September 27, 2021 — Los Angeles, CA
This past May, my social media feeds became filled with antisemitism to an extent I had never seen before. The recent conflict between Israel and Hamas took over my news feeds. Many of these posts were anti-Israel sentiment, but it’s more than that. On social media, Jews are regularly inundated with antisemitic trolls warping our history, spreading conspiracy theories about us, and even inciting violence against us. With this rise of antisemitism on all fronts, it is of the utmost importance that young Jews learn how to advocate -- for our people, our story, and our future. Through American Jewish Committee's (AJC) Leaders for Tomorrow Program, better known as LFT, I gained confidence in my Jewish identity, learned tools to combat antisemitism, and developed an understanding of what it means to be a Jewish leader.
Before I joined LFT in 2019, I already had a strong connection to Judaism. I spent my summers at Jewish camps, regularly attended synagogue, and became a bat-mitzvah. And somehow, even with all that Jewish education, I still felt like something was missing. I learned to exist comfortably in the Jewish community, but couldn’t explain my story to those who hadn’t grown up with the same experiences. And when faced with tough questions about Jews, I felt uncomfortable defending our story. To put it simply, I did not know how.
Thankfully I found out about LFT, where I learned the history of antisemitism and how it manifests today. I started to see the antisemitic roots and impact of the questions people were asking. I developed a deeper appreciation for everything that led to this moment in Jewish history. There was much to unpack, as the sessions ranged from understanding the nuances of the Mideast conflict (which is about more than just the Israelis and Palestinians!) to deciding when and how to engage around antisemitism on social media.
One session and experience that stood out to me was a conversation with a former neo-Nazi. We learned about how his upbringing shaped his view of Jewish people and how through exposure to our stories, he ultimately unlearned his hate. This session taught me a powerful lesson -- that people are not inherently hateful, and that our environments shape our worldviews. We can't blame the ignorant for not knowing, but we can combat their hate by showing our humanity. With all I learned from LFT, I began to share my story with more confidence.
Though I completed the program nearly two years ago, I’ve continued my Jewish advocacy. Thankfully I have been able to continue learning with AJC, building a friendship with an Israeli peer through the One-to-One Program, speaking at a national convention, and now, interning in the Los Angeles Regional Office. In our increasingly polarized and socially isolated world, I am even more proud to be a Jew. Our story is one of resilience, humility, and the pursuit of justice. We as a people have learned that we can and must advocate for ourselves. I’m honored to be able to continue that legacy.
Sydney Luchs is a student at Calabasas High School and intern at American Jewish Committee Los Angeles.