CHLOE VALDARY, an African-American Christian woman in her mid-20s, said the most important lesson she has learned as a pro-Israel activist the last eight years is not to try to counter hate, but to promote love.
“The question is not how do we stop the hatred but how do we get people to start loving Israel,” she told the Write On For Israel class of 2019 at their graduation program last week at Hebrew Union College-Institute of Religion.
The 44 high school seniors from 25 different area schools — yeshivas, public schools, and private schools — made up the 17th graduating class of the two-year program. It now has more than 700 alumni and is sponsored by NJJN and The New York Jewish Week, with support from The Paul E. Singer Foundation. Local graduates and their schools included Jake Roy of Cranford, Union County Academy for Information Technology; Shoshana Solomon of Livingston, The Frisch School; Dalya Stokar of West Orange, Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School; and Paige Weisburg of Montville, Morris County School of Technology.
The goal of the program, which includes an eight-day mission to Israel during the students’ senior year, is to educate high school juniors and seniors about Israel and prepare them for the Mideast debate on campus, encouraging them to become active in defending the Jewish state.
Four recent graduates of the program were honored for their leadership activities on campus. They are Jacqueline Zenou, who graduated this week from Brandeis University; Yoni Nirenberg of Long Island University; Katie Glickman of Queens College and a Write On staff adviser; and Mitchell Klein of George Washington University.
Klein, who is director of outreach of a pro-Israel group at school, told the graduates that establishing personal relationships and knowing your audience are the keys to success. He said the Write On program taught and empowered him and it “will guide you on campus and off.”
Valdary, in her charge to the students, explained that her family was part of a small Christian sect that seeks to combine Old and New Testament practices. She grew up observing Shabbat, eating “kosher style,” and fasting on Yom Kippur, starting at age 5. Along the way she said she “fell in love with Jewish culture” and Israel, and Leon Uris’s “Exodus” made a major impression on her. As a freshman at the University of New Orleans, she founded a group called Allies of Israel, and encountered numerous critics of the Jewish state. Her short, lively videos about her advocacy work for Israel have a large following.
“More important than the debate is being strategic,” she said. “When you are confronted with anti-Israel hostility, keep in mind that you and that person are human beings, and don’t let them stereotype you the way people do on the basis of color, gender, etc., all in the name of social justice.”
Though difficult to do, she encouraged the students to “approach people with compassion, and criticize to uplift and empower, not to put down.” She said the encounters can “uplift the people you are critical of and uplift you as well.”
Linda Scherzer, founding director of Write On and director of the Community Relations Committee of Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ, praised the class members for their enthusiasm and commitment. She noted that the importance of the program has grown as campus life has become more “toxic and complicated” in recent years, with an increase in anti-Semitism and the growth of BDS and other anti-Israel activities.
Tuvia Book, the program’s core educator, and Jewish Week editor Gary Rosenblatt, a founder of the program, also addressed the students, encouraging them to use their skills on campus in telling Israel’s story, with all its complexity. — NJJN STAFF
Students entering their junior year of high school in the fall are invited to apply to Write On For Israel. The deadline has been extended to May 31. WriteOnForIsrael.com/Apply