Our Partners Reflect

Jonathan Kessler, Leadership Development, Director, AIPAC

"We went from working with hundreds of students to thousands"

“As the director of AIPAC’s Political Leadership Development Program (PLDP) in the early 1980s, I often visited college campuses to talk with pro-Israel students about the conflict. Yale was one of my first stops, and it was there that I first met Stacy Schusterman and Lisa Eisen. They were students and looking for more resources to support Israel on campus. They were excited about our work and attended AIPAC’s annual policy conference in Washington. A photo of us from the conference has been hanging in my office ever since.

“At that time, however, PLDP wasn’t a department and included just me and one other staff person. Our situation was precarious, as campus work was still an experimental concept and on-campus Israel advocacy training was not yet widespread. Every year, our project was reevaluated with the full understanding that we might not survive to the next year. That changed when Stacy got involved, became a passionate spokesperson for on-campus advocacy and convinced Charlie to get involved too.

“The vision and investment they brought transformed PLDP into one of AIPAC’s signature programs. If not for them, there would not have been a strategic investment in campus life. Our team was very young, not very polished and we made a fair amount of mistakes.

“With the Foundation’s investment, we went from working with hundreds to thousands of students, from 20 to 50 states, from a handful of campuses to hundreds and from being reactive to being proactive. Our partnership, launched in the early 80s, has only expanded in vision and investment over time. A great example of that is how the Foundation encouraged us to expand our work to include high school students. AIPAC had never worked with that age group before and was reticent to do so.

“We discovered that high schoolers are of critical strategic importance to our work. For many students, the transition to college is difficult and so it was challenging for AIPAC to successfully engage freshmen and sophomores on campus. By senior year, many students were already focused on their next career move. As such, our on-campus engagement was reduced to about a year and a half for most students. With the introduction of a high school program, we now had graduates of the Schusterman Advocacy Institute who could already speak confidently to members of Congress, build bipartisan coalitions among student government and mobilize a wide network of pro-Israel activists. When they arrived on campus as freshmen, they hit the ground running and assumed critical leadership. It was a real game changer for us.”

Read more about our work in Israel