“I will always be respectful, but I will never shut up,” the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, declared at the 2018 AIPAC Policy Conference.

After Saeb Erekat, a Palestinian diplomat, rudely demanded that she suppress her opinions on Israel, she let him know exactly how she felt.

Ambassador Haley has never been more right. I believe that there are times to be private and there are times to be public about one’s opinion, and right now is most definitely not a time to be quiet about the current state of Israel.

Just as Ambassador Haley refuses to keep her beliefs about Israel undisclosed, so too the students of the Atlanta Jewish Academy Upper School refuse to withhold their outlook and position on Israel. As a proud partner school with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AJA is honored to have received the National Early Engagement Exemplars Award.

Nicole Dori

Maayan Schoen, Sammy Frankel and I went to Washington to the Policy Conference from March 4 to 6 to accept this award on behalf of AJA and the Israel Advocacy Club. The award is bestowed on the top school or organization of high school leaders that has taken the greatest initiative to advance AIPAC’s goals over the past year by engaging in pro-Israel political activism.

A few days before the Policy Conference, Carly Sternberg, the director of early engagement at AIPAC, called a few of the contributing Israel Advocacy Club members to inform them that the school had won this esteemed award.

AJA is truly honored to be chosen for this award out of the hundreds of schools and organizations that take an active role in AIPAC.

AJA students have refused to let size deter them from achieving the objective of supporting our homeland, Israel. By winning this award, the students have proved just how capable our school is.

None of this would have been possible without the tremendous help of Rabbi Reuven Travis, the leader of the Israel Advocacy Club at AJA. Rabbi Travis is in charge of planning and coordinating the events for the club, as well as helping with any matter concerning Israel in the school.

Asked what this award means to him, he said he could not be any prouder of the students and, through this award, is reminded of how fortunate he is “to be able to work with such bright, talented and committed young people.”

There are many reasons why AJA was selected for this award.

Israel and AIPAC have played important roles in the foundation and establishment of AJA as a school. Because we are a pro-Israel school, Israel is incorporated into the students’ everyday lives.

This year, from Israel, the school has two amazing b’not sherut (Israeli national service volunteers), along with the shlichim families who plan and execute interactive, exciting events to get the students involved. Student Council organizes space for AIPAC presentations, StandWithUs speakers and much more during weekly community time.

On top of that, AJA openly celebrates holidays such as Israel’s Independence Day and the Memorial Day for fallen soldiers.

Israel is clearly part of AJA as a whole, and the high school has taken it to the next level by maintaining the active Israel Advocacy Club.

This club brings in speakers, runs pro-Israel events and arranges to send letters to members of Congress to ask for their support for Israel. Israel Advocacy Club leaders recently drafted an email to Congress to support the Taylor Force Act, then sent it to everyone in the school to forward to their representatives in Congress.

In addition, the club has brought in speakers such as Jonathan Kessler, the director of strategic initiatives at AIPAC, and has had multiple “Snack and Schmooze” sessions with Rayna Exelbierd from StandWithUs.

This year, Summer Pitocchelli, one of the leaders of the Israel Advocacy Club, decided it was imperative to open new possibilities with the addition of the Israel Club, the “nonpolitical section, which allow(s) students to express their love and appreciation for Israel in a more natural way.”

This club gives students outlets to convey their feelings and beliefs about Israel without having to deal with the politics — whether through writing articles for Palette, AJA’s school magazine, or creating presentations about the country — while still being active and involved.

In terms of AIPAC events, AJA attends every AIPAC Atlanta annual event and sends delegations to all the AIPAC seminars in Washington, from the Saban Leadership Seminar to the Schusterman Advocacy Institute High School Summit and the Policy Conference.

As Rabbi Travis explained, “The best way to support and promote this partnership is in a bipartisan manner.”

Thanks to the partnership with AIPAC, AJA is able to support the partnership of America and Israel. The students are thankful for the opportunity to send multiple students to these seminars and to take advantage of them so as not to waste these great educational experiences.

As detailed above, AJA had demonstrated immense support and respect for AIPAC and Israel advocacy. Nevertheless, the National Early Engagement Exemplars Award is a special manifestation of exactly how important Israel is to the school.

“This award is validation for our new advocacy methods. … As a club, we are so privileged to have received national recognition,” Summer said.

This recognition will motivate and inspire students to work even harder and do even more. This award was not given to AJA as a participation trophy; it was given in honor of what the school has done and everything that it can do in the future.

“It means that our students have embraced the notion of being engaged advocates for Israel and understand the importance of the American-Israeli partnership,” Rabbi Travis said.

He said that because of AJA’s new recognition, students are even more excited and energized to reach high goals on their agenda. I hope this success can help find some more sponsors to grow the AJA delegation for future AIPAC Policy Conferences and that, on a more foundational level, it will grow the student body’s interest in and support of Israel.

Because of AIPAC’s recognition of Atlanta Jewish Academy and its accomplishments, the school and the students feel confident that their relationship with and support for Israel will continue to flourish in the years to come.

Nicole Dori is a senior at AJA and the salutatorian for the 2018 graduating class. She is the editor of the school magazine, the Palette, and had a producing role in this year’s girls chagiga production. She has won multiple awards, including the Citizenship Award, the Georgia Certificate of Merit, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Rensselaer Medal Award, the University of Pennsylvania Alumni Club of Atlanta’s Book Award and the Excellence in Journalism Award, and she has won first place in the Georgia Math League three times. She plans to attend Midreshet Tehillah in Jerusalem next year.