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What’s Your Goal?

Advice on Connecting with People from AIPAC Strategist Jonathan Kessler

Jonathan Kessler and RespectAbility Fellows standing and seated in a posed photograph, smiling for the camera

Jonathan Kessler with RespectAbility Fellows and Staff

Rockville, Md., June 9 – “It’s not about how the cards are dealt, it’s about how you play them,” Jonathan Kessler told RespectAbility fellows on Wednesday.

Many of us RespectAbility fellows have had considerable medical and physical obstacles to overcome, but it’s people like Kessler who help us find our voice. He made it clear that the defining feature of his life journey was developing personal connections and relationships with other people. As the Director of Strategic Initiatives for AIPAC, there is no need to be modest about Kessler’s influence in Washington and America, but he didn’t come to talk about himself; he came to help make us sharper advocates.

Initially, Kessler provided us with practical advice on how to network and interact with others at events.

He told us when interacting with people:

  1. Have a Purpose: For example, how many people do you want to meet and develop a connection with? Determining a purpose before attending an event can make the experience more successful.
  2. Find a Buddy: If you go to an event by yourself, it can be intimidating to navigate the crowd. Finding a buddy not only puts you (and them!) at ease, it also makes it easier to converse with others.
  3. Help Others: If you help others make connections, they are more likely to respect and help you in the future.
  4. First Priority: The most important priority in every first meeting is to get a second meeting. Wanting a second meeting shows respect for an individual.

The conversation with Kessler was incredible! It included an unconventional and thought-provoking lessons for navigating life.

Jonathan Kessler standing next to a table full of college-age and young adults with and without disabilities seated around a table

Jonathan Kessler speaking to RespectAbility Fellows

“Life conspires to help us realize our dreams.”

This is clearly applicable to RespectAbility fellows, as many of us have turned our medical obstacles into opportunities. Kessler did not reveal too much about his own personal struggles, or those of his family members, but he did encourage us to see our life story as one in which there are no limitations.

“A deficit is an asset!”

When he was in charge of AIPAC’s internship program, he required his students to talk to strangers. They had to tell them about their cause and opportunities for involvement. The caveat being that Kessler had them do this without speakers, venues or dates in place so his interns had a reason to obtain the stranger’s contact information and thus develop another connection for the future.

“The world is not dichotomous; we need to redefine inclusion.”

Kessler learned this lesson after telling an audience that he was happy to be speaking in front of a crowd that is both male and female, gay and straight, black and white, etc. He did not realize at the time that diversity is truly infinite. It was Kessler’s children who ultimately explained this to him.

Kessler’s speech was incredible and his energetic presence filled the room. On behalf of the RespectAbility fellows, we are incredibly grateful not only for Kessler’s encouragement but also for his practical advice. We hope to stay in touch with him!


RespectAbility is a nonprofit organization fighting stigmas and advancing opportunities for and with people with disabilities. Learn more about the National Leadership Program and apply for the next cohort! Contact [email protected] for more information.



Meet the Author

Sneha Dave

Sneha Dave is a Policy Fellow. A sophomore at Indiana University, she is the founder of the Crohn’s and Colitis Teen Times, a nonprofit organization with a mission of providing support to teenagers battling Inflammatory Bowel Diseases.

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