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StandWithUs celebrates 19th anniversary of its founding

San Diego Jewish World

Donald H. Harrison

May 22, 2020

SAN DIEGO –StandWithUs celebrated the 19th anniversary of its founding on Thursday with an international webcast that showcased its growth and successes helping students on college campuses, high schools and middle schools learn about Israel and defend against anti-Semitic attacks. The program was emceed by comedian Elon Gold and also featured the singing of “Hatikvah,” Israel’s National Anthem, by Rabbi/ Cantor Alison Wissot of Temple Judea of Tarzana, California, and a popular, optimistic Hebrew song by Israeli singer David Broza on the theme of “things will get better.”

Roz Rothstein, the CEO and co-founder of the pro-Israel organization, recalled that during the Second Intifada in 2000 and 2001, she was very frustrated that American Jewish organizations didn’t rise to the level of Israel’s defense that she thought necessary to counter Palestinians’ anti-Zionist propaganda. On May 8, 2001, Koby Mandell, 13, and Yosef Ishran, 14, were murdered while hiking near the Israeli settlement of Tekoa. Koby has both U.S. and Israeli citizenship, his family having immigrated to Israel five years earlier.

Those murders precipitated the founding of StandWithUs by Rothstein, her husband Jerry Rothstein, and Esther Renzer. The budding organization along with Mandell’s grieving parents — Seth and Sherri Mandell — successfully called on the U.S. Congress to take action against Palestinian terrorists who harm American citizens. The Mandells also founded the Koby Mandell Foundation, which support families bereaved by terrorism.

During the webcast, Seth Mandell said they started the Foundation “to give meaning to Koby’s and Yosef’s lives.” Sherri Mandell related that “after someone is killed by terror, the family feels alone.” Had her son lived, she said, he might have become a lawyer or a judge because “he loved to argue.”

From that introduction, the program pivoted to a presentation about the work StandWithUs has been doing since then. Maddy Gunn told of a time while a student at Michigan State University a mezuzah was snatched from the door of her apartment. At first police were unresponsive, but when she obtained video footage of the vandal, the police identified the perpetrator. As the daughter of a Holocaust survivor, she said, she had learned that one should act in the face of anti-Semitism, not stand by. She said through the entire process, she was aided by StandWithUs.

Yael Lerman, representing StandWithUs’s Saidoff Legal Department, said with the help of 100 pro bono attorneys, StandWith Us has participated in 1,000 cases in behalf of students and professors, with 100 cases in process this year so far.

StandWithUS created a Center for Combating Antisemitism, which was represented on the webcast by Carly Gammill, a Gentile. She said the Center helps identify anti-Semitism wherever it occurs; has sought to bring about a consistent definition of Anti-Semitism to aid law enforcement; has produced educational videos, and, drawing on the resources of the Saidoff Legal Department, has helped to assure legal rights are protected of pro-Israel professors and students who find themselves in hostile university environments. The Center also posts rewards for people providing information leading to the successful prosecution of hate crimes.

Rena Nasar First, who heads StandWithUs’s program for college and university students, said that during the coronavirus pandemic after many colleges switched from in-person classroom learning to distance learning, StandWithUs thus far has hosted 125 webinars on such subjects as combating anti-Semitism, the history of Israel, and Israel’s humanitarian aid efforts around the world. The program also enrolled 151 students to serve as Emerson Fellows organizing pro-Israel activities on campuses throughout North America.

Miri Kornfeld said approximately 250 webcasts reached 4,000 high school students across North America, providing them with “crash courses” about Israel, and a taste of the controversies they might encounter once they enroll at college campuses. He said 125 high school interns will lead pro-Israel gatherings at schools across the continent.

Mina Rush said she is currently working with nearly 200 middle schools across the continent, providing home learning programs about Israel. After viewing the content, middle school students write essays about Israel that are judged by well-known journalists. Winners receive Amazon gift cards.

Besides its programs in the U.S., StandWithUs has operations in Canada, United Kingdom, Brazil, South Africa, and Israel, the latter headed by Michael Dickson. He reported that after people in Israel were required by the pandemic to quarantine at home, his office launched a web conference in which 150 Israel fellows participated. He estimated that through social media platforms StandWithUs has reached 28 million people with its messages.

In a project still to be completed, StandWithUs is making Minority of One, a documentary about Hussein Aboubakr, an Arab Muslim who grew up in Cairo, Egypt, where he was taught to hate Israelis and Jews, but after educating himself did a complete turnaround.

San Diego is one of the North American cities in which StandWithUs maintains a permanent staff headed by Yosef Condiotti, the regional director, and Yael Steinberg, the associate director. Among those who gave brief greetings on the video was Jenny Josephson, an active member of StandWithUs’ regional board.

Read the article here.


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