When 14-year-olds Kobi Mandel and Yosef Ishran were found brutally stoned to death by Palestinian terrorists on May 9, 2001, Jews around the world mourned. For L.A. residents Roz and Jerry Rothstein, the tragedy was the last straw.
The husband and wife team gathered nearly 50 Jewish leaders from across the religious and political spectrum together in their living room on May 21, 2001, to discuss the mobilization of the Los Angeles Jewish community in support of Israel. The meeting marked the birth of the grass-roots pro-Israel organization StandWithUs.
"It's not just about how this intifada affects Israel," Roz Rothstein said. "It's about how the intifada has affected Jews around the world."
On May 4, StandWithUs will host "Can You Defend Israel?" a repeat of the popular Israel advocacy conference held last January at Temple Beth Am, which drew 325 participants from around the country (organizers were forced to turn away more than 100 people). The second conference, also to be held at Temple Beth Am, is expected to attract an equally sizable crowd.
"This is a how-to conference. This is not a briefing conference," said Roz Rothstein, executive director of StandWithUs. "It's how to write, how to deal with the media when you're not happy, how to advocate. It's the most sophisticated, most up-to-date information available."
StandWithUs has become one of the most active pro-Israel groups in Los Angeles today. Its efforts include educating on all levels -- monitoring media, helping to expose militant Islamic groups and leadership, improving public relations with Israel and promoting Christian-Jewish alliances. The conference is one step in the organization's effort to give Los Angeles Jews a professional voice.
Sponsored by 13 additional Jewish organizations and six synagogues, the mission of the May 4 conference is to train people to be ambassadors for Israel.
Rothstein said that even though people might know the information, it is the ability to express that information that they are often lacking. "The other conferences are more informational. They give briefings," Rothstein said.
Workshops at the conference will include practical tips on lobbying for Israel and dealing with the media, techniques in public speaking and history briefings.
"Our intention is to offer a full plate of politically oriented speakers. But we have an agenda to teach people to advocate for Israel -- the most effectively and most efficiently," Rothstein said. "We don't want people to spin their wheels. We want people to be very sharp."
Featured speakers will include radio talk show host Dennis Prager; Elliott Brandt, Western States director of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee; public speaking expert Richard Greene; Dr. Roberta Seid, director of research and education for StandWithUs; Wayne Firestone, director of the Israel on Campus Coalition of Hillel: The Foundation For Jewish Campus Life, and professor and international affairs expert Jonathan Adelman.
The conference will also cater to college students, a segment of the population that has seen some of the fiercest of anti-Israel sentiment. Although it has been quieter on campus recently, Rothstein said that being prepared and proactive is as important now as ever.
"It's a hidden agenda of the Muslim student associations across the country -- the 'free Palestine' agenda and making Israel into the famed bad guy," Rothstein said. "It's still there ... it's just waiting right now."
One of the main issues that will be addressed at the StandWithUs conference is incitement.
"Incitement was a word used in Oslo but it was an empty term," Rothstein said. "Incitement from the cleric speeches must be monitored on the radio, TV programs need to teach peace, textbooks need to be revamped, the teachers need to teach peace, the posters of suicide bombers and making bombers into heroes needs to end."
Rothstein said that a peaceful resolution is dependent upon incitement being broken down as an accountable issue in the road map language.
"We're going to spell out incitement as an issue and hope that everyone will be able to lobby on this issue," she said.
StandWithUs Advocacy Conference II will take place on Sunday, May 4, 8:30 a.m.-5 p.m. at Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd. Register by phone at (310) 836-6145 or online at www.standwithus.com .