StandWithUs interns from the central region. The author is in the second row, third person from the left.
During the summer my heart was in Israel but my body was in America. Before heading to bed each night, I sat in my room and read the headlines on CNN about the war in Gaza or watched video clips on Fox News of devastation in Israel before heading to bed. Every morning I raced to our front lawn to grab a copy of The New York Times, and anxiety filled my body as I carefully scanned each article on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
I was on a beach in Michigan when I found out about the murders of three kidnapped teens in Israel. I didn’t know what to do with myself. How could I be in the lake, enjoying the heat of the sun and the cool, fresh water on my toes as my entire Jewish nation was suffering? How could I sit comfortably in America and not mourn this loss with my people? I wanted to feel that what I was doing in America would actually make a difference halfway across the world. But what could I do?
I considered making care packages and sending them to the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, but that would cost extraordinary amounts of money. Maybe I could make cards and write thoughtful notes for the families affected by terror, but how would I deliver them? I was completely stuck and didn’t know how to express my empathy.
Fortunately this summer I was accepted into the StandWithUs MZ Teen Internship program. This Israel advocacy program is a year-long commitment for 80 high school juniors and seniors from the United States and Canada. We attend two seminars during the year at a Jewish summer camp and conference center outside of Los Angeles. In addition, we meet monthly on Google Hangouts group to discuss everything Israel. Each intern is required to run a minimum of three educational events in their home community.
I flew to California in August for our first seminar. I felt distressed about the situation in Israel and my lack of an action. I was hoping to learn something during this week that would change those feelings. Luckily, I did.
Our conference mission was to learn how to educate others about the situation in Israel. We attended classes ranging from Israel History 101 to social media training to photography and videography. We learned how to become effective tweeters, bloggers and status-updaters. I left the conference with an exploding portfolio of notes, leaflets and packets full of information. My brain was running on full speed; I had so much to think about, so many events to plan and so many new ways to educate others.
The most important lesson I took away from the seminar was that Israel is fighting a two-front war. There is physical fighting on the ground in the Middle East and a social media battle occurring on our computer screens. Warfare can be found on your smart phone, in your high school hallway or college campus. Although I may not be able to join the IDF as a high school junior in St. Louis, I can certainly defend Israel in the media, on the Internet and among my peers.
Sometimes a short response to an inaccurate Facebook post or the inclusion of #stophamasnow makes all the difference. Hashtags are a popular way to express a brief but important message to the reader. For example, when you see the word “occupation,” it can be re-written as “administration,” which is a more accurate description of Israel’s control over the West Bank. When someone talks about Israel giving back land, you can correct them to say “giving up land” that Israel rightfully owns. Adding a link to a short video of Israel facts can ignite the spark that forces someone to view the conflict from the other side.
So far I’ve run two Israel education programs for my school, and I plan on expanding my audience as the year progresses. The first program for my classmates covered how to articulate the importance of Israel. A strong advocate has a personal connection and story that she or he can express in words. Emotion is a powerful tool in advocacy and unites all peoples. For this reason, we must teach others how to be passionate about Israel and how to express that unique connection.
I used booklets from StandWithUs and an original PowerPoint presentation to teach about innovations from Israel. Cherry tomatoes, drip irrigation and the Pill Cam for colonoscopies are just a few examples. We concluded by decorating a giant bulletin board in the hallway with “reasons that we love Israel” drawn onto blue paper arranged in the shape of the Israeli flag. (Photo: The bulletin board decorated with reasons why Yeshivat Kadimah students love Israel.)
I designed my second program for first graders. I introduced 10 famous Israelis who made an impact on the world, including Golda Meir; Noam Gershony, Paralympic athlete; and Amit Goffer, inventor of the ReWalk exoskeleton. We used PowerPoint to see pictures of each celebrity, watch a clip of the NBA’s Omri Casspi playing basketball and handed out trading cards with photos of famous Israelis. At the end of the program, each first grader colored a paper of his/her favorite Israeli celebrity and decorated their classroom.
The advocacy tools I learned at the StandWithUs conference alleviated some of my summer angst about the situation in Israel and my lack of involvement. I know that the battle we fight in America and across the world against hate and anti-Semitism is a battle that I can affect. While I may not be sitting at home in my army green uniform, I can still help Israel win the two-sided battle.
I am grateful that the StandWithUs internship is teaching me how to become an effective Israel advocate from my home in the United States. If each one of us becomes a well-informed teacher and corrects misinformation, we will become soldiers of our own kind.