As Jewish teens, we developed a passion for the community that was nurtured by our Jewish camps, day schools and synagogues. For us and many of our peers, we first left the comfort of our “Jewish bubbles” in the ninth grade. It was then that our core beliefs were first questioned and we realized, many times through first-hand experiences, the unfortunate truth that anti-Semitism is alive and well in 21st century America.
Thankfully, American Jewish Committee has a high school program that helps teens address these issues and become strong and confident Jewish advocates. Leaders for Tomorrow trains Jewish students as advocates and provides the skills to stand up for Israel and the Jewish community in college and throughout their lives.
We were fortunate to have the opportunity to participate in this life-changing program. Through innovative and didactic activities, engaging guest speakers and abundant opportunities to teach and be taught by world leaders, LFT alumni become equipped to strengthen a world that desperately needs Jewish advocates.
With over 113 years of experience safeguarding the rights of the Jewish people and promoting democratic values, AJC has perfected the art of advocacy. Throughout the program, we were taught about effective coalition and relationship building.
One of the most impactful examples was learning about how AJC met with the Japanese government for five years to encourage them to reverse their support of the Arab boycott on Israel. This helped us understand that advocacy is about consistently strengthening relationships and building trust. Our LFT class also learned about how effective advocacy is helping everyone walk away as a winner.
In our interactions during and after LFT, knowing how to advocate has made all the difference. In school, extracurriculars and pre-college programs, we’ve frequently turned purposeful or inadvertent anti-Semites into allies of the Jewish community.
LFT also provided us with a comprehensive education about looking at anti-Semitism through a trifocal lens: from the right, the left, and religious extremists. While we typically understand the implications of right-wing anti-Semitism, many of us were caught by surprise when anti-Semitism reared its ugly head on the left.
Armed with this knowledge, we now know how to handle BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] protests or “Israel Apartheid Week” demonstrations, and we will confidently take charge if and when we encounter Palestinian eviction notices on our dorm room doors. When we and our fellow LFT alumni leave for college, we will be prepared to tackle all types of anti-Semitism present on today’s college campuses.
Our LFT experience was an incredible starting point for our lifetime journeys as Jewish advocates. We could not be more grateful for the skills and tools we gained during LFT.
LFT applications for the 2020-2021 school year are now open. If you know of a rising high school sophomore or junior who may be interested in participating in LFT, they can find the application at AJC.org/LFTinfo. Applications are due April 12.
Isabelle Mokotoff and Jaren Linowes are alumni of the 2018-2019 LFT program and interns at AJC Atlanta.