StandWithUs Hosts a Virtual International Conference

StandWithUs hosted the “Israel in Focus” international Zoom conference. For ten local high school and college students this was the culmination of a year-long internship or fellowship with StandWithUs. A diverse forum of experts, including Israeli Arabs, discussed Israel, antisemitism, and the Abraham Accords. International speakers discussed how various anti-Israel campaigns work, and strategies to deal with them.

High School and College student leaders from around the world had an opportunity to connect via Zoom to share the challenges they face and how they have overcome them. The StandWithUs Leventhal High School Interns from Philadelphia are Lital Abergel from Kohelet Yeshiva High School, Blake Fox from Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy, Alexa Jakubowitz from Upper Dublin High School, Matthew Khelmer from Council Rock High School South, Abi Schonberger from Lower Merion High School, Alex Forgosh from Parkland High School. Student leaders Gabi Leon from Lower Moreland High School and Miriam Worley from Hatboro-Horsham High School participated as well. Rebecca Wilson from Jack M Barrack Hebrew Academy is the teen leadership council member. Allison Gorokhovsky was the 2020-21 StandWithUs Emerson Fellow at University of Pennsylvania. Professionals from Hillel International, the Israel on Campus Coalition, and Avi Gordon, the Executive Director of Alums for Campus Fairness, discussed trends they are seeing happening on college campuses.

The parents of some of these high school and college students had an opportunity to discuss their experiences and concerns with Roz Rothstein, founder and CEO of StandWithUs. Attendees heard from and engaged with experts who have successfully collaborated with churches, artists, legislators, students, faculty, and more to overcome BDS, antisemitism and other challenges.

The conference concluded with a discussion about the Abraham Accords. Omar Al Busaidy, from the United Arab Emirates, a Fulbright Scholar, Best Selling author and member of the US-UAE Public Affairs Committee, was one of the featured speakers. He was joined by Fleur Hasan Nahoum, the Deputy Mayor of Jerusalem. Natan Sharansky, Gil Troy, Neil Lazarus, Yosef Haddad, and Hussein Aboubakr were featured speakers. The conference ended on a high note with stunning performance from piano virtuoso Mona Golabek.

Virtual StandWithUs Student Conferences

Due to the Covid 19 pandemic this year’s StandWithUs conferences were hosted virtually. The 2020-21 StandWithUs High School Interns and college Emerson Fellows completed their respective conferences and are excited to begin educating about Israel and combating antisemitism in their schools and communities. Educational sessions were run by StandWithUs staff, and they bonded via the multiple networking, exercise and engaging sessions designed to connect them together individually and as a group. While virtual conferences have their challenges, and students worldwide are experiencing zoom-fatigue, none of this seemed to matter!

Created in 2012, the StandWithUs High School Internship is a year-long program for North American students in 11th and 12th grades. The program prepares students for challenges they may face regarding Israel in college and to grow their Israel knowledge and leadership skills to make a difference in their schools and for the future. Interns are passionate about creating educational opportunities to inspire their peers with thoughtful, nuanced, and intentional Israel education programs throughout the school year.

This year’s interns are Abi Schonberger, Lower Merion High School; Matthew Khelmer, Council Rock High School South; Alexa Jakubowitz, Upper Dublin High School; Benji Himmel, Taylor Allderdice High School; Blake Fox, Jack M. Barrack Hebrew Academy; Alex Forgosh, Parkland High School; Miriam Decker, Cheltenham High School and Lital Abergel, Kohelet Yeshiva High School.

The StandWithUs Emerson Fellowship was founded in 2007 by Los Angeles philanthropists Steve and Rita Emerson. Student leaders on campuses throughout the US, Canada, the UK and Brazil are selected and trained to educate about Israel and confront anti-Israel rhetoric. Throughout the year, they create interesting Israel programming designed to engage others, including bringing in speakers and creating educational and cultural events. They also monitor and respond to anti-Israel and antisemitic actions.

This year’s Emerson Fellows are Penn Israel Coalition board member Allison Gorokhovsky at the University of Pennsylvania; Alexis Lukaszewski at Pennsylvania State University (University Park), who serves as secretary for Lions for Israel, and Paige Weisburg at Muhlenberg College, who is the Hillel Israel Chair.

Both programs have a record number of students this year, selected from high schools and universities in the U.S., Canada, the UK, and Brazil. There are 125 High School Interns and 149 Emerson Fellows.

Interns and Fellows attended two conferences, including SWU’s annual “Israel in Focus” International Conference. Throughout the August conferences, students learned how to create their personal “Israel story,” and present it to different groups. They took a deep dive into Israel’s history, the Arab-Israeli Conflict, and the social history of Israel to have the context necessary to have insightful conversations about Israel. They also learned about when criticism of Israel crosses the line into antisemitism. Participants were exposed to tactful debate skills so that they can begin to practice addressing anti-Israel claims in a respectful and effective manner. They shared strategies of how to confront anti-Israel boycott campaigns and disputes with professors.

Paula Joffe, who recently celebrated her first anniversary as executive director of StandWithUs Mid-Atlantic, remarked, “With their eagerness to learn, their passion to educate about Israel and their enthusiasm for sharing what they’ve learned, these extraordinary students are setting examples for their peers, their parents, their educators and their communities. StandWithUs provides them with the tools and support to become credible sources of information and the confidence to become life-long leaders. These students and their coordinators Matthew and Nathan, will have a profound impact on the pro-Israel movement and in creating a community of critical thinkers who understand why Israel is vitally important and why we must combat antisemitism.”