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A Golden Ticket


By Gabriel Goldstein
January 10, 2012

Anger. Confusion. Hostility. These emotions characterized the way I felt on a recent Saturday afternoon as I listened to a stranger spout lie after lie about Israel.

Apartheid. Bloodshed. Oppression. These are words that Vida Velasco used in her provocative question and answer about Israel that sparked these emotions. I could not wrap my head around why a Jewish youth organization such as BBYO would invite such a misguided and biased speaker to essentially bash Israel. Her audience was a room full of Zionist, Jewish teenagers from the South. Her questions were phrased in such a way that you could not answer in a fair way. I asked my advisor if I could leave the room; I feared an imminent outburst that would belittle Vida until I felt better about myself. When my request was denied, I became suspicious about the whole situation. Originally blinded by anger, I now began to realize that her goal was to provoke anger to elicit a response.

Five of my seven siblings reside in Israel. My brother is in Special Forces training in his second year in the Israeli army. During Operation Pillar of Defense, I spent countless hours fearing for my brother’s life. My love for Israel is innate. My father, grandfather, and older siblings all served in the Israeli military. My closest brother, in both age and relationship, is headed there next year.

As an American with such a strong connection to Israel, as well as a Goldstein who is choosing to pursue a life in America rather than in the Israeli military, the need to know how to advocate for Israel is at an all-time high. If my brother is physically defending the borders of the country that I one day hope to reside in, then the least I can do is defend the ideological framework that helps support my country and my brother. Just because I’m in America doesn’t mean my connection to Israel should be taken for granted; it doesn’t mean I cannot still effectively impact the world’s perception of the only democracy in the Middle East. Vida opened my eyes. She showed me that I can use my strong tie to Israel to confront the lies and misconceptions. She showed me that I have the ammunition to defend Israel, but I need to learn how to fire that ammunition effectively.

When the truth was revealed that this was a simulation, that Vida works for StandWithUs and the anger died down, I found myself in awe. I sat there with nothing but curiosity. Why would this Christian woman choose a life of advocacy for a State that mostly Jews strive to defend? Why would she pursue a career with one of the largest Israel education organizations in America, StandWithUs? My anger turned to pride. It turned to respect. This woman was an inspiration to me, who thought I lived and breathed Israel advocacy. Vida then so graciously presented me and eight other Memphis peers with an opportunity. She encouraged us to stay in touch with her, to get into the action of Israel advocacy. Before this, my advocacy opportunities were limited. I go to a 40-boy Orthodox Jewish High School in Memphis, Tennessee. I don’t have a wide variety of people to reach out to. But, the BBYO weekend teamed me with 250 students from schools with larger populations to reach out to, opening the door for endless opportunities.

My peers and I have taken the responsibility of getting the ball rolling in Memphis. We plan to use the few resources at our disposal to their fullest extent. Guided by Vida, we hope to begin bi-monthly Israel Advocacy classes for the community’s youth. We will plan informative events that will help clear Israel’s reputation. We will invite an inter-faith audience to focus on the need for a mutual desire for peace. We are going to get the facts to the public and clear up whatever misconceptions there may be about the Israeli-Arab conflict in the Middle East.

StandWithUs’ Vida Velasco has granted us an opportunity to do what we’ve always wanted: to make a difference in how the world perceives Israel. We plan to speak up for the country that belongs to all of us.

Gabriel Goldstein attended the Cotton States BBYO Winter Convention in December. He is a junior at Cooper Yeshiva High School in Memphis.

StandWithUs is an 11-year-old international, non-profit Israel education organization. We educate on campuses and the community through printed materials, website resources, speakers and campus Fellowship programs.

Their newest initiative is the StandWithUs-MZ Teen Internship Program. 48 teens are selected from Jewish schools across the US and trained in Israel advocacy. They create Israel clubs in their schools, bring in speakers and host events. It prepares them to face potential anti-Israel sentiment in college.

Vida E. Velasco is the SWU-MZ Teen Central Region High School Program Coordinator. MZ Teens Iris Levine, Hume Fogg Academy in Nashville and Ariane Schafer from Lusher Charter School in New Orleans arranged for her to speak.


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