From Senior Leaders to Freshman Advocates: Seth Cohen ‘23 and Ezra Rosenthal ‘23 Share Their Israel Advocacy Journey

The Deli & Herb Weisberg Israel Advocacy Leadership Circle, established through a generous donation from Milken Trustee Jake Davidson ‘13 and his wife Vanessa, empowers Milken students with critical advocacy skills to combat antisemitism and anti-Israel sentiment. Each year, select students engage in programming to prepare them as effective Israel advocates on college campuses and beyond. After graduation, fellows return to Milken to share their experiences, fostering a culture of informed and passionate Israel advocacy. 

Seth Cohen ‘23 and Ezra Rosenthal ‘23, members of the 2023 founding Leadership Circle cohort, returned to campus in early May to speak to current students, sharing insights and reflections on their journey advocating for Israel amidst the challenges of campus life.

Below is a conversation between Seth and Ezra and a Milken communications team member, from the day they returned to campus.
Ezra: I'm Ezra Rosenthal. I graduated from Milken in 2023 and I go to the University of Wisconsin, studying business marketing and management.

Seth: And I'm Seth Cohen. I also graduated from Milken in 2023 and I go to the University of Texas at Austin, studying mechanical engineering.

Jen: What was your experience as founding members of the Deli & Herb Weisberg Israel Advocacy Leadership Circle?

Seth: Leading up to our cohort's trip to Israel, we had extensive Israel education, including talks from various speakers. We worked on projects covering different types of issues faced by Israelis. The trip to Israel itself was intense, filled with diverse perspectives and visits to places like the West Bank. It allowed us to form our own opinions on the conflict.

Ezra: In Israel, everyday was jam-packed with talks from people with diverse experiences. We visited the West Bank in a bulletproof bus and talked to settlers. We also visited an organization called Shorashim, where we spoke to both Jews and Palestinians. We went to Netiv HaAsara, right at the Gaza wall. The trip was intense but very informative, teaching us more about the conflict and allowing us to form our own opinions rather than imposing any particular view. That was really important.

Seth: Definitely. Israel is the Jewish state, but it's very diverse. Talking to people from all these different groups was eye-opening, helping us understand various perspectives.

Jen: Considering the program's intention to build you up as Jewish leaders, how do you feel it prepared you for your freshman year at college? 

Ezra: The trip was very impactful as it allowed me to form my own opinions, which I use every day. For instance, when I walk past the encampment or talk to someone from there, or even when I talk to Jewish members of my fraternity who aren’t well-educated on these topics. Many of them are just Jewish by identity without much knowledge about Israel. Talking to them about these issues is a completely different experience. My Jewish education from Milken, camp, and other Jewish schools has given me a unique background that I can now utilize on a college campus. It’s made me confident to be a leader and set an example for others. 

Seth: I completely agree. My Jewish education and experiences have given me a strong sense of Jewish pride, which drives my beliefs and advocacy on campus. Being a part of the Israel Advocacy Leadership Circle helped me form my own opinions and educated me to speak eloquently about the issues. My pride in being Jewish, fostered by summer camp and Jewish school, along with the education from the program at Milken, motivates me to participate in counter-protests and advocate for Israel.

Jen: What have been some meaningful ways you've experienced and expressed your Jewish pride and practice outside of protests and encampments?

Seth: Throughout the year, not just in the past few weeks, both of us have been pretty involved in Jewish life on campus. We engage in Jewish life by attending Shabbat dinners, going to services, and participating in other Jewish activities. These events help us maintain our identity and stay connected with our community.

Ezra: Exactly. With the courage and confidence I mentioned earlier, one of my friends and I, both freshmen, led and organized multiple vigils, Havdalah services, and singing and dancing events with over 500 Jewish students. The first event was organized just by texting our friends and people from our fraternity the day of, and over 300 people showed up through word of mouth. Seeing that kind of turnout and support means a lot to me and others. It encourages more people to take a stand.

Jen: How does it feel being back on campus today as an alum of this program? What does it mean to you to share your experience with current students in the Israel Advocacy Leadership Circle? 

Seth: Like I was saying to the 11th graders, I find it very important to be a proud Jew and to support Israel while also reserving the right to criticize Israel when they do something wrong. Having an education that's purely pro-Israel doesn't facilitate that ability. Being an alum who was a part of this program gave me a more diverse and nuanced perspective on the issues. I feel confident enough to talk about it with well-respected people and those who hold different beliefs. I feel fortunate to have had that experience and to be able to share it today. I hope others can have similar experiences and share them too.

Ezra: From my perspective as a student, I always saw that Milken was big on alumni relations. Seeing it now from an alumni perspective, the connection is still there, and I feel happy and lucky to be here. Speaking with students about my experiences and what they might encounter in the future is meaningful. The outreach from Mr. Mankuta to everyone at my college was very kind. Knowing that people care means a lot. I'm grateful to be here sharing my experiences with a new generation of students who will hopefully see change on their campuses. It's important for them to understand the importance of being an active member of the Jewish community on campus.

Jen: What advice would you like to give to the class of 2024 upon their graduation?

Ezra: College is what you make of it. You're in a whole new situation with, for the most part, a new group of people. You can become a whole new person if you're ready for change. It's a great opportunity to meet new people from different perspectives. Be outgoing and be the person you want to be, because this is the time to make that person a reality.

Seth: Every school has incredible opportunities for their students, so make use of every single one. You're surrounded by so many new people, so meet as many as possible and branch out. It's on you to create a great experience for yourself.

Jen: Given the rise of anti-Semitism on college campuses nationwide, do you have any message you'd like to share with graduating students in this context?

Seth: Now that I’m at the end of my freshman year, a question I’ve been getting a lot is, "Did your high school prepare you well for college?". It's normally asked in an academic context, like it was asked to me about math the other day. And yes, I was prepared academically. But I think additionally I was prepared well to be a Jew on campus. I was prepared to advocate for what I believe in and I was given the resources to feel confident as a leader on my college campus. 

Ezra: The community here at Milken is incredible. There's so much love for everyone and so much gratitude and so much Jewish pride that when you step out of that world, without even knowing it, you're carrying that sentiment with you. You're carrying the values that you've been given here. Every single person I know from Milken is proud to be Jewish and has been at every single Jewish event showing their support for Israel and supporting other Jews. And, it's scary. It's a whole new place with new people. You don't know what you're going to face antisemitic wise or socially, but you have a community here throughout the whole thing. If you need anything, you reach out to people in this community. You reach out to your friends from Milken or teachers or administrators. You have a community here that's always supporting you and backing you up forever. We're here right now because this community supports us and backs us up and asks us to come in to talk to students about our experiences. Had we not had such a positive experience in high school and created those connections, we wouldn't be here now. 
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