The author leading a workshop titled "Skills and Scenarios" that dealt with anti-Semitism and anti-Israel activity on college campuses. Photo courtesy of Bella Adler.
Are you the vocal student who stands up for Israel when it is “cool” to condemn the country? Do your Facebook statuses include hashtags such as #IHeartIsrael, #IsraelUnderFire or #ISWI? Are you that student who intends to change the way society views Israel, but doesn’t know how to engage your passion?
The best way to help Israel, while living in America, is to teach our fellow citizens that Israel is an incredible ally for the United States and other countries to have. So how do you do that? How can teens create educational programs about our beloved Israel? Here are some helpful tips to get you started:
Know The Choir You Are Preaching To
The first step to successfully educating any group of people is understanding the audience. The program you create for a class of 6-year-olds will be different from an event for a church study group. Choose a topic that will be of interest to your crowd.
When picking a date and time make sure you schedule enough time to arrive at the event space early and leave late. Also check your Jewish community and school calendars to confirm that there are no conflicting programs. Then put your own event on the community calendar!
If You Build It, They Will Come
Building coalitions and encouraging others to join the movement are very important in Israel advocacy. Reach out to a wide and diverse group of people. You never know who you can inspire—sometimes the most unexpected people are the most engaged.
The people closest to home may have the greatest connections. Ask friends and family members to connect you to new people. My grandmother introduced me to the editor-in-chief emeritus of our local Jewish newspaper. (Photo: Robert Cohn, editor-in-chief emeritus of the St. Louis Jewish Light, addresses students in the "Skills and Scenarios" workshop.)
I have also built a great relationship with my high school administration. They are super supportive of what I do and the programs I run. With advanced notice and approval my school allows me to run events during a specific class period. I’m also permitted to leave campus to teach at other schools. I am proud to say that with the help of many, my programs have reached more people that I ever thought possible.
Get By With A Little Help From Your Friends
Establish a core group of friends to assist, take photos and help organize logistics. You’ll need them for any last-minute crisis. I did not have a central body people whom I could rely on during my first event. I became very stressed and my program fell apart. Now I always have a group of people to turn to for support and advice.
Now that you know what you want to teach, where you want to present and who your audience will be, how should you go about creating a lesson? Here are a few key points:
The knowledge. Think about a creative way to present information. I design Power Points for each of the topics I teach. The Power Points include pictures, videos and words. Use these as a tool while you lecture. Also ask lots of questions. Asking about personal opinions and checking in to see if the audience is paying attention are great ways to see if your students are engaged. Other ways you can present information include movies, lectures, discussion panels and games.
The activity. Now is the time to apply the knowledge you have taught. Here is where your creativity comes in — you must choose an activity that suits your audience and their age. This can include a game, art project, coloring page, discussion, mock debate and more. Here are some event ideas:
* Watch a movie and have a discussion afterwards. There are some great movies about the founding of the Israeli Air Force, the impact of the UN on Israel, Operation Entebbe and more. Look for titles such as “Beneath The Helmet” and “The Case for Israel.”
* Teach about 10 famous Israelis and have the students create a Facebook profile page for their favorite one.
* Explain to your peers the importance of being able to express your connection and love for Israel. Then decorate your school bulletin board with “reasons we love Israel.”
* Teach advocacy skills and host a mock debate where students or adults can discuss real issues.
Planning Is In The Details
Be sure you have a detailed outline and schedule for your event. Know that young children will not be able to sit still as long as teenagers. Plan accordingly. For example, when I run a program for first graders, I will spend 10 to 15 minutes lecturing and engaging them with questions and dialogue. But for the remaining 30 minutes, I will assist the kids in applying their knowledge through an art project or a game. In high school, I will spend 30 to 40 minutes teaching advocacy skills and spend the remaining time guiding students through a mock debate. This is a great method to engage the entire audience.
Conclude by asking your students what else they would like to learn about Israel. What did they enjoy about this program? What ideas do they have for the future? This helps tailor your next program. I have found that people are most interested in learning facts so I created a high school program about Israel’s history.
Always arrive early. Stay relaxed. Know that you are prepared and ready to be the teacher; by now you should know the material like the back of your hand. Begin by introducing yourself, explaining why you are there and your connection to Israel. Speak slowly and loudly. Always welcome questions and give confident responses. If you are unsure of an answer, it is definitely OK to say, “I don’t know, let me get back to you on that” and follow up with an email or phone call.
Remain excited about what you are doing and always smile — the audience feeds off of your emotions. Take lots of pictures, send them out to your community and post them on Facebook. Publicizing your event afterwards builds your good reputation.
Once you have run a program, stay in touch with the other coordinators. Send them a thank you email for allowing you to present to their group. Courtesy always goes a long way, and perhaps in the future they will ask you to return to educate about a new topic.
Running an Israel program won’t be easy, but it will definitely be worthwhile. The time and effort you put in will repay itself when you see how many people gain a new understanding of Israel. Conflict in the Middle East is a persistent issue. But if each of us spends the time to educate just a small number of people in our community, the results would be magnificent. Teens are capable of so much more than we think — it is time we make a difference for Israel.