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AIPAC University

Why the most important people at the policy conference might be the students

Stephanie Butnick
March 04, 2013
College.(Joy Brown /

When Joe Biden spoke earlier today at the AIPAC policy conference, he made a few peculiar references about his age—he threw out a “for those of you old enough to know who I am” at the beginning and a follow-up “Yeah, I’m that old,” later on.

It probably had something to do with the 2,000 college students in attendance, to whom Biden stopped mid-speech to give a shout-out. They, not the long-time donors or even the exclusive Minyan members, are the ones everyone seems to be excited about during this conference. The best place to find this in-demand demographic? Downstairs in the cavernous AIPAC Village during a break in programming.

Akshay Kapoor, student government president at University of Massachusetts Amherst, dug into a kosher sandwich at a table near the food trucks, where he was sitting with student government presidents from Oral Roberts University and Brigham Young University. This was their first-ever AIPAC policy conference, and they were enjoying it so far. UMass Amherst, Kapoor told me, had sent a student council president to the conference for the past four years.

Representatives from AIPAC had reached out to them through their respective universities, offering them the opportunity to learn, network, and shmooze—on a free trip to D.C. Not surprisingly, 242 council members from colleges across the country RSVP’d yes. They got paired with random roommates from other schools, and at the conference are known collectively as the Geller Student Government Association Presidents. (They met with AIPAC National Council member Marty Geller, the program sponsor, at an event Saturday evening.)

The signs posted throughout the conference hall advertising the notion that you’re ‘never too young’ to get involved with AIPAC aren’t just lip service. The millennials are being courted.

Hillel of Greater Philadelphia had a certain number of spots at the conference which were given to students from the University of Pennsylvania, Temple University, and Drexel. The Drexel Hillel sent two representatives, along with a campus Hillel staff member.

“I had no idea about AIPAC before I got here,” Lyssia Katan, a Drexel freshman, told me. “Now I’m hooked.” She’s now considering the Hasbara fellowship program in Israel.

There are 800 Jewish undergraduates enrolled at the College of Charleston (out of a student body of 10,000), and four of them are at the policy conference.

“You make so many friends here, and those relationships last,” Nicole Lubel, who was College of Charleston’s only campus delegate at last year’s policy conference, told me during a lunch break. This year she’s joined by fellow Jewish Student Union member Elana Malkin, Seth Burrell, and student council president Erica Arbetter (whose D.C. roommate is from Alaska Pacific University).

“You have students from such different walks of life getting interested and invested in maintaining the American-Israel relationship,” Burrell, who is Jewish, told me. “It’s reassuring.”

Stephanie Butnick is deputy editor of Tablet Magazine and a host of the Unorthodox podcast.