Group That Prepares Teens To Defend Israel Comes to the Pacific Northwest

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MZ TEENS PREPARES HIGH SCHOOL LEADERS TO DEFEND ISRAEL BEFORE ITS TOO LATE

Many college students returning from summer break are going to find themselves in a campus environment even more hostile and politicized than last year, as bad as it was. The skewed media reporting of the recent Gaza War has already proved itself to be a propaganda bonanza for anti-Israel activists both on campus and off.

SUPERUWBLOCKTHEBOATOn the first day of classes at Temple University, Daniel Vessal, a member of the AEPi fraternity  was assaulted by an anti-Israel student at a Students for Justice in Palestine display.  At the University of Washington, anti-Israel group SUPER-UW has had a busy summer promoting efforts to disrupt Israeli ships from unloading in Seattle ports.

Embracing a new tactic unveiled at UCLA last year, SUPER-UW is working to discourage student representatives (ASUW)  from participating in pro-Israel trips to the Jewish state. All this before the academic year has even begun.

SUPER UW trying to dissuade student leaders from going on pro-Israel educational trips, like those sponsored by the ADL.

SUPER UW trying to dissuade student leaders from going on pro-Israel educational trips, like those sponsored by the ADL.

In this volatile environment “Jewish and pro-Israel students will be overwhelmed if they are not prepared”, so says Yvonne Bartlett Pacific Northwest MZ Teens High School Coordinator.

Jewish and pro-Israel students will be overwhelmed if they are not prepared.

A program of Israel education organization StandWithUs,  MZ Teens is a high school leadership program that prepares students for the challenges they will face regarding Israel on campus and in their communities.

MZ Students participate in a year long program that includes national conferences, ongoing workshops and  guidance to run programming in their high schools and youth groups. Students are encouraged to participate in positive campaigns that inspire their peers and educate people about Israel. The MZ program staff is comprised of former StandWithUs Emerson Fellows and youth professionals.

The program is unique in that it engages and educates students in Israel advocacy well before they enter college. With the hiring of Yvonne Bartlett, MZ Teens has now come to the Pacific Northwest. Explains Yvonne “if we wait until college to reach out to our students, by that time it may be too late”.

If we wait until college to reach out to our students, by that time it may be too late.

It has been a long journey that has brought Yvonne a native of South Africa to the Pacific Northwest. ” Growing up in South Africa” says Yvonne “my parents had no qualms going against the grain. We were raised on a passion of  justice for all people, no matter their skin color or background”. These were more than just lofty words,  Yvonne’s mother fed over 500 children every day in her soup kitchen.

Yvonne Bartlett, Pacific NW MZ Teens Coordinator. "The beginning of something great!"

Yvonne Bartlett, Pacific NW MZ Teens Coordinator. “The beginning of something great!”

While still a young girl, Yvonne’s family migrated to England, New Jersey and finally six years ago to the Columbia Gorge area of Washington State.

I met with Yvonne at Cafe Umbria in Seattle’s Pioneer Square over a strong cup of Italian coffee for me, black tea with cream for her. Yvonne presented as a reserved young woman with a ready smile, that is until the topic of Israel came up.  With that one word, Israel, her eyes light up, the decibel level rises and the words seem to come tumbling out one on top of the other. Yvonne is passionate about Israel and she is not shy about saying so.

I had to ask; how did a young Christian woman become one of the key Israel educators in the Pacific Northwest? “Actually before college I was fairly dispassionate about Israel” Yvonne told me. “I knew about it from the bible and from the news, but it was not central to my life”. That changed in of all places a bible study group at Portland State University (PSU). “A fellow student kept asking our bible group to pray for Israel, week after week she would make this unusual request. Finally I was intrigued enough to ask her what was troubling her.  The young woman told Yvonne she was appalled by the anti-Israel agitation happening on campus and persuaded Yvonne to join her for a two day BDS conference sponsored by SUPER at PSU (Students United for Palestinian Equal Rights) so she could see with her own eyes.”

Yvonne was shaken by what she saw at the conference. “One of the students was reading a poem that described America as the belly of the beast. He told us he was happy about the still fresh on our minds bombing at the Boston Marathon. He said that now America was getting a taste of their own medicine. He said that American soldiers are terrorists”.

Equally upsetting for Yvonne was the revelation that the two day anti-Israel festival she had just attended was co-sponsored by her own University’s Middle East Studies Department.

Yvonne had no idea such hatred existed anywhere, let alone on her own campus.  She decided to learn as much as she could about Israel and the Arab-Israeli conflict. By her Senior year at PSU she was selected as a Grinspoon-Morningstar intern, an elite Israel advocacy training program.

Bartlett is without question excited to share her passion for Israel with local High School students.  Says Bartlett “this is the beginning of something great for the Pacific  Northwest”.

This is the beginning of something great for the Pacific Northwest.

A primary component of the MZ program is the selection of a core group of talented teens to become Israel education leaders on their own High School campuses. “We have already identified eleven amazing students from Seattle, Eugene, Portland and Vancouver”. Adds Bartlett “these kids are the best of the best”.

This select group is already prepared for the coming school year. Over the summer the MZ interns were sent on  a four day Israel advocacy seminar in Los Angeles where they were provided with tools and strategies to have their voices  heard on their High School campuses. This was more than just a history lesson explained Bartlett, but “is as current as today’s headlines. The kids know all about Operation Protective Edge, how it started, how Hamas seeks death while Israel tries to preserve life”.

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Once back on campus the MZ students will work to create a vibrant Jewish pride on campus. They will get involved with current clubs and if needed found Jewish clubs, Israel clubs, history clubs. I asked Yvonne how the MZ students will deal with the inevitable push back that will come from Israel’s enemies on campus. “The kids are well prepared, but no matter the eventuality we will be there for them and will get them through.  These kids are so dynamic, so pumped up about sharing Israel’s story that I know they will do great”.

 These kids are so dynamic, so pumped up about sharing Israel’s story.

In addition to building a new generation of student leaders, Yvonne helped organize a recent StandWithUs sponsored Israel prep session for Middle School, High School and College students in the Seattle area. Yvonne led a group of about twenty Middle  School students at the program. Within two hours they covered “the ancient Jewish connection to Israel, Modern Zionism, Israel’s wars including Protective Edge.  “Jo (Johanna Wilder, StandWithUs PNW Campus Coordinator) and I went through the timeline of Operation Protective Edge just by asking them questions like, “Who was in Israel this Summer?”, “Did something important happen?”, “Who knows why the war began?” and “Can anyone tell me what those tunnels were meant for?”. Throughout the timeline discussion I was shocked at how well they knew all of the details regarding Operation Protective Edge. Afterwards a parent came up to me and said, “Thank you so much for this, you are doing important work.””

Bartlett shared that “A high school student came up to me after the presentation and immediately asked about the MZ Teens program. He asked if it was too late to get involved. I told him that this program is run by StandWithUs and offers a select few Jewish high school students the opportunity to be ambassadors on their high school campuses. I assured him that it was never too late to ask for my help. I hope to work with this young man and help him become the best advocate for Israel he can be.”

Yvonne Bartlett is the Northwest MZ Teens High School Coordinator, she may be reached at yvonneb@standwithus.com

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