Four Dallas-area teens were selected from dozens of applications to be the StandWithUs High School Interns for 2019-20. Ethan Liebnick, Plano West Senior High School; Alisabella Ackermann and No’am Gilat-Elbaz from Akiba Yavneh Academy of Dallas and Tamar Yahalom from Richardson High School.
The TJP recently published (TJP Sept. 12) Liebnick’s explanation of elections in Israel. “The topic [elections] was the first group chat we had with Kate Chavez, SWU’s southwest high school coordinator right after the conference,” Liebnick said. “Educating about this complex system fulfills one of my goals as an Intern to write about aspects of Israel people may be unfamiliar with.”
Liebnick is referring to the “StandWithUs High School Internship Conference” held in Los Angeles Aug. 4-8. It brought together the 98 Interns from 95 high schools throughout North America.
The five-day conference focused on Israel education, leadership and professional development skills. Interns learned how to organize programs and create relationships with different groups. Israel’s history and current events were reviewed. There was a session on the conflict from both sides and another on how to distinguish when legitimate criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism, among many others.
Created in 2012, the StandWithUs High School Internship is the only yearlong program of its kind in high schools. It prepares students for the difficult climate they may face at universities regarding anti-Israel and anti-Semitic actions. Interns create Israel clubs in their schools, bring in speakers, write op-eds and educate their peers and the community about Israel and anti-Semitism. In January, North Texas’ five interns will attend StandWithUs’ annual “Israel in Focus” International Conference in Los Angeles.
The interns shared their reasons for applying to the StandWithUs High School Internship.
Liebnick joined to “facilitate positive and progressive discussion on Israel beyond the usual discord, and focus on finding what this nation means to all of us, individually. The conference taught me how to approach these conversations with facts and address claims against Israel peacefully, in a way that turns a potential argument into a constructive talk. Utilizing these skills, I plan to create unique events to give perspective on the Israel story.”
Gilat-Elbaz applied for other reasons.
“I heard a lot about Israel from both sides that I knew was wrong – those who claim Israel is absolutely perfect whatever it does to those who call it a nation of inhumane child-killers. I felt surrounded by extremists,” No’am Gilat-Elbaz shares. “I wanted the tools to educate and explain Israel’s story to those around me.”
He explained that he was initially apprehensive.
“I was a bit concerned about the education I would receive at the conference, but was presented with very well-balanced programming. The perfect mix of emotional stories, two-sided education, and cultivation of professional skills exceeded all my expectations. I am excited to offer programming to my community that show different sides of Israel, to learn more from my internship peers and educate the people around me.”
Alisabella Ackermann is a passionate advocate for truth.
She joined because “as an Israeli, a Jew and an advocate for truth, I felt it was my responsibility to educate myself and others about Israel and it’s role in the international community. The conference exposed me to various perspectives about the conflict. I learned how to combat anti-Semitic and anti-Israel language in a constructive, open-minded manner. I am excited to attend the January conference and proudly represent the work that I’ve done.”
Ackermann and Gilat-Elbaz already have created two programs at Akiba Yavneh Academy — one clarified the Israeli election process and, another is a monthly “coffee and conversation” on topical issues.
Richardson High School student Tamar Yahalom concurred with her peers and added, “Israel has always been very important in my life, and recently, I’ve seen the growing need for Israel education. I think it is more important than ever for young people to learn the facts and know Israel’s story.”
At the conference, she learned the importance of active listening especially when there is a difference of opinion.
“A wide range of opinions exist regarding Israel — even in the pro-Israel community — that differ from my own. At the conference, I learned that those feelings must be respected and acknowledged to have a meaningful debate. I look forward to educating my peers and sharing my love for Israel! I’m especially excited to show people a side of Israel that is fun, relatable and memorable.”
Kate Chavez, StandWithUs Southwest High School coordinator, said the Dallas interns have already made an impact in a short time.
“The Dallas interns are leaders in the Internship and prove this by taking the initiative to approach their places of worship, youth groups and high schools to promote Israel education. As I watch them lead conversations, empower their peers and commit themselves to education, I can attest to their ability to be real change-makers in the Dallas community,” she said
Submitted by StandWithUs Southwest High School Coordinator Kate Chavez