Club Z, a Zionist youth movement based in northern California that fosters a commitment to Israel and Zionism among teenagers, is holding its “Third Annual High School Conference on Israel and the Middle East” to provide teenagers with an understanding of current events in Israel, tools for advocating for Israel on campus, and knowledge about anti-Israel trends on campuses, so that they could respond effectively. Sixty high school students from all over the US are expected to attend.
The conference will take place on the weekend of January 14-16 at Hayes Mansion in San Jose, CA, and will feature some of the leading voices in pro-Israel activism today: pastor Dumisani Washington; First Nation’s indigenous rights activist Ryan Bellerose; human rights attorney Brooke Goldstein; university professors Tammi Benjamin-Rossman and Naya Lekht; and creative activist Chloe Simone Valdary.
The conference will address, among a wide range of topics, a contemporary history of the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict, anti-Israel groups, and the BDS movement on campus.
“For the majority of Jews across the United States, Zionism is synonymous with justice, human rights, and freedom,” said conference organizer Masha Merkulova. “Yet on college campuses today, Jewish and Zionist students are attacked by anti-Israel students and by faculty trying to paint Israel as racist and oppressive. We’d like to raise the new generation of Jewish leaders who show the world and their fellow students that Zionism is, in fact, the most powerful human rights movement in the modern world.”
Mordechai Kedar, an Israeli scholar of Arabic culture and lecturer at Bar-Ilan University, teaching a class at Club Z
Avital Rutenburg, a Club Z member, said: “I look forward to the Club Z conference every year, and there is no place I would rather spend my MLK Weekend. I always leave feeling refreshed, hopeful, more knowledgeable, more confident, more equipped, with new friendships and stronger old ones, with fresh memories.”
Club Z began as a quick study group for a few teens that wanted to arm themselves with accurate information about Israel and the Middle East conflict. Over the years, it has grown into a movement that inspires the participants to connect their identities to Israel.
“At some point, American Jews have to face the fact that while we think we are ‘defending Israel,’ it is the strong and proud State of Israel that has brought about the renaissance of the American Jewish experience,” said Esther Kozakevich, a Club Z alum, currently a student at UC San Diego. “Israel doesn’t need us to ‘speak up’ for her. It is us, Jews living in America, that need to speak up for ourselves, because when Israel is attacked, they are attacking every single one of us. We are one people, with a history and heritage and one future. Club Z has taught me that.”
“Club Z offers a long-term program that does not shy away from the word Zionism, from the truth of our belonging in Israel, from the fact that Jewish rights matter just as much as any other people’s rights,” said the conference organizers in an email to the press. “The education is extensive and academically oriented, and, like anything worth doing it requires a serious effort from participants and their families.”
Keren Moiseev, a Club Z teen whose sister is currently serving in the IDF as a lone soldier summed up her past conference experience, saying: “Club Z conferences always leave me feeling inspired and ready to not only face the anti-Semitism in the world but also fight against it if I’m directly questioned or attacked.”