Grace Gleason, AJPA Assistant Director &  Aliza Becker, AJPA Director tabling at J Street
It was the words of the young people -- the main demographi c of those interviewed at the American Jewish Peace Archive table -- that most touched us at the recent J Street National Conference. Here are a few excerpts in response to the question: "How do you see the Israeli-Palestinian peace movement at this pivotal historical moment?" 

Aliza Becker & Grace Gleason

"Younger people are not leaders of the future. Young people are the leaders of now." 

Jacob Bender, age 17, high school student at Glenbard North (Carol Steam, IL) 

"I think that we're actually in a really interesting moment where people are being forced to make a choice. It's no longer OK to be silent. It's no longer OK to be privately anti-settlement or privately for two states. It's hopefully going to force the American Jewish community to be more active in actually pursuing a two state solution and peace process."

Elianna Boswell, age 22, Yale University student and J Street U activist


"It's really painful for me to see how the current Israeli government is cooperating with the new administration, but I'm hopeful because I see more activism in resolving the conflict between Israel and Palestine both there and here. 

I hear people talking about the occupation and in support of a two-state solution and even saying the word 'Palestine' within the American Jewish community in ways that I never, ever would have seen even a few months ago. It's going to be much harder for consensus-based organizations to maintain a big tent as Jews reassess their red lines.

I think that as anti-Semitism is on the rise in this country, more American Jews are starting to think about Israel because it is the symbol of our safe haven, our insurance policy. In certain ways it's getting people to be more engaged in thinking about what their hopes and aspirations are for Israel. 

Israel is no longer the unifying aspect of American Jewish life. It is not 1967 or 1973 anymore and that's a really difficult pill for many people to swallow. But if the community wants to keep my millennial generation involved, then we're going to have to change how we talk about Israel and stop telling people what to think. Personally I might be really unhappy with the way things are going in Israel right now, but there's still an Israel I know and love."

Joe Goldman, age 27, Public Affairs and Civic Engagement Manager at Jewish Community Relations Council, San Francisco Bay Area


"It's a really dark time right now, but I get hope from the communities and support systems which I'm part of that are fighting for justice and a better world. I think the way that we're going to change things is by building a movement that changes the way that we look at our responsibility as Jews in relationship to Israel-Palestine and the way that our Jewish institutions support the occupation. We're going to force their hand by saying, 'You need to change or we're not going to be with you.'"

Sophie Schoenberg, age 24, IfNotNow activist

"The activism I've been involved in has been centered around the Jewish values of tikkun olam [repairing the world], chesed [compassion] and loving the stranger as yourself. My hope is that we add ahavat yisrael [love for one's fellow Jews] to the mix in the future. 

In spending time on the ground in Israel and in Palestine, I came to see that there was need for a kind of radical love. There's a lot of shame and there's a lot of embarrassment about how other Jews are acting in Israel. I've felt all those feelings too. But I have a lot of fear around what happens when we divide so starkly into us and them -- and when those of us who are the 'good Jews' tell the world that we're going to take care of the 'bad ones.' I don't think that that is actually bringing more love into the world. I don't think it's bringing more unity into the world. I hope it's something we can talk about more. 

I'm really trying to work on humility in my activism. There's a place for saying I don't know or I don't understand." 

Joanna Kramer, age 22, Yeshivat Hadar student

"I see this as a big crisis moment in which the American Jewish community needs to choose what side they're on. We're seeing what those who have been complicit in supporting the occupation are all about. They are not coming out forcefully against the rise of anti-Semitism and are staying silent when it comes to Islamophobia."

Rory Silver, age 26, J Street Lead and IfNotNow activist

"I in terviewed my father about his experience growing up in Israel for a college course on Jewish identity.  After emigrating with his family from Iraq in 1951, he grew up in poverty in a really rough neighborhood in South Tel Aviv. The society that he was living in was very Euro-centric and oppressive of people from Middle Eastern and North African and non-Ashkenazi backgrounds. My father, as the sixth oldest of ten, was the first of his siblings to attend and graduate from university, and is the only one who lives in the States. He had to sort of remove himself from this Mizrachi identity in order to get ahead. 

The interview and the research that I did around the way that Israel treated Mizrachi and Sephardic Jews was super eye-opening and pretty disappointing. In some ways it almost felt like my identity and my connection to Israel had been westernized and whitened by my American Jewish experience, because many of the communities I was a part of were Euro-centric and my mom was Ashkenazi.

I think that learning about my family history started to open my eyes a little bit about my own identity and how I understand myself as a white-passing person in America. I started to make connections to the experience of Black and Brown people. I think that bringing my whole self and my personal story into justice work ultimately led me to think more critically about Israel as well. 

As an Israeli American with Mizrachi identity, it was hard for me to see so many of the progressive values that I have around racial justice and economic justice in the U.S. so visibly denied in Israel. I think I've gotten to a point now where I feel like I can connect the work that I do here with the work of creating an Israel that I can actually be proud of and can identify with. 

I think that movements like IfNotNow are doing a really amazing job of providing space for people like me to deal with the complexity and discomfort of finding my voice in spaces that are pretty demonizing of Israel. There is room for me to learn about how Mizrachi identity both in Israel and the American Jewish community is connected to Palestinian solidarity and equality for Palestinians and Israelis." 

Nadav David, age 23, Northeastern University graduate student


 


The mission of the American Jewish Peace Archive is to document through oral history the accounts of Jews in the United States who have worked in support of Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation since 1967, and in so doing, to facilitate dialogue and inquiry between the generations, to provide primary source material for scholars, and to provide guidance and inspire hope for the future.