South Florida Sun Sentinel
JUN 08, 2020
As Jews or Zionists, we associate the word “Israel” with our beautiful and beloved homeland. However, we sometimes forget that many people automatically associate negativity with the country and its people, or worse, are fueled with hatred towards it.
As my middle school years drew to an end, I become more involved in pro-Israel activism, but did not immerse myself until I joined Rams for Israel Club at my high school as a freshman. I lived in a small bubble, where anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism existed abstractly. It was not prominent in my community and therefore, not an issue I had to deal with.
The bubble burst when I was confronted with anti-Semitism on social media. For months, I scrolled through countless hate posts and comments and could not have been more shocked. I vividly remember when I posted a simple comment on an Israeli flag emoji, a symbol of the pride I felt. Tens of users responded back with Palestinian flags, “Free Palestine” and “Your country and people are a disgrace.”
Following this confrontation, I began to research the roots, causes and the current rise of global anti-Semitism. I realized that although I am fortunate not to encounter this, it is my obligation as a Jew and as a proud Israeli citizen, to protect my homeland and combat anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism any way I can. My parents and I were born in Israel. My mother’s family escaped from Yemen and my father’s family immigrated from Egypt, hoping for a new and safer life. We moved to America when I was two and despite not growing up there, my connection to Israel crystallizes every year.
In October 2018, I attended AIPAC’s High School Summit with my classmates and teachers. Together with hundreds of others, we learned the importance of maintaining and strengthening the U.S-Israel relationship and how as high school teens, we can incorporate it into our personal activism.
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I then interviewed and was accepted into a prestigious high school internship for the international organization StandWithUs. The leadership program prepares high school juniors and seniors for the challenges we may face in college and our communities regarding our homeland.
I met fellow activists from schools throughout the U.S. and Canada from various backgrounds and experiences. There was something beautiful about our first meeting, which was the August conference in Los Angeles. Teenagers with different stories and reasons about why they joined and are willing to put in hours of dedication towards the same mission: educating our communities and defending Israel’s right to exist. With every story and passing day, we inspired each other to work harder and were motivated by the other’s passion to become the best teen activist we could.
During my year as a StandWithUs High School Intern, I was exposed to even more hatred that I didn't realize existed. My fellow interns endured vindictive acts in their classes for being Jewish that included swastikas drawn on their arms and slurs such as "kike" and "you should have dies in the gas chambers" during Holocaust studies.
I was in shock and in awe. Shock that people my age experienced this ugliness and were harshly forced to cope with realities I could not begin to comprehend. Awed, because they were able to channel their anger and humiliation into something positive: to take control of the situation and become powerful activists.
Often, I stop and think about how immensely grateful I am to have met these people, and that as a team and newfound family, we share our successes, our failures, and encourage each other.
As graduation approaches, and we are bound to our respective universities, I am taking a moment to emphasize that teenage activism is not just important, it is critical.
If you care about something, get out there and find a way to channel your passion towards making a difference. Even if it seems like a waste of time or your actions insignificant, take it from me – a total stranger without any bias of who you are – that it is not. Everything we do has a consequence, good or bad. So, focus on the good that you can accomplish and go out there and do it. Push yourself and soon enough you will see the results. I promise.
Rachel Eskandry of Aventura is the 2019-20 StandWithUs High School Intern from David Posnack Jewish Day School in Davie.
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