At her upcoming workshops, co-leader Jessica Felber will stand before Jewish high school students, work herself up into a minor rage and harp about the Zionist entity being an apartheid state.
Not that she believes it.
The longtime pro-Israel advocate simply will be offering the students a taste of what may be in store for them once they get to college and face anti-Israel campus activism.
A 2010 graduate of U.C. Berkeley, Felber remembers what it was like for her and other Jewish students to endure the annual Israel Apartheid Week, when protestors carrying toy assault weapons set up mock checkpoints on campus.
That’s one reason she has helped organize “Step Up for Israel,” a series of three one-day pro-Israel education and advocacy training programs set to take place over the next month. The first is scheduled for Sunday, April 22 at Beth Jacob Congregation in Oakland.
The workshops are co-sponsored by the pro-Israel advocacy organizations StandWithUs and JerusalemOnlineU.com.
After graduating from U.C. Berkeley, Felber moved to Los Angeles last year to become the West Coast director of Jerusalem Online U. This past February, she attended the Young Zionist Leadership Conference, a large gathering held in Florida and sponsored by the World Zionist Congress.
It was through her work with Jerusalem
OnlineU, a Jewish education Web portal, that Felber dreamed up the workshop to teach high school students, especially seniors bound for college, how to respond to anti-Israel hate speech.
Each four-hour workshop will split into two tracks, one for the teens and another for their parents (or any other interested adult).
Sessions in each track will include lectures, educational film screenings and hands-on advocacy training taught by StandWithUs Bay Area campus staffers Guy Herschmann and Matthew White, along with prominent local pro-Israel activists Mike Harris and Ealon Joelson. Felber will run the teen portion.
As one teaching technique, workshop leaders will mimic the anti-Israel invective college students hear routinely on campus.
“We’ll show them Occupation 101,” said Felber. “This is so they can hear the arguments from anti-Israel people. The real purpose is to motivate and inspire them to learn more and give them practice before college.”
If Felber’s name sounds familiar, it’s because she was in the news before. In the wake of a 2010 incident during Israel Apartheid Week, Felber filed suit last year against U.C. Berkeley, its president and chancellor, as well as the Associated Students of the University of California.
At the time, she was co-president of the pro-Israel campus group Tikvah, which she co-founded.
Felber alleges that a pro-Palestinian protestor intentionally rammed her with a shopping cart, causing her injury.
The lawsuit has languished in the courts, with the judge dismissing some aspects and asking Felber’s attorneys to amend the complaint. But she says the suit is still in progress, and that she’s already seen results because of her legal action.
“This year at U.C. Berkeley’s Israel Apartheid Week, there were no realistic assault weapons,” she said, “which was not the case for a decade. That had been a huge cause of fear.”
Felber said that although she is suing for monetary damages, her true motivation for the suit is “to get the universities to be aware of what’s going on on campus and try to get them to change it.”
A native of San Diego, Felber grew up attending Jewish day schools, and pro-Israel advocacy was always important to her. Even before attending her first class at Cal, she says she was prepared for pro-Palestinian demonstrations on Sproul Plaza, the heckling of Israeli guest speakers and advocacy for Israel boycotts.
It was that tense and hostile atmosphere on campus that made her want to take up the pro-Israel cause all the more.
“That’s in part what drew me [to U.C. Berkeley],” she said. “I came in fairly confident, and was willing to stand up and defend Israel from the start. But I also know how difficult it is for other people to do that.”
“Step Up for Israel,” 10 a.m.-2 p.m. Sunday, April 22, at Beth Jacob Congregation, 3778 Park Blvd., Oakland. Also April 29 at the Jewish Community High School of the Bay, 1835 Ellis St., S.F. and May 20 at the Oshman Family JCC, 3921 Fabian Way, Palo Alto. $18 per family. www.standwithus.com/highschool.