Allyson is a recent graduate of the University of Calgary, where she studied military/diplomatic history, specializing in American policy on the Six Day War. She is an active volunteer and part-time employee of the Liberal Party of Canada, as well as a Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs Parliamentary Intern to the Honourable Carolyn Bennett on Parliament Hill.
I got involved with the Young Liberals of Canada when I began studying history at University in Calgary in 2008. I had also always had a vague inclination to support Israel, and hoped to study at least some Israeli history later in my academic career. Then, I took a history of the Hebrew Bible course. I was instantly struck by the link I felt to what is now the State of Israel, and the Jewish people’s historical connection to it. From what I did know of its modern history, the fact that Israel’s very existence is consistently challenged puzzled and alarmed me. I began to wonder why this was such a contentious issue and how I could translate my interest in political activism and history into Israel advocacy.
Switching the area of specialty in my degree was easy – I wanted to know everything about the most controversial parts of Israeli history, so I ended up focusing on the Six Day War and the territories. Then, when I mentioned my interest to the President of the University of Calgary Young Liberals, she told me that CJPAC had sent her an email recruiting for their flagship fellowship program. Here was an organization that helped young, pro-Israel, politically active Canadians do exactly what I wanted to do – start a career in politics and advocate for Israel. I applied and was accepted to the 2011 CJPAC Fellowship Program for the 2011/2012 year, along with another student from the University of Calgary and dozens more from across the country. One of the things we were responsible for was participating in biweekly conference calls with anyone from Members of Parliament to an expert on the security threat Iran poses to Israel. However, despite the very informative conversation on all of the calls, there was one thing said on the first one that still stands out the most. One of the Senior Fellows who had participated the year before said, “You won’t believe the doors this will open for you in politics.” He was right.
I was also thrilled to find out that CJPAC was sending all of us to Ottawa for a four day political training conference, and that afterward we would be responsible for organizing political engagement events on our campuses. The CJPAC Conference was the most informative, sleepless and best weekend of my university career. We attended sessions on political messaging, advertising, imaging, polling, campaigning, elections, Israel advocacy and more, met with high-profile MPs and staffers on Parliament Hill, and participated in a mock election campaign.
In those four days, I was exposed to more politics than I had been in the rest of my life. I would argue, after having come through the Fellowship Conference, that there is no other program quite like it in Canada – particularly considering its multi-partisan nature. The experience had a direct impact on my political engagement activities on campus. Before becoming involved with CJPAC, I remember contacting an MP’s office to see if they would do an event for the Young Liberals. Unfortunately, I did not receive a response. When I contacted them a second time as a CJPAC Fellow, I got the MP.
In keeping with the multi-partisan spirit we took away from the Fellowship Conference, the University of Calgary Young Liberals and the Conservative Party Campus Association co-hosted an event on the importance of youth involvement in politics with a Liberal MP, the Hon. Carolyn Bennett M.D., and a Conservative MP, Mr. Blake Richards. One of the students who participated ended up working for the latter, and as it happens I am currently part of the CIJA Parliamentary Internship program and working for Dr. Bennett.
I credit CJPAC directly for providing me with the skills necessary to enter into politics and to get into such a fantastic internship program right on Parliament Hill. Beyond this immediate help, CJPAC provides a constant network of support at political events across Canada. When I attended the Liberal Biennial Convention in 2012, not only was I able to network with CJPAC and CIJA staff – I was invited to a small Liberal Friends of Israel gathering in the Liberal Leader’s suite. At events like that, I am always reminded that while a person must make his own luck, without CJPAC’s programming and support, my good fortune and these opportunities may have been far harder to come by.