Lowell High School in San Francisco. Photos courtesy of Michaela Pelta

Contest Finalist: It Just Takes One

Simple actions can make a difference, especially when it comes to defending Israel.

Editor’s Note: The following article, is a finalist of the Fresh Ink for Teens/StandWithUs High School Writing Contest. More than 60 contestants from around the country answered the following question: “Describe a time when you were put in a situation where you had to defend Israel. Share your feelings, thoughts and actions in response to this experience.”

As time goes on, we see story after story about violence erupting between groups with clashing ideals. It seems impossible to have respectful dialogue with someone who may not agree with you. While we can look at this and dismiss the world as horrible, we can also choose the harder option—to continue to try and educate people.

I was staring under the microscope in lab when I started to hear a conversation between another group of students. I heard them listing countries under the rule of a dictator and, much to my dismay, Israel was on the list. Initial thoughts started to flow through my mind, maybe I could pretend that I didn’t hear anything? After all, that would be easier.

However, if I had passed up an opportunity to stand up for Israel, it would’ve haunted me. So, I looked up and simply asked why they thought Israel is a dictatorship. I heard the stereotypical answer, Israel is a country run by a white oppressor who uses his privilege to murder innocent Palestinians. This response is something I tend to hear from groups of people who have no malicious intentions but have just fallen under the misconceptions fed to them.

I went on, not attacking them, but asking a few more questions. Did they know what the Intifada was? Why the checkpoints were in place? Of course, the answers were no. So, I proceeded to tell them. I explained that I didn’t want to argue, but that it personally offends me, a proud Israeli citizen, when the only democracy in the middle east is insinuated as something it isn’t. I told them that I had relatives who died fighting for Israel, who fought because Jews desperately need a country to make sure what happened in Europe truly never happens again. Finally, I left them with the fact that Israel is the only Jewish state and when people insult it, it many times stems from a place of poorly veiled anti-Semitism.

I went back to work on my microscope and silence persisted until class ended. I was about to leave my last class when I was stopped. It was one of the boys in the group I was talking to before. He promptly apologized to me and actually thanked me for being able to have respectful dialogue with him. We went on to talk about a few more questions he had about Israel. When the conversation was over, I walked out of school with the biggest smile across my face. I had done it, there was one less person who would spew hate against Israel.

So that’s it, that is all I did. Standing up for Israel doesn’t have to be something publicly televised. We tend to think that our simple actions can never make an impact. But I believe that having a discussion with one person is just as important as anything else. As my favorite quote from the Talmud goes, “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.”

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Michaela Pelta is a junior at Lowell High School in San Francisco.

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