by Hannah Schlacter

Just imagine.

Sitting in a room full of 400 students. Students just like you. Wanting to make a contribution… difference… impact on an American issue. You feel the energy vibrating like sound waves off of the students around you. You want to capture it. Contain it in a jar. Forever retain it… forever remember it.

I was one of these students, attending a 4 day conference in Washington, D.C. to learn about the importance of the American-Israeli relationship and campus activism. I asked questions and shared my thoughts in the breakout sessions; I absorbed the wisdom and knowledge of the speakers.

But I did something else too. Something I had not done before. Something I was scared to do. Something that would change me.

The conference was concluding with a program titled “Open Mic.” The keynote speaker and director of the conference stood to the right of the podium on the stage, sharing his final thoughts with the 400 advocates and activists.

This weekend we consumed ‒ now we must produce.

We were moments away from embarking on our separate paths, journeys, and successes. We came from different backgrounds. Jewish and non-Jewish. Colored and non-colored. Urban and rural locations. Big and small schools. We were different; we were the same. We believed in the power of campus activism, advocacy, and activity on the importance of the American-Israeli issue. An American issue affecting us ‒ all politics is local.

He finished his thought. He paused. And said it was now our turn. Our turn to share with all 400 students in the room our thoughts, ideas, backgrounds ‒ stories. Why do we take 4 days out of our winter break to attend this advocacy training? Why do we lobby Congressmen on this vital issue? Why do we devote countless hours a week on building relationships with student leaders? Why do we care?

I caught the attention of the staffer in my seating section holding a microphone. My heart was this close to rebelliously leaping out of my chest.

I stood up.

Legs quivering, hands shaking, sweat forming.

I spoke up.

Voice steady, thoughts collected, ideas powerful.

I shared my story.

My name is Hannah Schlacter and I am a Business Honors student at the University of Illinois…

I wanted to say it all ‒ why I began, why I care.

The question for me now, though, is how do I combine my different passions ‒ Israel and the environment ‒ into a sustainable career, where I can make an impact? We learn of small and big, direct and indirect impacts. But these are all impacts nonetheless ‒ all the same. Just like us ‒ different but united.

I had seconds left to finish ‒ my final thought was imminent.

This weekend we learned the power ‒ impact ‒ of person-to-person interactions. Connections. Through these relationships we build with others, we have the power to influence the future of the American-Israeli relationship.

The ballroom filled with applause. Sat down. Nearly collapsed in my chair. Never felt so proud.

This relationship is now in our hands. It is now our turn. We are the future, we are the potential, and we are the sustainability. Generations before fulfilled their commitment and acted on the shared responsibility. Are we ready? Are we capable?


It is our honor.

L’Dor v’dor.