MARBLEHEAD – Israel usually leaves a profound effect on people visiting for the first time. Marblehead High School junior Adam Zamansky, who visited in July as part of the Lappin Foundation’s Youth to Israel program, left wanting to spread the word.
“Going to Israel changed my life, and I didn’t want it to end when I got home,” said Zamansky. “It made such a huge impact on me … and I know it did for so many other people that went on the trip with me, so I wanted to keep that going, and make a club for it at my school.”
He did just that. Once a month, Zamansky’s Advocates for Israel club brings about 15 of his peers together to eat Israeli food, watch Israeli films, swap travel stories, discuss current events, and listen to guest speakers.
According to club member Rachel Gregory, a junior who visited Israel last summer with the Cohen Camps’ Dor L’Dor Leadership Program, the goal of the group is to raise overall awareness in a school that does not cover Israel anywhere in its curriculum.
“We want to reach out to more people to broaden everyone’s knowledge on the topic, because a lot of people aren’t really informed, and only see things in the media, which can sometimes be biased toward Palestine,” said Gregory. “We want to inform people that aren’t necessarily Jewish on how to deal with information that gets spun in the media.”
Even in a high school with many Jewish students, anti-Semitism and anti-Israel bias sometimes creeps up. “There are definitely issues of it happening in the school, but some just go unreported or kind of blow over, and I feel like you don’t hear about it as much as it probably happens,” said Max Mogolesko, another member of the group who also went on the Dor L’Dor trip last summer. According to Gregory, a student drew a swastika on a desk a few years ago. Zamansky reported that just a few minutes before this interview, a student proclaimed in class that Israel does not have the right to exist.
“Right before this conversation, we were planning ways that we could raise awareness about this and prove them wrong,” said Zamansky, who said that the group hopes to hold a debate in the school auditorium against a pro-Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions group.
Still, Mogolesko maintains that Advocates for Israel is an Israel education group, rather than an explicitly political pro-Israel advocacy one. “It’s about knowledge – it’s not showing that you should be for Israel or against it – I think it’s knowledge on what is happening in the country,” he said. “We’re bringing speakers to show their experiences, and what we want to hear is both sides of the story and understand what’s happening.”
The group has invited a speaker from StandWithUs, a pro-Israel nonprofit, and listened to two Israeli teens who are spending their gap year between high school and army service living in Marblehead and traveling to schools talking about their lives in Israel. The conversation was largely apolitical: it focused on universal experiences shared by teens everywhere.
“They mostly talked about their experiences as a teenager,” said Gregory. “They talked about their high school and how they can major in classes at high school, and they also talked about how they could go abroad before their army service.”
“I’d expect them to be really worried about joining the army just out of high school, but they said they were proud to do it, and it was something they were looking forward to,” said Zamansky. The Marblehead students noted that while in Israel, they had made friends with Israeli teens, and they still communicate nearly every day, comparing classes and talking about other things such as the respective requirements for driver’s licenses in both countries.
Whatever the topic of the week, Zamansky hopes the group will help his peers develop informed opinions on an important topic. “I think it’s a major, modern world problem, and people can’t have strong opinions if they have no idea what’s going on,” he said. “I think it should definitely be taught more in our schools.”