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 alliance.”
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.