I am a recent graduate of Carleton University with a degree in Criminology and Business, and I am now working as the digital marketing manager for the Finance Critic of Ontario. While at Carleton, I was busy – I was on the student academic government and the Board of Governors, I was involved with a non-profit, I played rugby and hockey, and I finished my last year as the VP Finance of our students’ association. These were incredible experiences, but the opportunity to travel to Israel with CIJA was life-changing. It truly cemented my values, strengthened my ability to handle conflicts and debates on the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and pushed me into a more active role in pro-Israel advocacy on campus.
When I started university, I heard stories about the struggle of being pro-Israel on campus. Not being Jewish, and not coming from a predominantly Jewish area, it was hard for me to understand how emotional and complex the Israel-Palestinian conflict was. This issue became much clearer the moment a close friend of mine, who was Jewish, stopped showing up to school during Anti-Israel Apartheid Week (AIAW). At our school, AIAW polarized people and eliminated meaningful conversation. People on one side wouldn’t speak to the other, and people unaware of the issue were afraid to talk about it at all out of the fear of being labelled on one side or the other.
CIJA’s Israel Young Leaders Program helped us break down these barriers, engage in civil discourse, and focus not only on the conflict, but on solutions. For me, believing in the Jewish State of Israel is a permanent value. To be critical of the State of Israel is one thing, but to believe that Israel, as a country, should not exist is not an option. My conviction was strengthened in Israel and, especially, during our visit to Yad Vashem. I will never forget hearing the tragic stories of the Holocaust that brought our entire group to tears. I remember – vividly – the last few steps out of the museum when I looked up to see three Israeli flags and the “ah-ha” moment hit. In that moment, every member of our trip had an epiphany, and everything I believed in became cemented, for life.
Back at Carleton, I moved from a passive supporter to an active pro-Israel advocate. I embraced my pro-Israel identity and tried to break the walls of uncomfortable conversation as much as possible. I brought friends from my rugby team and student council to Shabbat dinners and our Israeli Wine and Canadian Cheese event. I engaged in informed discourse. I embraced any discomfort because I knew it was the right thing to do.
I thank CIJA for the opportunity to learn, firsthand, the complexity of issues in the region. I am grateful that this trip strengthened my values and convictions while demonstrating that through tough conversations comes growth and further education.