Article published in The Jerusalem Post, 18 July 2022. © Richard Kemp
Watching the high school teens of Club Z in dialogue with pro- and anti-Zionists in Israel was an education in itself. Even the most ardently Zionist speakers approached their topics with caution, more used to American students that get triggered, fleeing to safe spaces and crying rooms, if faced with too strong a dose of the truth.
This lot had no use for safety and their tears were reserved for Rachel Frankel and Miriam Fuld who told stories of their loved ones brutally slaughtered by jihadist fanatics. Every speaker was left awestruck by the students’ unyielding stance, unexpected knowledge and deep-penetrating questions.
The anti-Zionists thought their words would elicit the standard sympathetic nods and murmurs, as they spun their halftruths and outright falsehoods to hand-wringing youths who would scurry back home and parrot them to gullible school friends.
Instead, they got an audience that saw straight through the tired narrative, and vigorously but politely pushed back against every fake tale of woe and fabricated legal recitation with the most powerful weapon in their armoury: the truth.
Yes, they knew all about the Fourth Geneva Convention but unlike the self-proclaimed peace activists, fully equipped with bushy beards and patronizing clichés, they also knew it doesn’t come close to applying in Judea.
Nor, in contrast to many high school and college students, did they buy the flimsy, anonymous and unconvincing stories of IDF abuse that have been bought and paid for by foreign funds to undermine the legitimacy of Israel.
Until it was too late, the Israel-haters didn’t realize these kids are the special forces of Zionist youth. Preparing to face the antisemitic bile so prevalent on US campuses, they have been trained by experienced instructors while at high school and they practise their skills on the battlefields of Israel Apartheid Weeks and Jew-hating street demos. In Israel, they were on reconnaissance: seeing, hearing, touching and smelling the reality of the conflict for themselves.
They ventured up against the borders with Lebanon and Syria, and sat a stone’s throw from the Gaza fence, learning the ground and getting briefed on the threats Israel faces from its neighbors.
They readily accepted the bunker challenge, with one of their own 17-year-olds who has played piano at Carnegie Hall, charging through the pitch black network of tunnels at Tel Saki on the Golan Heights, the scene of a Syrian breakthrough in the 1973 Yom Kippur War.
In Lod, they walked the sites of some of the worst Arab violence against Jews during the war last May and heard from a Knesset member who had been in the thick of it and an Arab woman who lived through it, unsuccessfully trying to convince them of its justification.
There wasn’t so much as a flinch when a rock was hurled at their bus as they drove through Samaria. They eagerly spent a night in the desert at the Judean frontier, experiencing a place of biblical significance that is, today, critical to the security of Israel and the Jewish people.
As with military Special Forces, our Club Z teens were called on to help train others and pass on their own experience.
In Jerusalem, they made compelling speeches and led group discussions with a large cohort of visiting American high schoolers who admitted to being dazzled by their hosts’ insights and uncompromising strength.
Like all troops, Club Z took R&R, rafting along the River Jordan, chucking each other in, and throwing up dust clouds as they travelled in all terrain vehicles on dirt tracks adjacent to the pilgrim route toward Jerusalem.
And like all good Americans, they celebrated the 4th of July with gusto in a party near the beach, by Tel Aviv. After joining 20,000 young Israelis about to be conscripted into the IDF at a celebration in Hayarkon Park, they had to be dragged away for a late night journey up to Jerusalem.
The Club Z mission included absorbing the history of Israel, Judaism and their people – not least, to touch the physical reality of their motto ‘Jews are from Judea’ which they often hear shamelessly denied by their opponents. They visited the four holy cities of Judaism: Tiberias, Safed, Hebron and Jerusalem.
They spent time at Shiloh, the central sanctuary of the Israelites prior to the construction of the first Temple in Jerusalem. Before ascending to the Temple Mount amidst bristling security, in the ancient City of David, they trod on the very stones their ancestors trod when making this same journey thousands of years before.
At Gush Etzion, they learned about a 1948 battle where a small force of Jews, including Holocaust survivors, fought valiantly against vastly superior Arab forces until they could no longer hold out.
Club Z took presents to the successors of these heroic fighters, IDF troops of the Golani Brigade, many not much older than themselves, on duty at Eretz Crossing, where last May, Hamas viciously attacked soldiers and aid workers trying to get humanitarian supplies to the citizens of Gaza.
Frequently in the back of the bus, Beethoven, Paganini and Chopin were the soundtrack to complex Russian word games adapted to English.
The next minute, it was alive with loud techno music and crazy dancing in the aisle. This contrast and this spirit is a metaphor for Club Z. Contrary to growing trends at Western high schools and universities, their educators do not encourage group think or a strict dichotomy between politically correct and incorrect. Instead, they point the way to the truth.
Unlike their opponents, Club Z teens don’t blindly trot out party lines and cock-and-bull slogans like ‘from the river to the sea’. After all, they’re Jews, and we all know that where you find two Jews you find three opinions.
They argued with the staff and they argued with each other. The approach was encapsulated in end-of-trip accolades for the students, which included ‘most likely to tell truth to power’, ‘most likely to play devil’s advocate’ and ‘most likely to go against the status quo’.
The trip reaffirmed to the youths of Club Z that as Arab countries seek rapprochement with the once-hated Jewish state, the Israel-Palestinian conflict is being fuelled in the West by the UN, EU, so-called human rights groups, media and student activists who are going all-out to turn Americans and Europeans, including Jews, against Israel. This is Club Z’s battleground and this is why they were here, preparing for the fight.
Their experience in Israel showed these teenagers that they, as young Jews, are standing on the shoulders of giants whose courage, wisdom, tenacity and fighting spirit helped perpetuate the Jewish race and, against all odds, build the remarkable state we see today.
It is a sad truth that the Jews will always be in a fight wherever they are and it is impossible not to admire these young torch-bearers who have willingly taken up the sword, well aware of the personal cost it brings. Future generations will be standing on their shoulders, too.