Central Florida's Independent Jewish Voice

StandWithUs stands with students

Are the Jews in Israel white European colonialists? Are Israel’s settlements in the West Bank illegal? Isn’t a Jewish state, by definition, racist and undemocratic? These are just a few of the questions StandWithUs addresses to educate middle and high school students about Israel in an effort to dash all the mistruths about Israel and perhaps tear down some walls of anti-Israel sentiment.

Tuesday evening, Jan. 22, Dr. Daniel and Staci Layish opened their home to introduce the community to StandWithUs, an international, nonprofit Israel education organization that educates students from middle school through high school how to effectively respond to hate.

“Education is the road to peace,” stated Rayna Exelbierd, SWU southeast high school director. Exuberant and passionate, Exelbierd shared the purpose of SWU and its effectiveness among high school students.

When students enter college, they are coming into a battleground of hate toward the Jewish state. They need to be armed with historical truth to shatter the lies those who oppose Israel’s existence stand on.

Sami Kuperberg, a senior at Oviedo High School, shared with the group her experiences with anti-Semitism during her freshman year. She was teased, physically abused and threatened because she is Jewish. To further frustrate her situation, the school’s principal refused to help her when she went to him. His excuse? There was no anti-Semitism in the community that he was aware of. She went to the school board and received the same disinterest. This was only four years ago. Kuperberg is now a senior and is a SWU high school intern, along with Noa Lotringer, a senior at Lake Brantley High School.

Kuperberg learned about SWU after posting on Facebook her discouragement about trying to do something about the anti-Semitism in her school. A friend passed the post on to Exelbierd who immediately took action and contacted Kuperberg. Since then Exelbierd has been Kuperberg’s mentor, guide and even speech writer.

Last year, Kuperberg, with the help of SWU and the Jewish Student Union, an after-school club founded by JOIN Orlando, planned a program titled “One Day Starts Today.” SWU provided the Holocaust survivor speakers, Genia Kutner and Gerald Biegel. More than 600 people came to the event. Exelbierd said that more than 90 percent of those present had never heard of the Holocaust.

Also speaking at the meeting was Ron Krudo, SWU executive director of campus affairs. He explained the “3Ds”—about those who seek Israel’s destruction through demonization, double standard and delegitimization. He stated that the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement’s purpose is ultimately to wipe out Israel. Not only is the Students for Justice for Palestine anti-Israel, Krudo also shared about Jewish movements opposed to Israel—IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace are two examples.

Krudo also explained that there are three types of Jewish people: Those indigenous (have always lived in the land of Israel); those in the Diaspora (not living in Israel, including those in the room); and those of the liberation (those who have returned to the land).

“Are we upstanders or bystanders?” asked Excelbierd, “We have to stand up and react now.”

“We can’t just let this slide,” said Kuperberg, who also shared that the Jewish Student Union is a good place to start to learn about Judaism. “It’s a safe space where there is respect for one another.”

StandWithUs also has a legal system now available for students who are struggling with anti-Semitic attacks in their schools. It isn’t easy to get school permission to have programs like the one Kuperberg planned. Now students can have legal backing to promote these programs that help educate the students.

Exelbierd addressed specific things that SWU educates student interns about: Challenges in Israel—security, false media; how to organize events; and speak to school administrations.

There is a war on college campuses. It’s a war of the mind, ideals, freedom. Those who love Israel must be informed with the truth to combat the lies. This is what SWU is doing. So far, more than 132,000 students have been reached through SWU.

What about the answers to the three questions at the start of this article?

Are Jews in Israel white European colonialists? No. They did not represent a foreign power and rejected any identification with European nations.

Are Israel’s settlements in the West Bank illegal? Israel has legal, historic, and security claims to the West Bank, the cradle of Jewish history. The settlements do not violate UN Resolution 242 or Palestinian-Israeli agreements signed in the Oslo Accords.

 Isn’t a Jewish state, by definition, racist and undemocratic? Jews, both secular and religious, are a people who have the right to self-determination. Israel grants people of Jewish heritage a fast track to citizenship, just like Poland, Finland, Greece and other nations grant citizenship based on ethnic ancestry. Non-Jewish Israelis, who make up 24 percent of the population, have equal rights under the law.

To learn more about StandWithUs and its many programs, including the high school internships, visit http://www.standwithus.com


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