All my life, I have been in love with Israel. Coming from Russian, Iraqi and Israeli lineages, it’s easy to imagine how immersed I was in its culture. Growing up speaking Hebrew, going to a Jewish daycare and then day school, I developed this love for Israel and its people that I’ve never been able to explain. It wasn’t until the 6th grade at public high school, that I realized all is not perfect in my beloved country. This realization strengthened my passion, gave me the character and drive to grow in my knowledge of Israel and led me to become a StandWithUs Canada High School Intern.
At the August StandWithUs High School Internship training conference, the 90+ Interns from North America were encouraged to share their Israel story.
Mine began in summer 2009, on my first trip, when I was seven years old. One Friday evening, my family gathered in our apartment in Jerusalem for Shabbat dinner. As my uncle said Kiddush, the room started to shake. I screamed, tried getting up and tripped and fell. No one understood what was happening until we looked outside and saw smoke. We opened the door and there was absolute chaos—some people running, others in pain. The screams were so loud they felt like they were coming from right next to me. My uncle said that a bomb had exploded, likely terrorism, and that tragically, this is a common occurrence. Unfortunately, the residents of Jerusalem are not unfamiliar with these types of events. My mom grabbed my hand, helping me up from my fall, only to realize that I cut myself across my knee.
I will never forget that day. Not just because of the trauma, but because the scar across my left knee is a constant reminder. One would imagine that this is the most grueling part, but what was hardest to bear was my friends’ reactions when I returned to Canada. They denied it was true. They simply could not comprehend that this actually goes on in other countries—and in Israel—as often as it does.
That was when I realized the need to educate my peers and community about the reality-on-the-ground, about the news that is not covered by the major outlets. Something had to be done. I researched Israel, including its achievements and current threats, and attempted to bring it up in conversations, for the sole purpose of making people talk about it.
One day I learned that I was nominated for an internship with StandWithUs Canada. Created in 2012, and the only year-long program of its kind in high schools, the Internship helps us identify the Israel education needs and challenges in our schools and communities and provides the resources, leadership skills and professional development required to create effective programming.
Israel education has always subconsciously, been a part of my life. Whether it was the topic of presentations in elementary and middle schools, teaching about Israel is something I feel so privileged to do because it makes me happy, and, is so critically needed. StandWithUs Canada provided me with a larger platform and of course, so much support, for me to do what I love.
At the August conference, I learned more about Israel’s history, its creation in 1948, current events and importantly, a perspective from both sides of the conflict. I was never exposed to this, and am grateful, because it makes me a better educator. The Middle East update session illuminated Israel’s role in its complicated neighborhood.
I am living the dream, teaching my community about the greatness of Israel. As an Intern, I’ve already presented to 200 teens at my school and others throughout Toronto and I plan on doing many more. Most importantly, I know that I am part of making the difference that I someday, hope to see in the world.
Laura Barkel is a senior at Westmount Collegiate Institute in Toronto. She is a 2019-20 StandWithUs Canada High School Intern.