By Catherine Twing, Contributing Writer
Northborough – While touring museums and historic sites nearly 9,000 miles away last year, Jordan Chastanet became inspired to make a change closer to home.
During a trip to Poland and Israel with Jewish Summer camp, Camp Micah, the Algonquin Regional High School senior wanted to do more.
“I was just blown away by everything. I wanted to dive in deeper into the conflict and what I can do at home to help find peace for Israel and educate others about antisemitism.” she said. “I want to help create peace for Israel even though I’m at home, and I can do that by educating others about what’s going on.”
This desire to educate led her to the program StandWithUs, an organization that combats anti-Semitism and advocates peace for Israel. She had a friend who was a StandWithUs high school intern, so she asked how to get involved.
“Someone who was an intern had to nominate me and so [my friend] ended up nominating me and I had to fill out an application,” she explained.
Representatives from the program said the StandWithUs high school internship is a year-long program for North American students in 11th and 12th grades. The goal of the program is to increase their knowledge of Israel and develop leadership skills.
Accepted high school interns were notified in April and attended a virtual conference in August with 125 interns from across the U.S. and Canada. Some sessions were with the entire group and others were just the New England region which consists of nine interns, and their advisor.
Although it may feel like Israel and antisemitism is an ocean away, Chastanet knows there is a need to educate people right here in Massachusetts.
She cited an incident in August at the Worcester Jewish Community Center where a man vandalized property and screamed anti-Semitic things at camp children and their parents.
One of those children is a student at the Hebrew school where Chastanet works, so she was affected by those negative comments.
“She said to her mom, ‘So I shouldn’t tell people I’m Jewish?’ and her mom said ‘No, you make it known that you’re Jewish,’” Chastanet recalled.
Chastanet said she only knows of around six Jewish students in her school because people don’t really talk about it, although she is discovering more Jewish classmates every year.
As a StandWithUs intern she plans to create an Israel club at her school and educate her classmates on anti-Semitism, Israel and the conflict in Israel.
“One of my main goals in my club is a school-wide assembly or panel with someone who is pro-Israel, someone who is pro-Palestine and someone in between, so students can see both sides of the story and learn about it,” she said. “People choose a side because they don’t know about it. They go, ‘I’m friends with this person who is pro-Israel,’ but they don’t actually know the full story.”
She added that most people in the United States don’t know that Israel is the only Jewish state or understand how anti-Israel and anti-Semitic thinking are intertwined.