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An ‘envoy’ to his peers

Local teen trains for campus information war

 
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Elie Silow-Carroll is flanked by fellow TJJA participants Yeva Dymova and Brett Krutiansky.

Elie Silow-Carroll just finished battle training in Israel — not for a military confrontation, but for a potential war of words.

The Teaneck High School senior was the only local participant in The Jerusalem Journey Ambassadors, a leadership prep program for Jewish public school teen leaders from across North America sponsored by NCSY, the international youth movement of the Orthodox Union. Now in its second year, TJJA is designed to identify future college campus leaders and help them hone their Israel advocacy skills.

From July 7 to 11, the ambassadors — 15 boys and 20 girls — met with prominent figures and visited key sites in Israel to gain a firsthand understanding of current and ongoing struggles in the country.

“Israel’s most important battles are currently being fought in the battlefield of public opinion, and today we are outmanned and out-armed,” said Rabbi Aryeh Lightstone, regional director of New York NCSY and creator of the program. “We need to educate teens who will be influential on influential campuses.”

But it was not all work and no play, said Elie. “It’s been a great balance between learning and fun,” he said. “We did a lot of touring, learning history everywhere we went.”

From Eilat at Israel’s southern tip to the Golan Heights in the north, the teens hiked, built rafts, rappelled, went water tubing and did other outdoor activities interspersed with meetings and lectures. “We met with a woman whose son was killed in a terrorist attack,” Elie said. “We spent a day with Neil Lazarus [a British-born Israeli public relations consultant], who taught us how to advocate for Israel via the web; we each made websites in about 10 minutes.”

One field trip took them to Sderot, the southern development town that for nearly a decade has borne the brunt of thousands of missiles launched from Gaza. Guided by Noam Bedein, director of the Sderot Media Center, the young ambassadors were encouraged to use social networking tools for defending Israel.

They saw a large collection of Kassam, Katyusha, and Grad missiles displayed at the Sderot police station; toured a protected playground redesigned to be “Kassam-free”; and took part in a simulated “Code Red” alert during which they were given 15 seconds to seek refuge in a bomb shelter.

After stopping to observe a lookout above the Gaza border crossings where Israeli humanitarian aid is trucked daily into Gaza, the teens visited the Sderot Yeshivat Hesder, where post-high-school Israeli men alternate their military service with Torah studies. Rabbi Dovid Fendel, the head of the modern Orthodox yeshiva, showed them a menorah made of Kassam rocket pieces and declared the town to be “a symbol of hope.”

The group then settled into a hostel in nearby Yerucham, where the teenagers organized and ran a three-day summer camp for 45 children from Sderot, culminating in day-long carnival. Elie said eight years of learning Hebrew at Solomon Schechter Day School of Bergen County left him able to converse with the campers fairly well.

“While most teenage groups don’t even entertain the thought of visiting Sderot, our NCSYers witnessed how moved Sderot residents were because of our decision to come here,” said TJJA Director Rabbi Ben Zion Goldfischer, who made aliyah from Teaneck in 1999. “Our participants have more insight into the conflict and into the psychology of Sderot children.”

Elie gained more than an education on the conflict, however. “I didn’t know anyone coming in,” he said, “and now I’ve met people from all over North America,” including Oregon, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Toronto, and Nova Scotia, among other places. In addition, he said, “The advisers really influenced me. At any time, you could talk to them about anything at all, Jewish or secular. I learned so much from them and from the [formal] lectures.”

Alhough many of the participants had never been to Israel before, Elie lived in Jerusalem when he was a toddler and visited again during this eighth-grade year at Schechter. He said his parents, Andrew and Sharon, were fully supportive of his decision to apply to TJJA after he learned about it at a meeting of his high school’s Israel Club. “We thought it was a great opportunity for me to go to Israel and a perfect way to spend the summer.” Elie’s father edits the weekly newspaper New Jersey Jewish News, which is published by United Jewish Communities (UJC) of MetroWest, N.J.

Elie said he has never faced anti-Israel rhetoric at Teaneck High, but he has the impression most of his peers “just don’t know what’s going on in Israel, and the world media always portray Israel in a negative way.”

Newly armed with concrete facts, he therefore does not expect to change minds — only to educate them. “You’re not going to convince somebody [otherwise] who’s against Israel, but if I’m able to take the information I’ve learned here and share it, that’s the main battle.”

 
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‘It’s valuable to hear both sides’

Ridgewood man discusses Israeli, Palestinian narratives

Jonathan Emont — a 2008 graduate of Ridgewood High School who celebrated his bar mitzvah at the town’s Temple Israel and Jewish Community Center — always has felt a deep attachment to the state of Israel.

Still, the 23-year-old said, he never expected that country to be at the center of his professional life.

Things changed, however, when the recent Swarthmore College graduate went to Israel on a tour the America-Israel Friendship League offered to young journalists.

“I did journalism in college,” he said, explaining that although he majored in history, he also was the editor of Swarthmore’s Daily Gazette.

 

Walling off, reaching out

Teaneck shul offers discussion of Women of the Wall

It is not an understatement to say that the saga of Women of the Wall is a metaphor for much of the struggle between tradition and change in Israel.

Founded 25 years ago by a group of Israeli and non-Israeli women whose religious affiliations ran from Orthodox to Reform, it has been a flashpoint for the fight for pluralism in Israel, as one side would define it, or the obligation to hold onto God-given mandates on the other.

As its members and supporters fought for the right to hold services in the women’s section, raising their voices in prayer, and later to wear tallitot and read from sifrei Torah, and as their opponents grew increasingly violent in response, it came to define questions of synagogue versus state and showcase both the strengths and the flaws of Israel’s extraordinary parliamentary system. It also highlighted rifts between American and Israeli Jews.

 

Yet more Pew

Local rabbis talk more about implications of look at American Jews

The Pew Research Center’s study of American Jews, released last October, really is the gift that keeps on giving.

As much as the Jewish community deplores the study’s findings, it seems to exert a magnetic pull over us, as if it were the moon and we the obedient tides. We can’t seem to stop talking about it. (Of course, part of that appeal is the license it gives us to talk, once again, about ourselves. We fascinate ourselves endlessly.)

That is why we found ourselves at the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades in Tenafly last Wednesday night, with the next in the seemingly endless series of snow-and-ice storms just a few hours away, discussing the Pew study yet again.

 

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Israel launching drive to void Goldstone Report

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Netanyahu said he had asked his security adviser, Ya’akov Amidror, to establish a committee focused on “minimizing the damage caused” by the report.

 

Facebook and Zuckerberg does an about-face and deletes Palestinian page calling for a Third Intifada

Following widespread criticism, a Facebook page calling for a third Palestinian intifada against Israel was removed on March 29. On the Facebook page, Palestinians were urged to launch street protests following Friday May 15 and begin an uprising as modelled by similar uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, and Jordan. Killing Jews en masse was emphasized.

According to the Facebook page, “Judgment Day will be brought upon us only once the Muslims have killed all of the Jews.” The page had more than 340,000 fans. However, even while the page was removed, a new page now exists in its place with the same name,  “Third Palestinian Intifada.”

 

Did heated rhetoric play role in shooting of Giffords?

WASHINGTON – The 8th District in southern Arizona represented by U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords comprises liberal Tucson and its rural hinterlands, which means moderation is a must. But it also means that spirits and tensions run high.

Giffords’ office in Tucson was ransacked in March following her vote for health care reform — a vote the Democrat told reporters that she would cast even if it meant her career. She refused to be cowed, but she also took aim at the hyped rhetoric. She cast the back-and-forth as part of the democratic process.

 
 
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