Cookie Cutters are for Baking, Not Advocating

by Brie Stimson January 3, 2017


jeff-gold-torrey-pines-high-school-dan-benaroch-southern-california-yeshiva-liz-brough-standwithus-southwest-high-school-coordinator-and-eitan-feifel-la-jolla-high-schoolLiz Brough, the Irish American, non-Jewish coordinator of StandWithUs’s high school internship program, urges all people to find their story in Israel. She says the melting pot country is very similar to the Untied States, and she hopes for diversity in advocates.

“No cookie cutter advocates,” she says. “No matter where you fit on the political spectrum, no matter where you sit on the religious perspective as long as you care about the rights of individuals you can find your reason to support Israel.”

One funny example Brough likes to give to public school students regarding Israel’s relevancy is the fact that Israeli scientists created the technology for the selfie – an integral part of high school life.

“Israel is not just benefiting its own people,” she explains, “but it’s helping the world and, of course, just a funny example of that is the selfie.”

Brough, who is the coordinator for six states in the southwest region, relates to her “cookie cutter” analogy for one because she is not Jewish. She found her personal connection to Israel on a post-high school trip and her commitment was challenged by anti-Israel activity she witnessed in college. As a coordinator for StandWithUs, she works to give students the tools to advocate against the kind of rhetoric and actions she herself was challenged by at their age.

Racquel Lyons, a junior at the San Diego Jewish Academy, became interested in Israel after watching her parents’ involvement in the Jewish community. She is the president of her high school’s Israel club and attended last year’s AIPAC conference in Washington, D.C. She says she intends to continue her advocacy after her internship finishes and once she graduates from high school.

“I actually got to lobby my congressman and so I plan on just maintaining ties with StandWithUs and with AIPAC and with as many pro-Israel organizations as I can,” Lyons tells the Jewish Journal. “At this point, I really feel like I’m discovering how Judaism is very much a part of me and just because the program’s over is not a reason that I would want to ever lose [that connection].”

The ambitious high school student, who plans assemblies and other pro-Israel events, is interested in becoming an immigration lawyer or accountant. She says, though, that she has a creative side and hopes that will drive her in her work as well.

“I’m really grateful StandWithUs exists and is an organization that I can be a part of because through learning how to advocate for Israel I’m also learning why it’s important to me and where my connection comes from,” Lyons says. “That has really allowed me to grow and further my Jewish identity and I feel now that it’s become a part of me and I can truly say I really see the validity of being Jewish and the value and the beauty that comes with that.”

She says she took it for granted before her internship that her Judaism was always just there. “Through learning about Israel and learning how to advocate it I really personally feel like I’ve connected further to my Jewish identity and that’s something that I’m really grateful for.”

Lyons says even without StandWithUs she thinks her Jewish identity was strong enough that she would have discovered her passion, but “probably not at such a young age.”

Brough, as part of her work, gives presentations at various high schools in the region, and Eitan Feifel attended one of them.

“Liz Brough … came and gave a presentation to my Jewish Student Union (JSU) Club at [La Jolla High] school, which I was president of, my junior year,” Feifel says. “I kept in contact with her, regarding the internship, and attended many more events that year. When Liz contacted me about an opportunity of applying for the internship, I knew immediately that I was interested.”

To start off, Feifel attended a weeklong seminar in Los Angeles this past August where he, along with all the other interns from across the U.S. and Canada, was trained in how to be an effective advocate. He has since worked on planning educational events for his peers.

“I have attended San Diego StandWithUs board meetings to keep them updated on the progress of the interns within San Diego,” he says. He also spoke at the Festival of Lights gala in early December.

The national conference at the end of the summer brings together nearly 100 students, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to begin the yearlong program. “They spend four days really moving beyond the talking points and gaining some depth on Israel as an issue and then being able to discover ‘how do I share Israel’s story with my community?’” Brough says. For the rest of the year, the interns focus on what their community’s needs are regarding education on Israel.

Feifel says the internship has taught him that not everyone thinks the same way he does and he has learned how to deal with those people who have opposing views in a respectful way. He says he’s learned that although he may feel strongly about his beliefs there are others who feel just as strongly about theirs and it’s important to find common ground.

The program, Feifel says, has emboldened him that his voice matters.

“This internship has shown me how much I, just as anyone else, can have such a large impact onto other people. Every person can play an integral role in standing up for Israel, and it is important that we help teach them how to do so.”

Jeff Gold, a senior at Torrey Pines High School, applied for the internship after watching television news.

“[I was] just thinking I’m just sitting here watching tv and just hearing about all the bad stuff happening around the high school and college campuses – that I could make a difference,” he tells the Jewish Journal.

Gold has been actively involved in his synagogue and with United Synagogue Youth (USF) since second grade. He’s the executive programming vice president and communications president in the far west for USY and creates all custom apparel for USY for California, Nevada, Arizona and Utah. He is currently planning an educational program at the next USY event to teach the members about the history of Israel and the current conflicts going on in the region.

Gold also hopes to bring virtual reality goggles that are supplied by StandWithUs to share with the Jewish club at his high school.

“I don’t think a lot of the kids have been to Israel,” he says. Gold wants to use the goggles to teach his fellow classmates about the country by letting them take a virtual tour.

During the program, Gold says he’s had some time for introspection on his personal relationship with Israel.

“Just growing up it’s always been thinking I am pro-Israel and having that mindset, but then when I went on my first trip to Israel I really saw in person just what I’d been seeing in pictures and just really saw the magic and amazingness of Israel and why it needs to continue for the Jewish people,” he explains.

Brough likes to think of the high school internship – to use a sports analogy – as spring training and students’ work on college campuses as the big game. All three San Diego interns report plans to continue their advocacy into the big game.

“I would just want to transition my pro-Israel advocacy onto college campuses and then use StandWithUs as a resource and maybe even become a fellow in college through StandWithUs,” Racquel Lyons tells the Jewish Journal.

“This internship is preparing me for the impact I can have while I attend college and I hope to work with StandWithUs throughout,” Feifel agrees.

“I plan to continue with the advocacy skills I’ve already learned from StandWithUs, and I’ll learn more throughout the year to be able to use them on college campuses where anti-Semitism is much more apparent,” Gold adds. “Depending on my involvement and enjoyment in this internship, which I’m loving so far, then I might apply to [the StandWithUs college internship] to continue being involved.”

For Brough, who has influenced each intern in different ways, it always comes back to diversity in thought – and her dessert analogy.

“My goal is to never create a cookie cutter Israel advocate,” Brough reiterates. “I want my students to have a variety of reasons, and a variety of points of connection to Israel. And then from there I want them to invite other people to have a connection to Israel if they don’t already and then strengthen that connection for those that do.” 

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