Young Jewish Professionals Engage In Israel Advocacy In DC
Through a fund established in the Birmingham Jewish Foundation by Willine and J. George Mitnick, both of blessed memory, the Birmingham Jewish Federation sends a delegation of young Jewish professionals to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) annual Policy Conference in Washington, DC each year. The Mitnick Fellows join thousands of other pro-Israel activists in a three-day conference packed with educational opportunities and policy addresses from political leaders.
To become a Mitnick Fellow, those interested must fill out an application and make a financial commitment toward their trip. A committee then reviews the applications of the Mitnick Fellows and approves those they feel will best represent the Birmingham Jewish community.
The Birmingham Jewish Foundation and Federation sent four young Jewish community members from Birmingham to this year’s conference, which is taking place this week, and as the three-day event progressed, we asked them to share some thoughts for Update.
This year’s Mitnick Fellows are Carlie Somerville, Liora Chessin, Mark Zager and Daniel Odrezin. (Daniel is the BJF’s former assistant executive director.) Though the conference is not over, the Mitnick Fellows, who are part of a larger Alabama delegation, have been extremely impressed with the conference.
For Carlie, who has been to the AIPAC Policy Conference before, this year is different. Carlie’s first conference was last year, which was held in the midst of one of the most divisive Presidential elections in history. Last year, attendees had the opportunity to hear from nearly all of the Presidential candidates and learn more about their perspectives on Israel. Now that President Trump has been elected, and former South Carolina governor Nikki Haley has been appointed ambassador to the United Nations, the conversation at AIPAC has changed.
“The highlight of the conference so far has been hearing Nikki Haley, our new ambassador to the United Nations. Although she spent less than 15 minutes on stage, she was met with an outpouring of cheers, standing ovations and an audience filled with awe, admiration and respect,” Carlie wrote the BJF.
“She brings a refreshing perspective to the longstanding controversy surrounding the UN and the one-sided resolutions that continue to unfairly isolate Israel. In her statements, she said, ‘Leading is not saying and doing things when it’s comfortable,’ reaffirming her support for Israel no matter the challenges ahead. With Nikki Haley on our side, I believe we have an opportunity to not only strengthen the US-Israel relationship, but to change the way the world perceives Israel,” Carlie explained.
Carlie, who grew up in Birmingham and who attended the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School, is a physician and wonderful BJF volunteer leader.
Liora Chessin, a Birmingham native and teacher and Director of Admissions at the N.E. Miles Jewish Day School, is attending the AIPAC Policy Conference for the first time. Liora has been extremely impressed with her experience and wrote the following:
This has been such an amazing educational opportunity. The “big name” speakers have been impressive, but what has really exceeded my expectations are the lesser known and advertised surprising opportunities, such as hearing from the Foreign Minister of Togo or an American firefighter who volunteers in Israel.
Hearing so many different voices and their perspectives is refreshing in such a polarizing time. We have had the opportunity to hear from world leaders such as the President of Rwanda (the first African Head of State to address AIPAC) and former British Prime Minister Tony Blair. Through the diverse sessions, we have heard from elected officials, political analysts, and others who are relatively young in the political scene. This opportunity to hear from “up and coming” leaders is exciting and promising for the future of our country and our relationship with Israel.
We also have heard from those who make an impact outside of the “political realm.” For example, the creators of the hit tv show “Fauda” explained the inception and reception of their show. (“Fauda” is an Israeli Netflix show.) We also have been able to explore Israeli innovation, such as a machine that turns air into water and innovative models for working with children with disabilities.
The theme of this conference is “many voices for one mission,” and we have had the opportunity to hear from these voices and also develop our own. In our time together, the Mitnick Fellows have talked to each other about the issues facing both Israel and our community at home. Thus, we will be stronger leaders — not only as allies of Israel but also as Jewish young professionals in Birmingham.
So far, we know these young Jewish professionals are taking a lot away from the conference. Update readers will hear from them more as the conference winds down and they head to Capitol Hill to speak with Members of Congress about the importance of the US-Israel relationship. Stay tuned for more perspectives on their personal experiences.