Jewish Women Renaissance Project
Masha Merkulova is a mother of two children, a JWRP sister, a nurse, and the founder and executive director of Club Z, a Bay Area-based organization for teens that fosters a commitment to Israel and Zionism. We spoke to Masha about why she launched Club Z, as well as her tips for preparing kids for anti-Israel sentiments at college.
What inspired you to travel to Israel with the JWRP?
I immigrated to the US from the Former Soviet Union, and I never had a formal Jewish education. Everything I knew was self-taught. When I learned about a last-minute opening on a MOMentum Trip, I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to study with Lori and other JWRP Trip Leaders. I also wanted a holistic Jewish educational experience, where I’d learn alongside Jewish women and then be bonded to them forever. I really believe that when you educate a mother, the entire family can become more Jewishly involved. As a single mother, participating in MOMentum was logistically challenging. But the Partner Organization that hosted my trip was so encouraging that I made it work
How did MOMentum impact you?
The whole experience was one big highlight. I loved having the opportunity to learn more about Jewish values and my heritage. On Shabbat, a wonderful family hosted us in their home, which overlooked the Kotel Plaza, and the atmosphere was so warm. During MOMentum, I realized that Judaism is truly a family. Getting hundreds of Jewish women together — away from the hustle and bustle of their lives — gave us the chance to rediscover the creative parts of ourselves, as well as the compassionate and activist parts.
Meeting such strong women, especially those who created the JWRP, was especially impactful. For a while, I’d felt the need to launch Club Z, and during the trip, I realized that I could do it. I didn’t need to have all of the answers and I didn’t need to be an expert in Judaism or Israel. I just needed the passion and the willingness to learn along my journey.
What need does Club Z fill?
I had spoken to many intelligent and well-educated Jewish college students and learned that they did not know how to respond when people said, “Israel doesn’t have a right to exist” or “You stole my land.” As a nurse, I know that it’s easier to prevent a disease than to cure it, so I started Club Z to prepare kids for the anti-Israel sentiment that they’ll hear on college campuses. At Club Z, we talk about Israel — the tough topics, the controversial topics, and the complicated topics. We don’t give students talking points. Instead, students learn to articulate the real reasons that they care about Israel.
What’s your advice for parents who want to educate their kids about Israel?
Follow Israeli news sources and then make Israel a normal conversation topic in your home. Bring up Israel the same way you’d talk about what’s going on in your kids’ lives or in your country. Also, attend events that share negative viewpoints about Israel or even anti-Israel opinions. Though you may feel uncomfortable to hear these viewpoints, you’ll learn what your children can expect to hear in college. Then, you’ll be able to prepare them and also support them once they’re there. Finally, I invite your teens to attend Club Z’s January conference in Silicon Valley!
Where Heaven Meets Earth
Listen to Yishai Fleisher podcast as he interviews Masha Merkulova, executive director of Club Z and Maria Rutenburg, a supporter and a mom whose 3 teens are proud members and alums.
N. California Conference Prepares High School Students to Combat On-Campus Anti-Semitism, BDS
By JNi.Media 14 Tevet 5777 – January 11, 2017
Club Z, a Zionist youth movement based in northern California that fosters a commitment to Israel and Zionism among teenagers, is holding its “Third Annual High School Conference on Israel and the Middle East” to provide teenagers with an understanding of current events in Israel, tools for advocating for Israel on campus, and knowledge about anti-Israel trends on campuses, so that they could respond effectively. Sixty high school students from all over the US are expected to attend.
The conference will take place on the weekend of January 14-16 at Hayes Mansion in San Jose, CA, and will feature some of the leading voices in pro-Israel activism today: pastor Dumisani Washington; First Nation’s indigenous rights activist Ryan Bellerose; human rights attorney Brooke Goldstein; university professors Tammi Benjamin-Rossman and Naya Lekht; and creative activist Chloe Simone Valdary.
The conference will address, among a wide range of topics, a contemporary history of the Middle East, the Arab-Israeli conflict, anti-Israel groups, and the BDS movement on campus.
“For the majority of Jews across the United States, Zionism is synonymous with justice, human rights, and freedom,” said conference organizer Masha Merkulova. “Yet on college campuses today, Jewish and Zionist students are attacked by anti-Israel students and by faculty trying to paint Israel as racist and oppressive. We’d like to raise the new generation of Jewish leaders who show the world and their fellow students that Zionism is, in fact, the most powerful human rights movement in the modern world.”
Avital Rutenburg, a Club Z member, said: “I look forward to the Club Z conference every year, and there is no place I would rather spend my MLK Weekend. I always leave feeling refreshed, hopeful, more knowledgeable, more confident, more equipped, with new friendships and stronger old ones, with fresh memories.”
Club Z began as a quick study group for a few teens that wanted to arm themselves with accurate information about Israel and the Middle East conflict. Over the years, it has grown into a movement that inspires the participants to connect their identities to Israel.
“At some point, American Jews have to face the fact that while we think we are ‘defending Israel,’ it is the strong and proud State of Israel that has brought about the renaissance of the American Jewish experience,” said Esther Kozakevich, a Club Z alum, currently a student at UC San Diego. “Israel doesn’t need us to ‘speak up’ for her. It is us, Jews living in America, that need to speak up for ourselves, because when Israel is attacked, they are attacking every single one of us. We are one people, with a history and heritage and one future. Club Z has taught me that.”
“Club Z offers a long-term program that does not shy away from the word Zionism, from the truth of our belonging in Israel, from the fact that Jewish rights matter just as much as any other people’s rights,” said the conference organizers in an email to the press. “The education is extensive and academically oriented, and, like anything worth doing it requires a serious effort from participants and their families.”
Keren Moiseev, a Club Z teen whose sister is currently serving in the IDF as a lone soldier summed up her past conference experience, saying: “Club Z conferences always leave me feeling inspired and ready to not only face the anti-Semitism in the world but also fight against it if I’m directly questioned or attacked.”