Jerusalem, Israel - Dec. 28, 2023  - The program "The Zionist Leadership Academy" at the Recruitment Resources Division of Keren Kayemet L'Yisrael - Jewish National Fund (KKL - JNF) together with the Pioneering Youth and Continuing Generation Department in the World Zionist Organization (WZO), was initiated out of the importance of promoting future Zionist leadership and developing the future generation of contributors worldwide.

The goal of the program is to create a selected and committed group of new leaders from diverse Jewish communities around the world, dedicated to the needs of the Jewish people and the State of Israel. These young leaders will work to strengthen connections between their communities and Israeli national institutions.

The program, which spans over ten months, mainly conducts bi-weekly Zoom meetings. In addition to these meetings, two physical conferences take place: a mid-term conference in a changing international location and a concluding conference in Israel. The originally planned November meeting in Israel did happen due to Operation Iron Swords response to the Hamas attack on Simchas Torah morning of October 7.

In light of the Iron Swords war, a solidarity mission consisting of 18 program graduates took place from December 24 to December 28, 2023. The mission was to enrich participants with first-hand insights into the general situation in Israel and, specifically, in the Gaza Strip area affected by the Hamas massacre and the tens of thousands of rockets from Gaza. Even the short amount of time allowed the delegates to express solidarity with Israel and its residents, enabling them to return to their communities and friends with the ability to share what is happening in the country and mobilize support for Israel.

Participants in the mission, with an average age of 30, come from various professional backgrounds such as business, entrepreneurship, real estate, education in Jewish and Zionist organizations, legal professionals, bankers, and employees of Israeli embassies in their respective countries. They came from around the world, from the following countries: Austria, Australia, Ukraine, Ecuador, Argentina, Brazil, Germany, the Netherlands, Hungary, Peru, Paraguay, Colombia, Sweden, and Switzerland.

Between December 24 and 28, the mission members participated in a workshop on combating antisemitism, visited an IDF military base, saw a display of the equipment captured in Gaza, visited the Captives' Square and heard from families and survivors, volunteered in agriculture at Kibbutz Nitzanim, visited Kfar Azza, received a security briefing at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and even participated in tree planting in the Ben Shemen Forest.

"These people are the best among Jewish leadership, it is important for us to show them what happened and that they will know how to tell the truth to the countries where they grew up and in which they live among the Jewish community and the whole world," said Ariel Goldgewicht, who initiated the program and manages the Pioneer Youth and Next Generation division at the WZO. Dikla Shtengar, manager of the program from the WZO noted, "Their average age is 31, and they are the future of the world's Jewish communities. These are also the people who will represent Israel and the Jewish people to the world."

On the last day of the tour, the delegation met with KKL - JNF chairwoman Yifat Ovadia Luski and the chairman of the World Zionist Organization Yaakov Hagoel at the offices of KKL – JNF in Jerusalem. With the two leaders, the participants discussed issues concerning antisemitism, the future of the State of Israel, and Diaspora Jewry.

Deborah Sutton Chammah from Brazil said, "People blame Israel for what Hamas did on October 7 and claim that Israel is carrying out targeted assassinations. Anti-Zionism is the new face of antisemitism. Our mission is to promote serious discussions and convey knowledge on the subject."

"Compared to other countries in Europe, I think the level of antisemitism in Germany is relatively more reasonable," noted Jil Meiteles. "There is support for Israel, but it is not always overt. Many Germans prefer not to express their opinions and do not want to get involved. Some people are afraid to publicly identify as Jewish. For example, I have a friend who, before saying 'Shabbat Shalom,' turns around to make sure no one hears him. We are all committed to raising a strong voice for Israel."

"If you had asked me before October 7, I would have said that there is no antisemitism at all in Colombia. But now I feel that there is. Antisemitism is encountered mainly on the internet and less in real life. I had friends who posted antisemitic posts, and now they are no longer my friends. I need to voice my opinion and try to make a difference in people," stated Vivianne Tesone.

The final stop before going back to Tel Aviv and heading to their homes was at the Kotel where they briefly posed on the Plaza for a group photo. Better equipped after their in-depth experiences, to offer first-hand witness testimony to the situation in Israel as the war goes on into its third month and 129 hostages remain held by Hamas in Gaza.