AJA Alumni Leaders in BBYO, Washington D.C. and Beyond
By Robyn Lindenberg
Austin Jewish Academy teachers, administrators and parents work together to provide a rigorous, whole-child experience that prepares AJA graduates for success. As an educational institution, AJA’s team sets out to develop students into people who think deeply and critically and learn passionately; people who are resilient, well-rounded and equipped for academic success in core subjects, technology and the arts. AJA graduates embody empathy, integrity, responsibility and commitment to cultural understanding and tikkun olam.
AJA leaders want students to go on to lead lives rooted in Jewish knowledge and values and uphold strong connections to community, the Hebrew language and Israel. If the class of 2015 is any indication, they are achieving success. Over winter break four members of the AJA class of 2015 were elected to several top leadership positions at the BBYO regional convention: Emily Kolodney, Kendall Miller, Charlie Dover and Hannah Eisenberg. Just before break, AJA staff member Robyn Lindenberg had the opportunity to sit down with one of these alumni leaders to hear about her recent adventures in Jewish leadership.
“I had to apply to attend,” Emily Kolodney, current Liberal Arts and Science Academy student and member of AJA’s class of 2015, began her story about participating in the BBYO delegation that attended the Schusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit in Washington D.C. in October 2017.
AIPAC partners with a select number of Jewish Day schools, synagogues, national youth groups and teen leadership organizations to bring 400 high school student leaders from across the country to Washington D.C. for Israel advocacy and political activism training. The goal of the summit is to educate students on the U.S.-Israel relationship and to help them become effective pro-Israel political activists on and beyond their school campus.
After graduating for Austin Jewish Academy, Kolodney and a number of her classmates joined BBYO, the leading pluralistic teen movement aspiring to involve more Jewish teens in more meaningful Jewish experiences. It was at BBYO’s Perlman Camp that Kolodney took a class called Explore Israel. There she discussed the founding of Israel and connected with her class leader. He suggested she apply for the summit.
The summit sessions were led by AIPAC senior staff, political and Middle East experts, and AIPAC leadership development professionals. Attendees learned about current legislation in congress that affects Israel, how to lobby, and the issues they would lobby about. Tuesday morning, Kolodney and her cohorts went to Capitol Hill to turn their political activism training into action by lobbying their members of Congress.
When asked about the highlights of her experience Kolodney said, “Lobbying was really cool. We went to Congressman Culberson’s office. We thanked them for signing on two bills supporting Israel, and also asked him to sign on a third bill we learned about at the summit, explaining why it was important to us and to Israel. Also they had a panel at the hotel where we got to hear from college students either affiliated with BBYO, NFTY or USY who are activists in pro-Israel efforts on their campuses.”
Reflecting on her time at AJA and how it impacted her she continued, “Having Portfolio Days and speech class definitely helped with lobbying and so did BBYO. It helps to be comfortable in front of people, and now I think public speaking is actually fun. And not everyone there was Jewish, but there’s definitely a comfort level coming from a Jewish school. When I am at synagogue or BBYO, there’s always that something we all have in common.” ■
For more information about Austin Jewish Academy, visit www.austinjewishacademy.org. AJA is now accepting applications to transitional kindergarten through eighth grade for the 2018-2019 school year. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org to schedule a tour or attend an admissions event.