19th of April 2014 / Serving Oregon & Southwest Washington since 1959

StandWithUs Israel meet sharpens student’s focus

By AMY PENNER

article created on: 2010-12-01T00:00:00

I attended the StandWithUs “Israel in Focus” Conference in Santa Monica, Calif., Nov. 14-16. The stimulating conversations about Israel and activity surrounding Israel on college campuses were truly thought-provoking and eye-opening.

I am a senior at Lewis and Clark College. I went as a StandWithUs Emerson Fellow. There were 37 SWU Emerson Fellows present, including another from Oregon, Kinneret Michal Elizabeth Rogers from the University of Oregon.

But what I found amazing was that, besides the Emerson Fellows, 100 other college students travelled long distances for the weekend because of a shared passion and interest in Israel and in creating safe college campuses for students who care about her.

Students came from near and far, from universities on the West Coast, East Coast, the South and the Midwest. There were several shliach, Israeli representatives, who added interesting and real perspectives to the conversations.

The conference was a valuable and enriching experience, and I learned a lot from breakout sessions with my peers and the incredible speakers. I continue to think about the speaker’s words since leaving the conference. I enjoyed listening to Neil Lazarus, an internationally acclaimed speaker who runs a company he calls Awesome Seminars. His expertise in Middle East and Israel advocacy is superior and he presents his arguments in a manner that is comedic, engaging and highly educational. Through interactive role-play, Neil instructed us about Israel advocacy. This is really important so students like myself who support Israel do not feel attacked by other students on campus and so we know how to effectively communicate our thoughts and beliefs to those who challenge us.

A “mystery guest” told one of the most inspirational, thought-stirring, and interesting stories I have ever heard. This was Mosab Hassan Yousef, the eldest son of a founding member of Hamas. He abandoned his family’s ideology and risked his life to work with Hamas’ enemies (acting as a double agent for Israel’s Shin Bet) in an effort to prevent the Islamic organization’s killing of innocent people. His book, “Son of Hamas,” brought attention to Mosab’s accounts of his childhood, his beliefs and his transformation from Islam to Christianity. His speech was extremely authentic and fascinating. It was a special opportunity to shake his hand.

Throughout the “Israel in Focus” weekend, dialogue about challenges presented on different campuses allowed me to learn about my peers’ views about Israel in various regions.

SWU provided me with tools and skills to create awareness and support for Israel on my campus. We learned how to communicate to others that as pro-Israel students we are also pro-peace. We want to work with anti-Israel groups rather than against them through shared activity, education about the region and the conflict. Understanding is our ultimate goal.

I left the conference feeling more connected, informed and a greater sense of belonging as a student who cares about Israel, the world’s Jewish community and peace in the Middle East.

I plan to apply what I learned on my campus to create pro-Israel programming and stir thoughtful conversation. It is the responsibility of Jewish students who attended the conference to provide information and promote peace on campus so that students are not fighting for a cause they know nothing about and that no student will feel threatened to express their beliefs, expose their identity or share their passionate opinions.

Amy Penner is a senior at Lewis and Clark College. She is a StandWithUs Emerson Fellow and campus president of the Greater Portland Hillel. The StandWithUs Emerson Fellowship selects and trains students from campuses across the United States and Canada to run events that teach about Israel. 37 student leaders from 37 campuses have been hired for the 2010-11 school year. It is funded by philanthropists Rita and Steve Emerson.

The students began by attending an August conference in Los Angeles geared towards training them as StandWithUs Emerson Fellows. Through workshops and lectures by SWU campus staff, they learned skills and facts to help them clarify Israel’s image and combat anti-Israel rhetoric and stereotypes. They learned coalition building, event planning and received training in media and social network.

Throughout the year, the Fellows will build relationships with their campus groups and individuals to create informative, balanced and educational events. They will report back to SWU campus staff to evaluate program effectiveness and network among themselves to ensure consistency.

SWU Emerson Fellows receive a stipend. They are eligible to be chosen to intern at the StandWithUs office in Israel in the summer of 2011.

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