What do you do when you’re a ninth grader and a boy in your class tells you that the Holocaust was not as bad as the Jews say it was? What about when a teacher questions your right to talk about Jewish history because you weren’t there to see it happen? What if your classmates openly criticize Israel? When these things happened to me, I was enraged, frightened, and deeply confused.
What frustrated me most was my lack of tools to approach the situation, rendering me silent. In the spring of 2019, I learned about the American Jewish Committee (AJC) Leaders for Tomorrow (LFT) program. LFT teaches high school students how to advocate for Israel and the Jewish people through constructive dialogue by forming coalitions.
LFT taught me much more than I expected. Walking in, I was convinced that the program would only focus on Israeli politics and the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but through the programming of Rabbi David Levy and Dena Dubofsky, AJC New Jersey regional director and assistant director, respectively, I learned so much more than that.
One highlight was when our cohort of Central New Jersey students analyzed the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) working definition of anti-Semitism and used it to determine whether certain rhetoric or events were anti-Semitic. I found this exercise fascinating, particularly during our subsequent conversation about how mislabeling works in both directions. Calling something anti-Semitic when it isn’t can be just as harmful as failing to call out Jew hatred when it occurs. We all have a responsibility to understand how to make that distinction.
This activity seemed to be one of the most impactful among LFT students. “Through LFT I learned how to recognize and stand up against anti-Semitism,” said Brooke Littman, an LFT participant and rising senior at Princeton Day School. “I am grateful for all I have learned and the wonderful people I have met through the program.”
I look forward to carrying all that I learned from LFT with me when I go to college (hopefully not on Zoom). Aaron Orshan, an LFT participant who graduated from Pennington School and will be attending Colorado University, Boulder, in the fall, shares my sentiments.
“LFT taught me that despite my age I can have the ability to have a large influence on the Jewish community both close to my home and far away,” he said.
LFT taught me how to approach my Jewish identity, fight anti-Semitism, and support Israel while having productive conversations with people who may not share my opinions.
Through LFT I connected with other Jewish students in my area, an experience I would not trade for anything. I look forward to continuing to work closely with AJC and the LFT program during my senior year and beyond.
Hayden Masia is a rising senior at Princeton Day School.