Why we must stand up and speak up

By Josh Cohen

As the dog days of summer slowly lumbered around me, I received a unique opportunity. It came nestled in an email filled with updates from Write On for Israel, the two-year Israel education and advocacy training program I've been a part of for the past year. We were being invited to lead breakout sessions during an upcoming Israel program for teens, co-sponsored by JUF's Israel Education Center and a long list of groups that work with Jewish teens.

I knew this was something I had to do.

I have always had a deep love for Israel, but before I became a Write On Fellow that love did not always translate into being an effective advocate. I had the passion and the willingness to speak, but I lacked knowledge and I did not know how to advocate effectively.

The first year of Write On's program was challenging, but it taught me more about the history of Israel than I thought there was to know. The program also honed my writing and debate abilities, while teaching me how to process and grow from ideas I do not necessarily accept.

After our two-week Israel trip last June, I felt confident that my factual and historical tool belt was diverse and powerful, and that I knew how to effectively use each tool to defend Israel.

So when I got that email, I paid attention because it offered me a chance to put everything I have been learning for the past year to use. Some of my friends could not understand how I could give up the last, precious hours of the golden days of summer, but I saw it as an opportunity to do something I loved, and I had the tools to do it well. While some people thoughts I was nuts, more than a dozen of my Write On peers also answered the call.

We all saw this as our best opportunity, so far, to advocate for Israel. Those who would attend the gathering were genuinely curious about the conflict and wanted to know the facts of the matter. This type of open-minded and intelligent crowd is exactly who we wish to advocate to, and the most important thing I can do is get our message to them.

Our first step was to determine the overall message of the night and what we would discuss in each breakout group. We chose "Free Gaza From Hamas" as our broad message, because it allowed us to humanize both sides of the issue while showing that there are oppressors in Gaza: Hamas.

Our group spent hours in the library crafting effective and powerful breakout sessions. There was a very special moment during that long planning session, one in which we all realized our own power. We had spent the past year, and arguably our whole lives, developing these skills and knowledge and here we were - using them for something we were deeply passionate about.

The night went very well, largely due to the efforts of my peers. Our presentations sparked discussions and ignited people's passion for learning. I hope the attendees came away with the realization that Israel is a very complex entity with roots in the distant past and ramifications that affect our future.

The only way to understand these conflicts is to acknowledge that no one side has all the answers, and that we must work to include the perspectives of all parties. This inclusion will lead to an onslaught of new information. Wrestling with these new ideas, from a vast array of sources, is a beautiful but challenging process. To fully grow from this process we must adhere to the truth, no matter where it leads, and arm ourselves with facts. Slowly these truths will accumulate a belief that must be advocated for and protected. However, we must be sure to test our discoveries with as much rigor, and as constantly, as the information we continuously digest. By being devoted to our beliefs and constantly testing ourselves, we will be the most effective advocates we can be.

Josh Cohen is a senior at Glenbrook North High School and a Write On for Israel Senior Fellow.

Personal stories of lives impacted by the opportunities offered through JUF's Israel Education Center.... Read More

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