One recent Tuesday morning, I began my day with a meditation led weekly by Senior Rabbi Angela Buchdahl of Manhattan’s Central Synagogue. She always introduces her meditations with words of wisdom either from the Torah, historical figures or her own heart. That day, she awakened my emotions with a quote from Ann Frank: “Look how a single candle can both defy and define the darkness.”
Then Rabbi Buchdahl shared, “I feel like we have all been plunged into darkness. So it’s all the more important to find and cling to the candle that gives light in a dark room.”
As, later in the day, I mulled over her words and those of Ann Frank, it occurred to me that many of the panelists at Hadassah’s recent Inspire Zionism symposium were lighting such a candle. The young Zionist trailblazers who spoke at the event are battling the erosion of truth in many different arenas. Yes, some are disappointed that groups with causes Jews have long supported are not standing up for us now. But the influencers persevere in their mission.
Moti Ankari, a luxury lifestyle fashion blogger who uses social media to combat antisemitism and anti-Zionism, advised symposium participants not to feel helpless or hopeless. Ankari is buoyed by the fact that today, there are Arab countries, as well as other nations around the world, that support Israel. “I understand that some groups are silent because there are consequences of speaking up in favor of Israel,” he said. But, he noted, “better to be silent than to come out against us.”
Other social media influencers said they don’t engage with anyone whose Instagram and X feeds exude hate. The influencers focus, instead, on educating people who haven’t yet taken a side, who don’t really understand the dynamic in the Middle East.
Many Jews are unaware that myriad Israelis and Palestinians are working diligently to bridge the divide. Take, for example, Prof. Dina Ben-Yehuda, MD, dean of the Hebrew University-Hadassah School of Medicine, another of the trailblazing symposium speakers. Prof. Ben-Yehuda, also head of the Hadassah Medical Organization’s Department of Hematology, treats many patients from Gaza and she takes pride in the fact that Hadassah trains many Palestinian physicians, who then return home to heal their people using the latest medical advances they learned at Hadassah.
I was happy to hear symposium moderator Stephanie Butnick, a host of the podcast Unorthodox, report a silver lining in this war: Many Jews who did not feel particularly strongly about their Jewishness before the war are now embracing it and educating themselves about Israel. Perhaps, they, too, will light a candle in the darkness.
One dark cloud that troubles me is that all the panelists at the session “LGBTQIA and the Z Word” said they feel unwelcome in “progressive spaces.” As moderator Rachel Marder, Associate Rabbi of Congregation Beth El in South Orange, NJ, pointed out, it seems that everyone is entitled to define who and what they are except Zionists. When it comes to Zionists and Jews, she said, a definition is imposed on us — like, for example, “Supporters of the colonization of Palestine.”
On a happier note, I keep thinking about panelist Destiny Albritton, outreach director for the Israel on Campus Coalition. A young Christian woman, she helps to broaden support for Israel beyond the Jewish community. Albritton explained that “we can’t define how people should connect to Israel.” Instead, we need to be open to their personal method of relating. “They just may find a way to connect that you never would have thought of,” she said. In elaborating with an example, Albritton told the story of a high school student who, when he went to visit a prestigious Black college, took pride in seeing all the students walking through campus in their suits. It helped him to understand Zionism and the pride that Jewish people feel in their homeland.
Perhaps panelist Leah Soibel summed up the Jewish people’s current mission best: “We need to come together as a united force to fight hate.” Soibel, the founder of Fuente Latina, which ensures accurate Spanish-language reporting on Israel and the Jewish world, is also the founder of Activista Media, which teaches young non-Jewish Latino-American journalists about Jews, antisemitism and Israel.
Many of the trailblazers who spoke at Hadassah’s Zionism symposium, like Soibel and Marder, are on the inaugural list of Hadassah’s “18 American Zionist Women You Should Know” — a group of amazing women that Hadassah identified earlier this year as shaping the future of Zionism. They light a candle in our tumultuous world and defy the darkness of our current days.