Response to Diane Weber Bederman’s “Dear Joe and Joelle Jew, There’s been a failure to launch”
Yesterday, Diane Weber Bederman posted an articled addressed to Joe and Joelle Jew – the apathetic youth of my generation who have forgotten what it means to be Jewish and pro-Israel in a social and political environment that breeds hostility towards our people and our homeland.
My name is Cara, and I led the Calgary Hillel youth group from 2009-2011 as VP, Israel Advocacy Chair, the same position that Kate Jacobson the young Calgary Hillel member defaming Israel, now serves.
When I returned to Calgary in the fall of 2009 from Taglit Birthright and a summer long trip to Israel, my Zionist flame was brightly lit and I was ready to take on the anti-Israel campus environment that I had become familiar with after my first year attending University of Calgary. From what I had seen the previous year, the Hillel board was extremely cozy with the SPHR (Solidarity for Palestinian Human Rights) Club. As many of you know, this is not just a Pro-Palestinian group, it is an intimidatingly anti-Israel one. Previous Hillel members would attend Israel Apartheid events, and organize social programs to engage in “healthy dialogue” with SPHR members of all backgrounds sporting Keffiyehs and leading BDS movements across the city. I had just come back from Israel, enrolled in every Middle-Eastern Politics and Israeli History Course I could, and was ready to change things.
By the end of that academic year, my equally Zionist and eager Hillel board and I really felt as though we had made a positive impact on our campus amongst the student body compared to previous years. We had decided that preaching to the choir or the already pro-Israel students was a waste of our time, as was trying to convince the Israel haters to change their ignorant ways. (We learned that running through SPHR’s fake checkpoints yelling in Hebrew wasn’t a good idea, and standing up in Poli-Sci classes challenging the professor who was teaching that Israel commits genocide wasn’t getting through either). So we decided to target the majority of Canadian young adults who have no idea what goes on in Israel, with their blank slates (besides a few CNN images of course) and be the first ones to present them with a positive first impression of Israel from cultural and social perspectives.
Your average university student walking through the halls, most likely will not be interested in politically charged and military images and stunts being blasted upon them as they merrily walk to and from class. Students were getting tired of SPHR’s forceful tactics. Bright and colorful imagery of Israel being a “startup nation” and a home to a vibrant Gay & Lesbian community however does catch young people’s attention. And it’s not even emotional propaganda… it’s the truth. And we weren’t the only students using this tactic, it was sweeping over North-America with a campaign called “Size Doesn’t Matter”, a soft advocacy effort to highlight Israel’s small size yet enormous potential.
We opposed SPHR’s hard advocacy with a softer representation of Israel that successfully captured students’ attention as they stopped at our booths to ask questions and enquire. In my opinion, this was a Hasbara success – we had managed to positively brand Israel in a way to students that would open their minds to understanding that Israel is a country filled with real people, culture, democracy, innovation and most importantly humanity. We prepared them to walk through SPHR’s exhibits with a pre-notion that perhaps they were going too far with their anti-Israel propaganda. And we gave them a glimpse into Israel that gave them a realistic approach for when they were ready to start discussing the political side of things.
The political climate on university campuses is always charged with a majority anti-Israel sentiment. This has and will always include young Jewish students, or as many deem them the “self-hating Jews”. Since I left U of C in 2011, this has severely increased. Not only are there Jewish students running Hillel who are vehemently anti-Israel, but worse, there are students running Hillel and the Jewish Community who are silent. They might have the slightest inclinations to support Israel at dinner table conversations and community meetings, but they refuse to protest in the name of Zionism in public out of fear that it is politically incorrect or might tarnish their symbolic relations with the Muslim communities.
I along with Diane lament their cowardice and am shameful to have been a part of a community that refuses to speak out on behalf of Israel. But I also ask Diane and anyone else who read her blog post yesterday to acknowledge that my generation is not completely out of touch with a Jewish and Zionist identity. We are not all apathetic. Not all of our parents failed to raise us with the teachings of what it means to be Jewish in the diaspora.
On my Facebook page alone, I have a network of hundreds of young people that I have met over the years from groups such as the Canadian Federation of Jewish Students and CJPAC (Canadian Jewish Political Affairs Committee) who organize conferences across Canada throughout the school year to train students intensively in Israel advocacy and leadership training. These students are unbelievably mature and brilliant young people who spend their entire extra-curricular lives making sure that there is a pro-Israel voice on campuses across our country. Why has Calgary, the most conservative city in Canada faltered behind and failed to breed a group of students with the courage and persuasion I’ve seen from these organizations?
Calgary has always had a small yet tightly bound Jewish Community rich in cultural education and social adhesion. To this day, I am extremely close with many of the kids I went to Kindergarten with. My earliest memories of a Jewish education stem from the Calgary Jewish Academy where in grade two, my class was asked to read from a book called “Ethics of the Torah” in which we analyzed passages from the bible and discussed in a very high academic level (for a group of children) the morals and lessons implied in our religion and culture.
My next memories come from B’nai Brith Summer camp, screaming Israeli songs at the top of our lungs, playing in mini Maccabiah games with teams named after Golda Meir and David Ben-Gurion, and running off to bed in our cabins named after Joseph’s sons and even one named Deganya – Israel’s very first Kibbutz.
Next we joined the Bnai Brith Youth Organization where 14-18 year olds in the community gathered weekly for mock board meetings, Jewish and cultural programming and also leadership training conferences.
My childhood and adolescence (as many young Jews will relate with) are filled with Jewish learning and Zionism – a rich cultural upbringing which heavily emphasized the value of being a leader and a passionate fervor for a country that I would not even physically experience until I was 16 years old.
Does this sound like a recipe for apathy?
But alas it all makes sense. So many of the kids that I grew up in this community with, of all ages, left Calgary to pursue degrees at other schools around the country, and what I see at the U of C is a group of Jewish people who have come from the fringes of our core Jewish community and elsewhere. Perhaps they feel the need to demonize Israel and cower behind Hillel leaders that tell them not to speak out because they have never been a part of a strong Jewish community – certainly not the one I am familiar with. They don’t possess the kind of Jewish and Zionist identity that those of us who were raised in Jewish homes and schools were taught, and now they are lemmings to the leftist hypocrisy agenda that pollutes the academic world, crying Islamophobia here and spouting antisemitism there.
I left Calgary almost three years ago to study in Israel and eventually make Aliyah, and it pains me to hear that the Jewish community which raised me and helped form my identity so strongly now supports silence and appeasement in a time where Israel needs their support and advocacy efforts more than ever. My generation is the next generation of business leaders, politicians and activists whose worldviews will entirely affect the future of global affairs on every level.
To all of those Joe and Joelle Jews who adhere to the norm and perpetuate the ignorance about Israel, you should be ashamed of yourselves, and I pity you for losing your identities somewhere along the way, or maybe never having been given the opportunity to form one. And to the students who know the truth and have somewhere in side of them the Zionist flame that is waiting to illuminate, speak up. Scream. Join forces with CUWI (Calgary United with Israel), an amazing new organization led by some brave members of the community and a young woman named Sarah who has a vision to advocate fearlessly. Compete with the SPHRs of the world to get to the majority of people who simply don’t know. Influence them. Impact the potential leaders of our generation to oppose the hatred and false lies about the homeland we were brought up to cherish with the morals and dignity our religion has taught us to possess.