Amir Kashfi was ready to become a leader as soon as he arrived on campus.
“There’s no age requirement to make a difference,” said Kashfi, a student who serves on the board of directors at Hillel of UCLA.
His message resonated with this year’s AIPAC Policy Conference theme — choose to lead.
The 20-year-old was one of approximately 18,000 Israel advocates, including 110 Hillel professionals and more than 3,600 students, to attend the three-day conference in Washington, D.C. this week.
Participants gathered at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for educational sessions, including an Israel on campus panel discussion featuring Hillel International President and CEO Eric D. Fingerhut. The annual gathering also hosted worldwide leaders such as Prime Minister of Albania Edi Rama, President of Guatemala Jimmy Morales and Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu.
The conference attracted Hillel students from diverse backgrounds — an Iranian-American Jewish student who successfully campaigned for undergraduate student body president at UCLA and a recent graduate from University of Florida who took on the campus mental health issue by starting her own nonprofit organization.
For some student attendees, AIPAC has inspired a career path.
“I’ve realized that my passion for international affairs and foreign policy is more than just a passion,” said Ally Schwartz, a student leader at University of Miami Hillel. “It’s the field I want to work in.”
On the eve of the conference, Hillel International hosted a welcome reception for hundreds of students and other friends of Hillel at the Schusterman International Center.
After the second day of the conference, Hillel stakeholders gathered to hear about Hillel's Israel work on campus at a “Hillel Quad”-themed event, and to learn more about Hillel’s new Global Leadership Society, a growing network of volunteer leaders and supporters from around the international Hillel movement.
AIPAC honored student leaders and professionals during the conference for their efforts to strengthen the U.S.-Israel relationship on campus.
Among the awardees were Israel advocates of UCLA’s Bruins for Israel Public Affairs Committee, many of whom are involved with Hillel. Students were honored with the Duke Rudman Leadership Award for their campus Israel initiatives, such as an annual dinner featuring members of Congress and hundreds of campus leaders as well as the launch of the Strength in Alliance Fellowship.
“Their work demonstrates the possibility of empowered student programming, pairing students with Hillel's significant resources to create something that would be impossible for either party to achieve in its own,” said Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA.
AIPAC also recognized five campuses across the nation with its Activist of the Year Award: University of Virginia, Washington University in St. Louis, University of Texas-Austin, University of Maryland and Columbia University.
Rabbi Kenny Weiss of Houston Hillel and Yoni Millo of Yale Hillel were honored with the Ally of the Year Award for their work on campus.