I credit much of who I am today to the communities of the Ramaz school and Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun. Under the guidance of Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, these two communities have taught me the importance of living a life devoted to learning, Israel and Judaism, and menschlichkeit. In addition to growing up in a community that has shaped my values, I have been fortunate to have been a participant in many Jewish programs that have furthered my passions and interests. One program that has significantly influenced who I am and the causes to which I devote myself in college is The Jewish Week’s Write On For Israel, an intensive two-year high school Israel advocacy program.
I have always been part of a fiercely Zionist community. At Ramaz and KJ, Zionism is one of the central tenets. One of the clearest memories I have of school trips includes attending rallies for Israel in front of the U.N., and feeling part of something much bigger than my 8-year-old self. One of the strongest bonding moments my classmates and I had in high school occurred following the conclusion of our senior year Yom Ha’Atzmaut program. We all went downstairs to the gym and continued to dance to Israeli music on our own for the next hour. Throughout the Gilad Shalit kidnapping crisis, Ramaz and KJ never forgot Shalit’s plight. Each Wednesday morning, a group of high school students held a prayer vigil in front of the Iranian mission and distributed cards to raise awareness about his situation. During services at KJ each day throughout Gilad Shalit’s captivity, one of the clergy announced how many days had passed since his kidnapping.
Because of my relationship with Israel, in 10th grade I applied to Write On, a program that I believed could further my understanding of Israel. While I have always loved Israel, Write On instilled an important lesson in me: love isn’t enough. Upon leaving the Jewish day school world and entering college, many students are suddenly struck by the fact that they are completely unprepared to advocate for Israel. They realize that they are unable to translate their love of Israel into effectively defending the country when they face the strident accusations of students in fiercely anti-Israel groups.
Write On provided me with extensive knowledge of Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Armed with facts and advocacy training, I began college ready to defend Israel against its accusers. In the past year and a half, I have engaged in countless debates about Israel with many other students, and I feel confident in my ability to discuss Israeli history and policy.
Perhaps the lesson I learned in Write On that has influenced me most is the power of journalism. During my freshman year of college, I was accepted onto the editorial board of Harvard’s daily newspaper, The Crimson. Last year, when Harvard decided to boycott the Israeli company SodaStream because the company’s factory in the West Bank constituted a “microaggression” to Palestinian students, I used journalism to challenge this decision. A few weeks ago, appalled by the world’s indifference to the recent wave of terrorism in Israel, I published an op-ed in The Crimson highlighting the world’s deafening silence. My op-ed received over 65,000 views.
Another lesson I learned from Write On is the importance of forming relationships with other student groups and leaders. I am a board member of both Harvard Hillel and the Harvard Israel Initiative (our pro-Israel group on campus), and we have dedicated ourselves to furthering our relationships with a diverse group of campus organizations. In the past month alone, we have co-sponsored events with groups including the Hindu Student Association and one of the queer groups on campus. Through these connections, we have shown many students that Israel is an issue they should and must care about, and we have educated others about how the free and democratic Israeli society protects minority rights and interests.
In my journey, Rabbi Lookstein and the institutions to which he has devoted his life loom large. Rabbi Lookstein has shaped the lives of thousands of students through Ramaz, and personally, through the inspiration that countless individuals have received from his mentorship and care. Throughout my life, I have been deeply touched by the interest that he shows in each individual’s life. Even as a young child, I remember Rabbi Lookstein always asking me personal questions about school or camp whenever I ran into him — even if it was during a 30-second encounter on the street. It is in no way surprising that Ramaz has produced leaders in all areas of Jewish life, for Rabbi Lookstein exemplifies the most important qualities that a modern Jewish leader should possess. I am deeply grateful to Ramaz and KJ for helping shape the person who I am and am becoming.
Rachel Huebner is a sophomore at Harvard studying psychology and history, and serves on the editorial board of The Crimson. She was a participant in The Jewish Week’s Write On For Israel program from 2011-2013.