YUPAC Mission to Washington: YU Students Lobby for Israel
Washington, DC — It was partly cloudy this past Wednesday in the nation’s capital, as a group of two hundred Yeshiva University students milled about a glass-walled conference room, with the Capitol building’s dome in sight.
As November rolls in every year, the time comes for the annual Yeshiva University Political Action Committee lobbying mission to Washington, DC. Organized by the YUPAC board and by AIPAC campus liaisons Ethan Wasserman and Dina Muskin, the mission offers Yeshiva University students the chance to lobby their congressmen on issues related to Israel.
“Without Congress’ support, Israel would be a very different country than we know today,” said Dina Muskin (SCW ’12). “The good news is that members of Congress care what we think and, as long as we make our voices heard, we have a good chance at seeing our opinions and passions turn into policy. That’s exactly what the lobbying process allows us to do—it gives us, Jewish American college students, the ability to effect change on a global level. That ability cannot be underestimated.”
This year’s lobby mission saw the largest group of YU students in the university’s history, with four packed buses heading south before the crack of dawn on Wednesday morning. “It’s the largest student lobby mission that AIPAC has ever been a part of,” Muskin noted proudly. “This mission gave the YU students a taste of what AIPAC is.”
The day’s program, carefully organized by both YUPAC board members and AIPAC staff, included an impressive array of speakers. Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-FL), the first Jewish woman to represent the state of Florida and now the Chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, started off the morning emphasizing that Israel must remain a bipartisan issue, and that there is an urgent need for young leadership. “I love talking to young people,” she said. “I love to interact with young people who are supporters of a strong US-Israel relationship, because you represent the future of our community and our country, and we’re counting on you to move America forward.”
Recounting her own rising to the House of Representatives at the young age of twenty-six, Wasserman-Schultz encouraged students to be involved on campus. “What’s important is that you’re passionate about the issues that are close to your heart,” she said. “Use that passion to stand up for the things that you believe in.” The congresswoman also spoke about the impact that her Jewish heritage has had on her approach to politics, policy and the world. “I bring my love of Israel to work with me everyday. Be a voice for Israel, be an advocate, a champion. Whether it’s being a chisel or a sledgehammer, it’s really important that we push hard.”
After a presentation by AIPAC professionals Jonathan Kessler and Ester Kurz, students then proceeded to Capitol Hill to meet with senators, congressmen, and policy advisors, to call attention to pressing matters. “[Issues on the table included] $3 billon in aid to Israel,” Ethan Wasserman (YC ’12) stated in a later email, “tougher Iran sanctions, and urging our government to not agree to the Palestinian bid for statehood and instead talking with Israel.”
Students on either side of the political spectrum spoke excitedly about their lobby meetings with congressmen that followed. “Our meetings were an effective and timely reminder that the ‘issue’ we’re lobbying may be overseas, but [that] we cannot risk ‘out of sight, out of mind’ here,” said Leora Niderberg (SCW ’12), President of the Torah Activities Council. “Iran is literally a time bomb which needs to be dealt with immediately and can’t be left on the back burner like so many other forgotten bills.”
“It was very heartening to see so many students acting passionately in defense of Israel,” added Chesky Kopel (YC ’13), Editor-in-Chief of Kol Hamevaser, YU’s Jewish thought magazine. “If we turn our passion toward a peace solution for Israel as well, I believe we can really surprise ourselves.”
A walk over to the Capitol later, mission participants heard from Rep. Eric Cantor of the 7th District of Virginia and House Majority Leader, currently the highest-ranking Jewish member of Congress in history. “These are momentous times for Israel and certainly for the United States,” he said, standing in front of a packed lecture hall. “We are facing existential conversations here in Congress about who we are and who are we going to be, as a country.”
Cantor went on to discuss Israel’s threats today. “Israel is facing [an enemy that is] absolutely unwilling to accept it as a Jewish state, to accept our respect for human life and decency. Until we get over that, there will be no peace. The problem in the Middle East is not that Israel will not extend a hand in peace. The problem has always been of her neighbors refusing to accept her right to exist.”
After a long day of lobbying on the Hill, students’ enthusiasm was palpable as they returned to AIPAC headquarters for dinner. And back in New York a few days later, student leaders are already busy planning follow-up events. “The excitement after the trip was very high,” Wasserman said. “And we’re looking for students to stay involved in our events.”
Their activism, they are sure, had its effects. “The day after we all lobbied, the Senate voted to pass the Amendment regarding Iran Sanctions that we lobbied for,” Wasserman remarked. “It is crucial that we show Congress how important it is to us that they keep voting for pro-Israel legislation. We can make a difference and it is our responsibility to do so. ”
“As a Jewish university, Yeshiva University is unique as an institution that espouses the importance of both secular studies and Jewish principles,” said Danielle Newman, Beren Campus Director of Student Life. “As such, a lobbying mission in which students seek support from Congress and the Senate for Israel is a natural cause to champion and defines an experiential education beyond the four walls of their Manhattan classroom.”
“It was a remarkable and inspiring day,” Newman reflected. “[It] dispelled all claims of an apathetic student body; it was...a day that took serious planning and commitment, impressive leadership and mass participation, a day peppered throughout by uniquely Jewish experiences—davening [praying] together at a rest stop and on Capitol Hill, reciting tefillat ha-derekh, bentching [reciting grace after meals] together after a pizza dinner at AIPAC. What a wonderful, enriching experience for all involved, and what an inspiring way to engender Yeshiva University pride and spirit.”
The 2011 YUPAC Lobby Mission was sponsored in part by the following organizations: ICC Israel Advocacy Grant Program, AVI CHAI Foundation, SCWSC, TAC, YSU, YCSA, and SYMS Student Councils.