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Appreciating ‘StandWithUs’ on Its 20th Birthday

Updated: May 22, 2021

The Jewish Link

Sarah Rabitz

May 20, 2021


On May 23, StandWithUs (SWU), one of the world’s most successful Israel education organizations, will celebrate its 20th anniversary. SWU is an international, nonpartisan organization that educates and inspires people of all backgrounds about Israel, and combats antisemitism and anti-Zionism.


Founded in 2001 and headquartered in Los Angeles, StandWithUs has offices and hosts programs all over the globe. The organization has changed the lives of so many, and I am forever grateful for the impact that it has already had on my life.


I have always had an immense love and connection to the land and people of Israel, which is difficult to put into words. This deep affinity is something that is both natural to me and, in part, comes from the home in which I have been raised: one where I have been privileged to be surrounded by a family that instills and lives these values, and I have participated with institutions that reinforce them.


As a younger student I attended Ben Porat Yosef (BPY) in Paramus. Many of my teachers were Israeli shlichim (emissaries), who immersed us in the Hebrew language and Israeli culture. Now, as a junior at The Frisch School, I had the privilege to see Frisch’s administration, faculty and students work together to promote greater understanding and appreciation of Israel’s political, historical, social and cultural dimensions. Seeing the school rally together on days like Yom Hashoah, Yom Hazikaron and Yom Ha’atzmaut has left lasting impressions.


As I grow older, I am better able to appreciate the course of Jewish history and our place within it. And it has become apparent that the latest spike in antisemitism is not unique to our time and calls upon us all to fight against it.


My journey began as a freshman when I became involved in Frisch’s Israel club, “Cougars for Israel.” Through it, I engaged with others to help build and enhance our community through new Israel-related initiatives that have been well received by students, faculty and administration.


Together with gifted SWU Teen Leadership Council (TLC) participant Zehava Shatzkes, a close friend who also attends Frisch, we started a schoolwide Israel journal. Its goal is to encourage students to educate themselves on topics that allow them to foster a greater connection to the land of Israel and the Jewish people. The journal has far surpassed our expectations, and we know there is still so much more we can do.


But interest and love for Israel goes beyond the classroom. I heard favorable things about SWU, and jumped at the chance to become involved when an upperclassman suggested it to me. As a sophomore, I was accepted into the TLC, designed for high school students who wish to become involved in Israel-related activities and make a difference in their communities. I immediately became part of a group of like-minded teen leaders from a variety of backgrounds who came together to learn, discuss and engage.


Something that most impressed me was the passion that came from students who were different from me: those with secular backgrounds and different religions and ethnicities. Together, we quickly discovered that we were using our passion to build community and with it, the infrastructure of future engagement in the battle to defend fact from fiction and honesty from hate.


It was through the TLC that I designed a special program for middle school students. Utilizing the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism and Natan Schransky’s “3 D’s,” it helped students distinguish when legitimate criticism of Israel crosses the line into antisemitism. In addition, Zehava Shatzkes and I created an opportunity with a self-selected group of interested high school students to discuss our connections to Israel and to explore ideas to better fight antisemitism.


At both events, I was moved by how many students felt similarly attached to Israel. These interactions have reinforced my own dedication and allowed me to understand the diversity of durable attachments to Israel and the Jewish people.


But at the end of the day, Israel education is centrally focused on inspiration, truth-telling and community-building. Nowhere was this more evident than StandWithUs International Conference: Israel in Focus, which was held, virtually in January 2021. Although it was remote (it is normally held in Los Angeles), it was as uplifting as I could have ever imagined. I heard from incredible worldwide speakers like Hussein Aboubakr and Yoseph Haddad, who even though not Jewish have nonetheless committed their lives to advocating for the state of Israel.


Aboubakr was taught to hate Jews and the state of Israel growing up in Egypt. He wanted to learn more about his “enemies,” but instead, research led him to realize that everything he was taught was false. He had the intellectual and personal honesty to become a supporter of Israel. Unfortunately, this came at great personal sacrifice: He was jailed, tortured, and had to leave his family and flee his country and seek asylum in the U.S.


Haddad, the son of a Christian-Arab minister, was seriously wounded as a Golani fighter during his voluntary service in the IDF. He persevered through his injuries, and his integrity led him to establish, Vouch for Each Other, an organization whose goal is to be the catalyst of change, bridging the Arab sector of Israeli society with Israeli society as whole. Both of these men’s dedication to defending Israel leaves one awestruck.


No less impressive was Omar Al Bussaidy, a member of the US-UAE Public Affairs Committee, who works tirelessly to expand economic and commercial ties between Israel and the Gulf States. It is people like them who give hope to a peace that is not half-hearted but is instead one that is filled with warmth and spirit. I often had to pinch myself while adjusting to the new realities of the Abraham Accords, which made it possible for such voices to be heard openly and proudly. And it made me realize that we are not as alone as we may have thought.


“How can I possibly top this experience?” I mused, as my TLC participation came to a close. The answer appeared when I was accepted into SWU’s Kenneth Leventhal High School Internship, a remarkable opportunity to continue to build lasting connections with the pro-Israel thought leaders of tomorrow and to prepare for a lifetime of education, leadership and partnership with many across varied backgrounds and viewpoints.


This yearlong program includes two national conferences and ongoing online workshops, and offers guidance and funding for students like me to run programming in their high schools and youth groups. Participation in this program makes me excited as I plan for new campaigns that I hope will inspire my peers and educate people about Israel.


I hope you can join me in wishing StandWithUs a hearty mazel tov on its 20th anniversary. I know that I will forever be grateful for the impact that StandWithUs has already made in my life. But if history is any guide, I am also conscious of the fact that the need for such organizations will not likely dissipate.


Thank you, StandWithUs, for all that you do. May we all learn from your example and your unwavering devotion.


Read the article here.


Sarah Rabitz is a junior at The Frisch School in Paramus, New Jersey.

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