1. How did you get involved in Israel education? 
I was bar mitzvahed and went to Jewish summer camp, but still largely grew up disconnected from Judaism or Israel. By the time I got to college, these were things I explicitly wanted nothing to do with. After I graduated I joined the Peace Corps in Ecuador and (this was in the years of the second "intifada" - I prefer the term Palestinian terror war, but that's another story) was for the first time confronted with intense anti-Israelism, not from Ecuadorians but from my fellow Peace Corps volunteers and the largely European Western travelers found wandering around places like Ecuador. For some reason it bothered me, but when I tried to respond to it I found I had nothing to say, because I knew nothing about Israel. That forced me for the first time to confront in an honest way my own ignorance about all things Jewish and I realized that it bothered me. Birthright gave me a great opportunity to see the country firsthand - I had the requisite transformative experience minus the sex and booze - but, even though I was invited back as a madrich for another trip, was clearly only a basic introduction. At the time I was a public high school teacher in Brooklyn in the New York City Teaching Fellows program and I started doing what I could (mostly reading in my spare time) to learn more, but after a year or so it became clear that this would not be good enough to get at what I wanted. I also knew I didn't want to be a high school teacher anymore for different reasons and learned that it was possible to be an academic in this thing called Jewish Studies. This seemed like a way to unite my new passion for learning about Judaism (in the appropriately detached manner, of course) and teaching in a career. So I enrolled in the Master's program at the graduate school of the Jewish Theological Seminary with the goal of ultimately pursuing a PhD and an academic career. I was ultimately offered a very attractive fellowship to get that PhD at JTS (probably the world's best place to learn the scholarly take on the history and culture of the Jews), but by then I was working at the Anti-Defamation League and had a son on the way, which made the uncertain career prospects of an academic much less attractive. At the same time, my experience at ADL taught me that the anti-Israel movement is far deeper with a much broader base of support than I had previously imagined, which heightened my concern and led me to the realization that helping to defeat this campaign was the thing I most wanted to do with my life professionally and was maybe even something I could contribute to in a meaningful way. About a year ago I switched to The David Project, an organization I love that has allowed me to focus entirely on teaching people the true story of Israel and Zionism as best I can and to do my part to defeat anti-Israelism. 

Apart from that whole long story, I think I should add that I find the story of modern Israel to be the most fascinating history I have ever learned. A big part of my motivation for doing what I do stems from my desire to help people see - forget about all the politics - how incredible the story is. I feel very strongly that if more people had a true appreciation for that many of the political problems we face would be much less serious.       


2. How has the digital age effected Israel advocacy?
I don't know if there are really any Israel advocacy-specific ways that the internet has changed things, but, as with everything else in the world, Israel advocacy has been deeply and profoundly affected by new information technology. Just as the publishing industry is struggling mightily to cope with the tremendous tumult the new technology has unleashed, so too are we faced with extraordinarily difficult challenges in making Israel's case. So, as with everyone else, on the one hand we have a multiplicity of revolutionary communication tools at our fingertips, making it theoretically easier than ever before to reach a far wider audience. At the same time, the anti-Israelists have the very same tools, which means that our historic advantages in terms of access to centers of power in the West don't count for as much as they used to. (Don't get me wrong, they still matter, just not as much.)It's also true that unfortunately in many cases antis have harnessed the power of these tools better than we have, but I don't see any reason why that has to be so. In the end, we are faced with the same problems faced by everyone, from governments to small business: how to adapt to explosive and accelerating change in a world that is getting more complicated, more dangerous, and easier to access all the time. I don't think anyone has the answers to those questions. (If you do and you'll be at the conference, please tell me.) And the era of explosive change has only just begun. Which means it's going to be a wild ride and, for whatever strange reason, politically at least the Jewish state remains at the center of the world's thinking. I have no doubt that we can win the new battle for public onion in these changed circumstances. But you better believe it is going to be long and tough, and take the collective effort of a lot of talented, passionate people.

3. What are you most looking forward to at YouthCon?
Meeting and talking to the participants. What else?!

Matthew Ackerman is a New York-based Middle East Analyst for The David Project, a non-profit organization dedicated to educating strong voices for Israel, with a particular focus on college campuses. He regularly lectures, leads workshops, and serves as a panelist for public panels on Zionism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and related issues for student and adult audiences. Matthew is also a regular contributor to a range of publications, including The Jerusalem Post and The Forward, and is a blogger for Commentary.

The story of Mathew Ackerman is really inspiring to read. He has won such a great achievement using his hard work, and I would love to hear the story about the Palestine terror that he mentioned in the article.

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