Organization helps millennials stand firm in Jewish heritage
By Deb Silverthorn
Special to the TJP
One of the newest organizations to make Dallas’ Jewish community its home is StandWithUs, and the group is standing tall with youthful leadership and strength in representation.
StandWithUs was founded in Los Angeles in May 2001 by Roz and Jerry Rothstein and Esther Renzer to address their grave concern about anti-Israel bias in the media during the second intifada.
“We saw Palestinian leadership teaching their children to hate and we needed to be a part of educating a response — to figure why things are the way they are. As we hope for peace and we struggle for security, we wanted to encourage people to read and watch more and to get more of the story,” said Roz Rothstein, StandWithUs’ CEO, proud that 15 years later the organization has grown from its grassroots and a $25,000 second-year budget to 19 offices on five continents and a budget in 2015 of $11 million.
“We’ve created teams with community directors, campus leaders and high school program directors. Having an office on the ground in Dallas is something we’re excited about and we hope, God willing, the local community will support us.
“I’m the daughter of Holocaust survivors, and my husband has always been a Zionist. The voices of our people need to be heard — first, they need to be educated, then they can be heard,” said Rothstein, noting materials have been distributed in Arabic, English, French, Hebrew, Mandarin, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, British English and Urdu. StandWithUs has more than 1 million likes and followers on Facebook and Twitter, and the organization’s online videos have received millions of views.
“With leadership and opportunity, we now have so many able to stand up, to StandWithUs, and be heard.”
Previous StandWithUs presence in North Texas includes a December 2014 monthlong placement of a pro-Israel billboard on I-30, in response to an anti-Israel billboard which had previously been posted in the space. In early 2015, StandWithUs sponsored its Israeli Soldiers Tour with two reserve duty IDF soldier-students speaking in Dallas and Frisco. At the Aug. 7 Israel Today Symposium hosted by Temple Shalom, StandWithUs’ Director of Campus Affairs Lauren Feibelman will speak about “Israel on Campus: Opportunities and Challenges.”
“We provide educational tools, really an ‘Israel 101,’ and information about BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel), so that students, professors, and others will know their rights on campus,” said Dallas attorney Charles Pulman, a member of the organization’s Legal Committee of more than 80 pro-bono attorneys who handled more than 100 cases dealing with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel bullying in the last year alone. “This is a very positive thing and you definitely can’t have too many advocating on behalf of the Jewish people.
“Kids are the future and grade school isn’t too young to provide the knowledge and facts to identify the issues and have the confidence to respond,” said Pulman, who also will speak at the Aug. 7 Temple Shalom event.
This year there are 83 high school interns with regions in the Midwest, Northwest, Northeast, Southwest and the South, which includes Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Texas. Additionally, there is representation in Canada.
“Looking for my ‘dream job,’ I wanted to be tied into the Jewish community and StandWithUs allows just that. My passion is with Israel advocacy and I’m excited to share that spirit,” said Jesse Stock, who recently moved to the area as the StandWithUs Southern Regional high school program coordinator and who will also serve as the primary contact for StandWithUs throughout the South.
Stock, the son of Susan Brandt-Stock and Sanford Stock, and the brother of Morgan and Landen, was raised at Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks. He was involved in National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY), his congregation’s youth group, went to Jewish summer camps, and says going on Birthright at 18 “changed my life.
“I fell in love with Israel and knew I’d be back.”
Stock returned to Israel for a “stay” and ended up a student of counter-terrorism and Middle Eastern studies, attending IDC Herzliya before returning to the American Jewish University in Los Angeles.
“I’m honored to be a StandWithUs intern because I love Israel and I don’t believe my own knowledge of the state, the government and anti-Semitism is enough to carry me to represent responsibly,” said Zach Epstein, the son of Dia and Barry and a rising senior at Yavneh Academy, who joins Lara Koppel, Abery Lampert, Amanda Steinborn, and Rina Yahalom as DFW area members of the 2016/2017 class of interns.
“I go to a Jewish high school, I’m involved in BBYO, and I believe that those are great platforms for me to share the lessons and information with hundreds of Jewish children,” said Epstein, a member of BBYO’s Morton Lewis AZA chapter and NTO Regional vice president who belongs to Congregations Shaare Tefilla and Shearith Israel. Epstein is also the Yavneh Bulldogs basketball captain, varsity soccer captain, president of Students4Students, and sports editor of the Bulldog Print.
High school interns, who will attend two national conferences and ongoing educational online workshops, receive guidance and funding to run events through the year to share the StandWithUs message about Israel and to educate their schools, youth groups and community peers.
“All my life I’ve had a passion for Israel. It started as a love for a place where I was born and where my relatives lived and has evolved into something much deeper: a love for a place at the forefront of technological, medical, and social innovation — a political and religious entity,” said Yahalom, the daughter of Sarah and Dror, and a rising senior at Richardson High School. “I believe that the more you know, the more effectively you can defend Israel, and I want to use the knowledge that I gain from this experience to teach my peers about Israel and show those who are already passionate about Israel how to defend it.
“Even at this early point in my life I’ve experienced anti-Israel sentiment,” said Yahalom, a member of Congregation Shaare Tefilla and of her school’s tennis and debate teams, student government, Bnei Akiva and NCSY. “I want to be a voice for the country I love and admire so much.”
Previous local StandWithUs high school interns are (2015/2016) Liat Levkovitch, Aaron Minsky, Emily Rosuck and Josh Rudner; and (2014/2015) Samantha Harris, Rachel Mitchell and Grant Prengler. In 2015, this group and others across North America reached over 50,000 high school students while more than 60,000 students participated in educational events on college campuses. There is a pilot program underway for junior high school students and a fellowship program available in Israel for college students who have finished their army service.
“Between my involvement with AIPAC, BBYO, and as a Yavneh student I felt I had to be a catalyst to educate the truth about Israel and what an incredible place it is,” said Minsky, a rising senior at Yavneh Academy, member of Congregation Anshai Torah and the son of Jolene Risch and Jayson Minsky.
During his internship, Minsky led a cultural experience night for four BBYO NTO chapters; he planned a BDS informational program at his school with Ian Kandel, director of BBYO’s AZA/BBG and the Teen Movement, as guest speaker; and he co-sponsored, with the Jewish Federation of Greater Dallas, a screening of Crossing the Line, with a discussion for teens led by college students on how to navigate Jewish and pro-Israel life on campus. “I’m now prepared to go to any college and hold my own,” said Minsky. “StandWithUs is a family, a community, and I absolutely know I’ll be connected forever.
“Some of our programming is open to the wider community, some exclusive to students, but I assure you we will reach out,” said Stock. “Dallas’ community couldn’t be more welcoming. This is a great city, we’ve got lots to do, and I’m excited to help StandWithUs grow right here.”
For more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org, call 818-877-9011, or visit www.standwithus.com.