‘Retail Engagement’ Not New


While all should be delighted at the success of Hillel’s Peer Network
Engagement Initiative, Ted Merwin’s April 26 tribute (“Jewish Identity, One
On One”) fails to mention that this approach was pioneered and widely utilized
on campus long before Hillel embraced it five years ago.

The notion of
“people before programs” has been the essence of Chabad’s success on
campus, and “one-on-one conversations” is at the heart of AEPi’s
successful rush strategy. “Retail engagement” has been the cornerstone of
AIPAC’s highly successful student program for more than a decade, and the
maxim “speakers don’t engage people, people engage people” has been the
central tenet of AIPAC Campus Creed since 2003. Tens of thousands of
students have been empowered in the past decade, including a great many of
whom who are now Hillel professionals, and more than 2,000 students attended
AIPAC’s most recent Policy Conference — all through one-on-one peer
engagement. In recent years, this strategy has been embraced by the Israel on
Campus Coalition and The David Project, both of which have credited Jonathan
Kessler of AIPAC for “setting the course for a positive relationship
building strategy on campus.”

In December 2003, The Jewish Week published an
op-ed on AIPAC’s success with this approach, and in April 2003 Moment Magazine wrote an extensive story on
AIPAC’s emphasis on retail engagement. In that article, Kessler states,
“Our students take pen and paper and clipboard and go door-to-door, dorm-to
dorm, and student-by-student engaging peers about the value of the U.S.-Israel

The whole approach is grass-roots, retail engagement, it’s a
political model. That’s why it’s so different.”

The writer was AIPAC’s deputy leadership development director from 2002-07.