Speaking Up for Israel
By: Jillian Lederman
As the third of seven children, I grew up in a house that was never quiet. I was less than three years old when I was no longer the baby of the family, and I was barely seven when I became an older sister for the fourth time. Life was chaotic, disorganized, loud, so very Jewish, and I loved it more than I can possibly say. On Friday afternoons when I was little, the house would be warm: challah cooking in the oven, Shabbat songs playing on the old karaoke machine, and the rooms ringing with the cacophony of all four grandparents and a new baby nearly every year.
For me, Judaism is warmth. It is the warmth of a mazel tov on a happy occasion. It is the warmth of far too much food at every social gathering. It is the warmth of traveling away from home to college and having a constant, reliable base in the campus Hillel. And it is the warmth of hearing “welcome home” the moment you step foot in Israel.
I love that warmth. I crave that warmth. I am so unbelievably privileged to have known that warmth my whole life.
But it is also that warmth that makes me unable to stay silent when Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions resolutions get introduced at Brown University, or when “Free Palestine” gets carved into dining hall walls, or when Students for Justice in Palestine initiates Apartheid Week on campus. I grew up in a house that was never quiet, and when it comes to Israel, I feel a responsibility to speak up. My first year of college, I joined Brown Students for Israel, and as a current junior, I serve as the club’s president. As a pro-Israel, Jewish student, my role is not only to fight explicit forms of anti-Zionism, but also to engage others in productive dialogue about places where we can find common ground.
During the summer of 2021, when only first-years were on campus due to Brown’s COVID-19 policies, I organized a joint meeting with Brown Students for Israel and J Street to discuss the Knesset’s plans for a new government coalition. Our two clubs have serious philosophical differences, and yet, thirty students from both groups managed to come together just to talk to one another. This type of dialogue forms a central reason why I am so grateful to also serve as one of the vice chairs of Hillel International’s Israel Leadership Network (ILN). As part of ILN, I have the opportunity to speak with over 100 students from diverse backgrounds and colleges, all of whom are passionate about understanding, celebrating, and reconciling our different opinions about Israel.
My primary goal as president of Brown Students for Israel and vice-chair of ILN, and in my role as the Campus Free Expression Intern for the Bipartisan Policy Center, is to be a part of the movement to break down conversation barriers around Israel. Misconceptions and misinformation thrive in silence. I am so lucky to have grown up in a house that was never silent, because Judaism is never silent. Israel is never silent. Everything about our community is warm, loud, and robust — and I feel very grateful to be part of a people who are committed to keeping it that way.