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.”