by David Breakstone

Any conference involving 3500 people is bound to have some resemblance to a circus, and any good circus has got to have a great sideshow. That’s what Do the Write Thing (DTWT) was this week to the General Assembly of the Jewish Federations of North America.

Thirty student journalists were brought together by the Hagshama Division of the Department for Diaspora Activities of the World Zionist Organization and the American Zionist Movement in order that they might be initiated simultaneously into the worlds of professional journalism and the organized Jewish community. Apparently it worked.

“DTWT was the equivalent of a splash of ice cold water in the face, coupled with a rooster crowing into a megaphone. It was a double wake-up call, both to the vast opportunity in the world of journalism available to Jewish students, as well as the astounding infrastructure and leadership of the Jewish community,” said Daniel Cohen, a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. “After DTWT, the potential for journalism as a means of enacting change in the Jewish community is crystal clear.”

“This conference opened my eyes to the Jewish community in a way that I have never experienced,” concurred Alexandra Arbel, a student at Binghamton University. “I really got a greater feeling of what it means to be a Zionist and was exposed to people and programs that I would never have experienced on my own.” Clearly the students left the program inspired.

“I will return to my community a more effective and more passionate Israel advocate and journalist thanks to DTWT and the GA,” confirmed Jackie Schechter of Stamford, Connecticut. So will Arielle Ozery of the University of Central Florida. “I am here because my life’s dream is to use my passion and love for writing to advance Israel and Zionism. This conference has helped me reaffirm my dream and desire to make sure everyone in the world understands how important Israel is and how vital it is for the Jewish people to have a state of their own.”

Similar enthusiasm was expressed by Dina Kupfer of Brooklyn College. “I leave here with the burning realization that every person and article and Facebook post counts towards a larger mission,” she said. Kupfer added that “I also feel better about being a journalist with an agenda” – having taken comfort in the message conveyed to the group by a veteran journalist who told them that he had never aspired to being objective, but only fair.

This was important for the students to hear, as so much of their work involves Israel advocacy. “I came here to be a more effective writer, to help shape policy,” said Steven Perlin of the University of California, San Diego. “I feel that it has been a good experience… and it is very relieving to know that there are other people carrying on this same fight in which I partake on a daily basis.”

It was appropriate for these students, then, that at both the GA and DTWT there was a major emphasis this year on digital media, something appreciated by the participants, who recognized that the program took “a very 21st century approach by pitching effective communication through social media,” noted Zachary Ingber of New York. “Some 4000 tweets were posted during the conference,” observed Ingber, who adds that “I experienced a new face of information dissemination. Hagshamah took a proactive step by launching an interactive website called iZionist. Register, create a profile, and join the network of online Zionists,’ he urged. “You don’t want to be left out of this community.”

These are the sort of comments that makes Leni Reiss’ work so satisfying. She has been serving as the American Jewish Press Association liaison to DTWT for 20 years already, but has lost none of her passion for the position. “This has been one of the most positive aspects of my career as a mentor,” she told me. “I’ve been in the field of journalism for many years – and it is so great to see and experience the enthusiasm of what I hope will be a new crop joining my profession.”

At this point in time, when there is such a pervasive sense that Israel is being either attacked or abandoned, it is encouraging to come across a group of young people so determined to buck the trend.

David Breakstone is vice chairman of the World Zionist Organization and a member of the Jewish Agency Executive; published courtesy of the author.

image: Do the Write Thing at the 2009 GA; courtesy

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