Towards the end of my semester in Israel last year, a StandWithUs educator came to introduce our group of 31 teens to the concept of Israel activism. I recognized the importance and pertinency of the information she presented and hence scrambled to jot down each remark she made. Unbeknownst to me at the time, this lecture contained the embers that would later manifest itself as a raging fire.
Four weeks later in the dining hall of Camp Kingswood in Maine, of where I was a counselor, I learned of the murder of Eyal, Gilad, and Naftali. For the remainder of the evening I lay supine on the boat docks, sobbing. I asked G-d the existential questions, “Why does hate exist? How could bad happen to what I love?” My heart was torn asunder in agony. For the first time since I had established a genuine emotional connection with the Jewish state, my land was being assaulted. And the best I could do was lay there crying, human but pathetic if you ask me.
Throughout the summer, I starting skimming headlines and perusing articles; it soon became apparent to me that the facts as I understood them were being omitted. Lies were portrayed as truths and the culpability of the war was consistently erroneously misplaced. This continued into the inevitable college search began, as I abruptly became aware of the glaring virulent slander against Israel and the Jewish people being perpetrated towards students on our campuses. And as far as I could tell, nothing was being done to stop it.
My childhood was similar to most in the sense that my parents instilled within me a certain moral obligation: to stand up against injustice. The pressing urgency of my initial questions was gaining momentum. I was compelled to fill the seemingly large chasm between morality and justice, along with the behaviors that purported to uphold it all, or not. So here I was, witnessing injustice concomitant with an absent response. Try to imagine my reaction. If others weren’t going find the courage to fulfill their personal obligation, I would not follow suit. Rather, I chose to acknowledge the embers burning quietly in my soul.
Late August, I found myself in California surrounded by 79 other fervent lovers of the Jewish state, students just like me from around the United States and Canada. It was the first day of the all-expenses-paid Fall Conference of the StandWithUs MZ-Teen Internship and I couldn’t have been more enthralled. Yes, we loved Israel. But now, our love began a transformation into zealous advocacy and education skills that would give us the chutzpah to stand up to bias, hatred, and moral injustice. The embers became a flame.
With that very conference, we established a base, upon which we’ve built a national network of impressive high-school Israel activists. Last month I heard from renowned Islam reformist Ayaan Hersi Ali who proclaimed, “Silence will not protect [us].” Together, MZ Teens embrace this vital sentiment, and we are making a serious impact. Since August, this year’s cohort has collectively initiated or reinvigorated close to 50 Israel clubs in our high schools, more than 35 of them in non-Jewish schools, and implemented over 150 events in our communities. In total, we’ve educated close to 10,000 students about Israel. Quite a change from my laying hopeless on a boat dock in Maine.
So as you can infer, I’m forever in debt to StandWithUs, the MZ Foundation, and the extraordinary staff of the Internship for affording me a myriad of tools and resources, and thus enabling me to act upon my love for Israel and convey that love to others. Even my Mom can attest; she’s observed that its enhanced my ability to receive criticism and eminently strengthened my identity as a representative of the Jewish people and Israel. It’s crucial that we all learn to tell Israel story. It’s evidently simple: If we don’t, nobody will.
Israel activism is about being proactive, not reactive, engaging, not debating. We must be determined, disciplined, knowledgeable, and courageous. And we must understand the power of One. Activism is predicated on the notion that each individual can make a difference. Yes, that means you. You can make a genuine difference. Because when you speak up, with eloquence and bravery founded on your flames of passion for Israel, people listen. And then more people speak up. Soon enough, the pro-Israel movement will be bigger than our greatest dreams. Try thinking of us as IDF soldiers out of uniform; educating on behalf of the truly noble cause that is Israel. It is powerful.
So I implore you all to take two steps. The first is to educate yourself; arm yourself with the facts. Read, because at the end of the day we can’t fight something with nothing; we have to understand the issues from all angles. The second step is to make your voice heard, namely if you’re a sophomore or junior in high school, learn more about the extraordinary StandWithUs MZ-Teen Internship here.
I give you my word, advocating for Israel in any capacity is a most worthwhile investment of your precious time. It is one that will ground you with confidence and empower you to become the beacon of justice for Israel that you’ve always desired to be.