Budding advocacy program wants students to Write On for Israel

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For many teenagers, the last year of high school is all about SATs, proms and senior ditch day. But if organizers of Write On for Israel have their way, 25 Bay Area Jewish teens will also become media-savvy activists for Israel by the time they graduate.

Write On for Israel, a two-year advocacy journalism program for teens, makes its West Coast debut this fall.

From November to June, students will meet one Sunday a month for 10 a.m.-to-5 p.m. study sessions; there will also be a 10-day trip to Israel next summer, in between the two “semesters.”

Write On for Israel, including the trip, is free, thanks to the Avi Chai Foundation, which sponsors the eight-year-old program.

Like many pro-Israel youth programs, Write On for Israel teaches the history of modern and ancient Israel, and provides context for the current conflict. But organizers expect more out of its students than simple cheerleading for Israel.

They expect program graduates to blog, v-log and write op-eds for Israel, too.

Jonathan Carey, president of S.F.-based BlueStar PR, a pro-Israel media company overseeing Write On for Israel, says Jewish youth, trained in hands-on journalism, new media and PR, make more effective advocates for Israel.

“It’s going to be much more interactive,” he says of the two-year program. “The kids will create their own writing, their own videos.”

Because exposure to journalism techniques plays a key role in the Write On for Israel, j. the Jewish news weekly has signed on as a partner and will present media training as part of the curriculum.

“Any program that has the purpose of advocacy of Israel is important,” j. publisher Marc Klein says. “Not only are we going to produce young people who have a strong feeling for Israel, we’re going to produce young people who understand the workings of the media and how decisions are made on coverage of Israel and other Jewish issues.”

Adds Carey, “We’re partnering with j. because we want the kids to interact with real-world journalists and get an inside view of how news in created, how the whole field of journalism works, from news publishing to YouTube to blogs and social networking sites like Facebook.”

In addition to guest speakers — lecturing on topics ranging from biblical Israel to modern Zionism — Write On for Israel will have two staff educators, Peter Altman and Avner Even-Zohar. Altman is a former campus director for the S.F.-based Israel Center and Even-Zohar, a former Israeli military officer, is currently a professor of Hebrew at the Defense Language Institute in Monterey.

Write On for Israel began eight years ago in New York, with the Jewish Week, one of the city’s big Jewish community newspapers, taking the lead. The program later expanded into Chicago, always keeping the emphasis on journalism and new-media training.

The trip to Israel comes halfway through the two-year program. Write On students will put their new knowledge to work, filming short movies while in Israel, with the goal of uploading their own pro-Israel YouTube clips.

“We will meet with a videographer [in Israel] to arrange shoots,” says Carey. “The second year of the program is putting together the films. We also want to reserve a component for writing. The goal is to get student writing published in j. or other Jewish publications.”

“We’re going to be deeply involved in training these young people about journalism,” adds Klein, “how to cover news, how to write op-ed pieces or commentary and even how to write letters to the editor.”

Carey concedes the program makes demands on the students’ time. But he also believes the rewards, both for the students themselves as well as for Israel, make the effort worthwhile.

“There’s a new world of journalism,” he says. “The goal is to make sure students know what they need to know.”

Write On for Israel is accepting applications now through Sept. 28 from incoming high school juniors. For more information or to request an application, email [email protected].

Dan Pine

Dan Pine is a contributing editor at J. He was a longtime staff writer at J. and retired as news editor in 2020.