December 27, 2017

GOA Students Attend OSS Press Conference

Sam Russo '18

I don’t usually walk into empty lobbies of strange buildings in New York City. On the off chance that I do that, I even less frequently walk up to the security desk and say a name. After that happens, I am never ever pointed to the elevator and told to go to the 33rd floor, where I find a major-general of the Israel Defense Forces and a British colonel.
But that’s exactly what happened to six other GOA students and me last month.
At the invitation of Our Soldiers Speak and its founder and director, Benjamin Anthony, I asked The Flame to invite some of its interested writers editors to a press conference. I let the editors-in-chief know the scant details I had: we would have the opportunity to meet with Major-General Avshalom Peled, the head of Israel’s Police Training Academy, and Colonel Richard Kemp, former commander of the British force in Afghanistan, on the morning of November 5 to discuss how to combat lone-wolf terrorism. All of the other details, from the location of the event to the other attendees were undisclosed.
Naturally, I was excited when hours before the event, I found an email on my phone telling me to go to the 33rd floor of a building on 51st Street between Fifth Street and Sixth Street. I was excited but also a little bit nervous–I was going to lead six of my peers into an unknown building to meet with two military officers.
Early that morning, Gidi Fox, Sam Lurie, Theo Deitz-Green, Nina Robins, Jacob Bier, Sophie Goldman and I took a train to New York City. As I manipulated Google Maps on my phone, we searched through the city’s streets for the building. After checking the number of almost every building we walked by, we finally approached an imposing glass and steel edifice with the name of a major company printed on the doors.
With encouragement from the other students, I reluctantly pulled back the heavy door to reveal a dark lobby, empty save one security guard. Together, the seven of us walked towards his desk, and he asked our names. We each gave ours in turn, but he offered nothing in response, instead looking more closely at a list in front of him. I tried, stuttering, to explain to him who we were and what we were doing there, and only once I blurted out the name “Benjamin,” did he let us upstairs.
There, on the 33rd floor, we faced another set of heavy, intimidating glass doors. After again summoning up the courage to open them, we were greeted by the two military officers and a few other students. Once we met them, much of the secrecy and formality that had surrounded the press conference faded away, leaving us to comfortably speak with two remarkably intelligent and well informed men. The details of our rewarding interview can be found in other articles in this edition of The Flame.
Despite all of the incredible information and ideas the officers offered, the most meaningful part of the press conference for me came at the end, when Kemp said, “I really admire and respect and appreciate what you guys are doing.”
It made me and the other young journalists in the room feel important and empowered. Rather than treating us like little kids, Kemp appreciated our interest in him, Israel and journalism and encouraged us to continue with these passions. Peled echoed this idea and reminded us, as young Jews, of our enduring connection to Israel and the Jewish people.

“I would like to say that I am really impressed by you.” he said. “[You] are the future of the Jewish people, of the Jewish nation… Even though you are here, you are part of Israel… We have the same fathers and mothers.”

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