Summer 2022 was fun, impactful and educational. In July, I was fortunate to go on an International Leadership Seminar in Israel (ILSI), a B’nai Brith Youth Organization (BBYO) trip centered on learning, having tough conversations and having a ton of fun in Israel. In August, I attended StandWithUs Kenneth Leventhal High School Internship Conference in Los Angeles for 5 days of training. Both trips changed how I feel regarding Israel and antisemitism.
In Israel, we had many fun and exciting experiences, but what I found most valuable were the discussions with people there. Prior to going, I had some knowledge about the controversies surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I was a part of BBYO’s Global Israel Fellowship last year which gave me some education on a topic I frankly didn’t know much about. However, when exposed to the people impacted by the conflict and realizing all the what-why all of this was happening, my mind opened.
We visited a kibbutz near the Gaza Border. While there, we got to spend time connecting with kids who lived there. We played many games including a very heated round of duck-duck-goose. Despite the language barrier, we understood each other. One of the girls had brownies that her mother baked and we talked and connected. That moment has resonated deeply with me.
After, we talked to the teenagers and young adults about how where they live affects their daily life. We listened to horror stories about the many rockets that fall continuously on their communities launched from Gaza by Hamas and Islamic Jihad, and the damage they cause – lives lost, grave bodily injuries, property destroyed, hopes shattered and psychological trauma.
These people have been prepared to race to a bomb shelter since birth. They’ve lived their whole lives with constant, undermining fear. Suddenly my biggest childhood fears seemed so frivolous compared to theirs. Any moment, any day, any time they could be killed or maimed; they have to be ready to protect their bodies and have to know where the bomb shelters are.
They showed us where the shelters were in the kibbutz. From the time the warning siren is sounded, they have 15 seconds to get to a shelter, no matter where they are. Unfortunately, it has become so commonplace, they sometimes just ignore the siren. They said if they are in bed, in the bathroom, driving or doing a myriad of other things, they couldn’t make it in time anyway, so why even try?
While at the StandWithUs High School conference in August, Palestinian Islamic Jihad launched more missiles into Israel from the Gaza Strip. I could not stop thinking about the children and families I met there.
At the conference, I learned a lot. At the time, it all sort of turned into a blur, but now I look back and when I got home, the knowledge I gained is priceless. I have been able to have tough conversations, communicate over social media better, and make so many connections. Throughout all of the lectures and learning, it was one of the greatest experiences of my life.
I relaxed the rest of the summer just absorbing everything. I was so proudly and outwardly Jewish that when I returned to school, I was hit with the harsh reality. I witnessed antisemitic and anti-Zionist acts including swastikas in bathrooms and on sidewalks. I now spend more time watching, reading and listening to the news and realizing more about how the world works. The bubble that I was in, popped.
After reflecting about who I want to be, I know that I am proud to be Jewish and proud to be a Zionist. I have my beliefs and if anybody wants to converse about them, I can have fact-filled discussions, open to their points-of-view. I know that I will continue to grow as I go through the rest of the Internship, a possible gap year in Israel and on to university. I feel confident now that I will be able to make a difference.
Taylor Levy is in 11th grade and is the StandWithUs Canada Kenneth Leventhal High School Intern at Earl Haig Secondary School in Toronto, Canada. The Internship selects and trains student leaders from high schools throughout the US and Canada to educate about Israel and to combat antisemitism at their schools and communities.