top of page
Search

Alexa Lemieux, Jonah Platt Headline StandWithUs Conference

Updated: Mar 13, 2023

Aaron Bandler Jewish Journal

March 8th, 2023


“Love Is Blind” star Alexa Lemieux and actor Jonah Platt headlined the 2023 StandWithUs International “Israel in Focus Conference” from March 2-5 at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel, telling attendees that Jewish pride is the best way to combat hate.

“Love Is Blind” star Alexa Lemieux and actor Jonah Platt headlined the 2023 StandWithUs International “Israel in Focus Conference” from March 2-5 at the Hilton Los Angeles Airport hotel, telling attendees that Jewish pride is the best way to combat hate.

Lemieux, an Israeli American, told the 400 attendees — most of whom were college and high school students — that she was subjected to a hate campaign and death threats after she openly embraced her Jewish identity on the Netflix dating show. “It was crazy,” she said. “You read it, your whole heart drops. It was very terrifying.” She also recounted how various news articles and media outlets said, “We love Alexa but we’re afraid that she might be a Zionist” or that they loved her despite her being Jewish. But she refused to hide who she was, adding that the best way to handle the haters is “being proud and confident.” Many people told her that she made them want to be more proud of being Jewish.


Only when our ‘yes’ is louder than their ‘no’ will we get the respect and representation we deserve.” – Jonah Platt

Jonah Platt

Photo courtesy of StandWithUs


Platt, who is also a musician, told attendees that his younger brother, Ben, is in the cast of “Parade,” the recent Broadway musical that was protested by neo-Nazis. He then explained how “Jews are so narrowly represented on screen,” pointing out how most portrayals of Jews are akin to the nebbishness of Kyle Broflovski’s parents in “South Park” rather than the strong heroes depicted in shows like Amazon’s “Hunters.” Why? In Platt’s view, it’s because many Jews in Hollywood are disconnected from their Judaism and view being Jewish as eating bagels, having digestive issues and going to shul once a year. “And these are the people writing Jewish stories,” he said, analogizing it to asking for input on a movie about NASA from someone who went to space camp once in their life. “We’ve got the Jews who are running Hollywood making authentic stories about everyone but themselves.” He encouraged attendees “to feel confident and proud of your Jewish identity … Only when our ‘yes’ is louder than their ‘no’ will we get the respect and representation we deserve,” Platt said.


Roz Rothstein, the CEO and Cofounder of StandWithUs, delivered a similar message in her speech. Rothstein, the daughter of Holocaust survivors, said she only had “a handful of cousins” and didn’t know why, as back then “the Holocaust survivors wanted to protect us” and didn’t talk about what had happened to them. Only when Steven Spielberg started the Shoah testimonies did Holocaust survivors start talking again, and then Rothstein learned “the gravity of what happened to them.” Rothstein said that now is the time to talk to Holocaust survivors.


But Rothstein pointed out that today people are more comfortable speaking hatred. “Hatred and attacks against any minority group is wrong,” Rothstein said. “You know it. We know it in this room.” She asked attendees to imagine walking by white supremacists screaming hateful rhetoric at Black people in their cars. “How would you feel about that?” Rothstein asked. “Would you be an upstander?” “We need to remain proud,” she later added.

Other speakers in the conference explained the various manifestations of antisemitism. Carly Gammill, who heads StandWithUs’ Center for Combating Antisemitism, explained that the “classic and historic forms of antisemitism” can still be seen today with the various white supremacist flyers spreading the libel that Jews are to blame for COVID-19; and how pork was smeared on the door of a Jewish student at the University of Denver. But the more contemporary version of antisemitism has been manifested as anti-Zionism, Gammill said, explaining that most Jews view Zionism as “their age-old bond” with Israel. Therefore, she argued, deriding Zionism would be akin to mocking a Jew for wearing a kippah. Some examples included a student group barring a student from their meeting over the student being a Zionist and high school students harassing their Jewish peers with anti-Israel rhetoric. “This is unvarnished bigotry and hate on full display,” Gammill said. She encouraged attendees to educate and engage with influencers, administrators, and employers on the matter and to use legal tools when possible.


Anti-Zionist antisemitism was further explained by Lahav Harkov, Senior Contributing Editor and Diplomatic Correspondent of The Jerusalem Post. Harkov said that this version of antisemitism stems from Soviet Union propaganda replacing the word “Jew” with “Zionist” in classic blood libels. She pointed out, for instance, that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas wrote his Holocaust-denying dissertation at a Soviet University.

Other speakers included StandWithUs Campus Regional Manager Southwest Area Chloe Levian discussing how she used social media to mobilize support in favor of the West Hollywood City Council adopting the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance definition of antisemitism and Hindu American Foundation Cofounder, Dr. Mihir Meghani, saying how Hindus and Jews are natural allies in the fight against hate. Black Jewish rapper Noah Shufutinsky, who goes by the name “Westside Gravy,” also spoke and performed. Additionally, StandWithUs announced their new Holocaust Education Center. The conference featured the highest number of international students and attendees in its history, including some from the Netherlands, Brazil and the United Kingdom.

Students who attended the conference told the Journal that they have experienced antisemitic incidents on their respective campuses and the conference helped arm them with information.

Students who attended the conference told the Journal that they have experienced antisemitic incidents on their respective campuses and the conference helped arm them with information.


“There’s a lot of hate,” Carly Klinger, StandWithUs Emerson Fellow for UC Davis, told the Journal. “We had two swastika and neo-Nazi incidents at the beginning of the year. We’ve had nonstop anti-Zionism throughout the year. We actually had to move one of our Israel events to being online because it was going to get protested. So it’s not comfortable, it’s really hard to want to be a proud Jew [on campus].” Klinger said the conference was “a lot of fun” and “really educational.” “I’ve found that when I’m fighting anti-Zionism on campus, sometimes I don’t necessarily understand the rhetoric that’s coming at me,” she said, “and this conference has been really helpful in learning about how to combat that rhetoric with history and facts.”


Elad Kovo, StandWithUs Kenneth Leventhal High School Intern from International School of the Americas in San Antonio, TX, told the Journal that the basketball coach at his school wouldn’t let him on the team because Kovo is Shabbat observant; the coach later resigned from the position following backlash but is now back with the school. Kovo said the conference was “moving and motivational.” “Seeing all these Jewish teens stand together with each other and stand for one purpose,” he said. “It’s also great to educate myself and to be able to learn more so I can educate others.”


Taylor Levy, a SWU high school intern from Earl Haig Secondary School in Toronto, told the Journal that one of her closest friends was physically attacked, which she said was “shocking.” But usually, she added, “antisemitism doesn’t seem to be as harsh in Toronto as it is in America.” What Levy liked about the conference was being able to connect with “like-minded teenagers and college students” and being part of a network she could learn from.

The conference was sponsored by The Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation.


To read the original article, please click here. The conference was sponsored by The Adam and Gila Milstein Family Foundation.

Commentaires


bottom of page