As a former World Jewish Congress Ronald S. Lauder Fellow, I attended the first Ronald S. Lauder Fellowship Diplomacy Summit. The fellowship is an international cohort of top Jewish students with an interest in global Jewish advocacy who are invited to Europe to participate in high-level meetings with government institutions. From the moment I arrived at the summit in Brussels, the excitement felt by the other fellows and staff was infectious.
We began the trip in the European Union offices, hearing from EU members about the state of Europe and advocating for the European Jewish community. This was followed by a visit to NATO. The number of brilliant minds in these rooms was astounding, and it was such a privilege to watch as my small cohort of young Jewish students and professionals posed challenging questions to EU and NATO leaders regarding the state of European Jewry, global antisemitism and recent world tensions.
The same can be said about our visit to UNESCO in Paris the following day. As a media and information studies student with a niche interest in big tech policies, I was intrigued to learn about the organization’s recent report, History Under Attack: Holocaust Distortion and Denial Within Social Media, directly from its writers. I am hopeful that, combined with efforts to address online harms in countries such as Canada, the UNESCO report will spur positive change in hate speech regulation worldwide.
Once the summit concluded, with my Jewish pride at an all-time high, I hopped on a plane to Israel for a much-needed reunion with family and friends, celebrating Shabbat with my great-aunt and others at her beautiful Jerusalem apartment.
After we studied the week’s parashah (Torah portion), a neighbour began to translate a book written in Hebrew by our relative about our family’s history in Israel. Although I had heard these names growing up, I had not fully understood their weight or meaning. It was there, sitting with family and friends, and with the WJC experience fresh in my mind, that I began to appreciate their significance and what my Jewish heritage really means to me.
My great-great-grandfather was Zvi Pesach Frank, chief rabbi of Jerusalem during the end of the Ottoman Empire and the British Mandate of Palestine. He was instrumental in the creation of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel, and in the appointment of Rav Kook (Abraham Isaac Kook) as the first Ashkenazi chief rabbi. I learned more of his historic contributions and my family’s legacy of working to build and protect Israel.
My experience as a World Jewish Congress Lauder Fellow and attending the summit took on a new layer of meaning. Not only am I inspired and committed to continuing my work in global Jewish advocacy, but I have also developed a determination to follow this path, grounded in my profound pride in my family and their accomplishments over the generations. For that, I am grateful to World Jewish Congress, to my great-aunt and to the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs. I look forward to what’s ahead, fully appreciating the rationale supporting my aspirations, and I will hold the summer of 2022 near and dear to my heart.
Following the conference and my visit to Israel, it became clear to me that, in high school – when I found my footing in Jewish leadership and learned more about my intersecting Muslim and Jewish background – I had found the “what” of my life’s passion. It was this summer that I found the “why.”
Tia Sacks is a Vancouver native going into her fourth year at Western University in the faculty of media and information studies. She participated in the World Jewish Congress Lauder Fellowship and is currently the vice-president of the Israel committee at Hillel Western and an intern at the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.