High School Jewish history teacher
When more than 35 Beth Tfiloh Dahan Community High School students converged on the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC, it might have been easy to just be a small part of the high-energy pro-Israel confab that attracted some 18,000 to the Washington Convention Center and the Verizon Center.
Instead, BT Middle School Principal Rabbi Yehuda Oratz turned what could have easily been a wonderful spectator experience into a memorable learning laboratory.
I was fortunate to serve as faculty support for the Saturday night through Tuesday experience with BT Hebrew Department Chair and beloved shaliach, Mr. Haggai Lavie.
Indeed, included in the capacity crowds were some 4,000 high school and college students. Speaker after speaker commented on the number and enthusiasm of the young people in attendance. We heard from an all-star cast of stars from the bi-partisan political constellation such as Vice President Mike Pence; U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley; both Maryland Senators Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen; Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and others. Speaking to us remotely from Israel was Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Each and every speaker underlined the important connections between the United States and Israel.
As a former Jewish newspaper editor, I am no stranger to AIPAC’s critically important mission. Indeed, it was an AIPAC Policy Conference some years ago that taught the rest of the world exactly how Iran would seek to militarize nuclear weapons. And its words became prophetic.
This time around, for me the most lasting memories of this Policy Conference didn’t come from a stage or a mammoth video screen. Instead, the conversations, the debates and the dialogues over House and Senate resolutions among our BT students — be they sitting between speakers at Verizon Center or walking between venues — brought the real impact of the Conference home to me.
It gave me great joy to stay up late and watch our students prepare their talking points for their day of Capitol Hill lobbying. They wrote, scratched out and then rewrote until they felt they could present with clarity a discussion with a Congressman or a Senator. I had to smile when walking through a House office building corridor when I heard student Tali B. ‘19 whispering over and over to herself. She was going over the lobbying points she’d soon be making to U.S. Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., on the importance of continuing U.S. aid to Israel. Thompson, who filled his office with BT students, spoke to Tali and to the rest of the students as an adult speaking to other informed adults.
The same happened when student Ben S. ‘20 stood and addressed U.S. Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md., again before a packed conference room.
I have “pictures” in my mind of students Noah F. ‘20 and Ezra S. ‘20 fearlessly approaching the same elected officials we see regularly on the nightly news, extending their hands and introducing themselves as Beth Tfiloh students. I have a wonderful memory of Maryland’s senior U.S. Senator Ben Cardin hugging his great-nephew Mitchell C. ‘17, a Beth Tfiloh student.
And it was amazing for the students to be in the same room with many Beth Tfiloh congregants and Rabbi Mitchell Wohlberg as he hosted Michael Oren, Israel’s former U.S. Ambassador. The continuity among Beth Tfiloh’s adult delegates, some of them community leaders in their own right, connected them inextricably with the upcoming younger generations of leaders.
Every morning, the group would be up for 6:30 a.m. davening and then approach the day’s agenda with urgency. There were meetings where I could look around and see only Beth Tfiloh students among the many adults. Over the years, the school has raised the bar of student understanding of the importance of AIPAC and the respect for the adults who work so diligently on behalf of Israel.
I firmly expected the students to fall quickly asleep on the bus ride back to Beth Tfiloh after the Policy Conference came to a close. But again, I shouldn’t have been surprised at this point. They were buzzing all the way about the experiences they just had.
I know I’m being repetitive when I write this, but I covered AIPAC Policy Conferences as the Jewish Times
editor. I can say this was the most gratifying experience ever, looking at the confab through the eyes of our students.
I’m grateful to Mrs. Zipora Schorr, BT’s Director of Education; Rabbi Oratz and Beth Tfiloh for this special opportunity!Help BT be a the largest synagogue delegation at AIPAC's Policy Conference 2018. Register now!