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March 28, 2014  RSS feed
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AIPAC honors ex-Palm Harbor resident as top advocate

By BOB FRYER Jewish Press

Samantha Greenberg, who now lives in Israel, shows off her award as AIPAC’s college campus “Advocate of the Year.” Samantha Greenberg, who now lives in Israel, shows off her award as AIPAC’s college campus “Advocate of the Year.” Growing up in Palm Harbor, Samantha Greenberg recalls discussions about the importance of Israel for the Jewish people at Temple Ahavat Shalom and around the Shabbat dinner table with her parents, Robyn and Bryan Greenberg.

But it was not until a Taglit Birthright trip in the summer of 2008 that she made a strong connection.

“I immediately fell in love [with Israel] and discovered my passion,” Samantha Greenberg said.

In the years since then, the connection has only grown stronger and recently culminated in her receiving the college campus “Advocate of the Year” award from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) during the recent AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC.

She won the award for starting the first AIPAC group for American students in Israel, as well as other achievements.

“I was shocked to find out there was no AIPAC activity for Americans spending time in Israel … Americans in Israel have a unique perspective on the conflict and first hand knowledge of events that take place in the region, which can provide knowledge and influence for current decision makers,” Greenberg said.

She started AIPAC at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya where she was studying in 2012, then expanded the initiative to reach out to other Americans in Israel, such as current IDF soldiers, students at other universities, students on gap years, career Israel, and young professionals.

“This (AIPAC) initiative is called Engaging Washington from Abroad,” Greenberg said.

She was delighted to win the AIPAC award, but doesn’t plan to rest on her laurels.

Greenberg envisions using active AIPAC members in Israel as young ambassadors when AIPAC brings influential groups to Israel. The ambassadors would serve as a liaison for American AIPAC groups “to gather information, ideas, or even send Israeli products to share on campuses during Israeli cultural events.” she said.

Greenberg, now 25, was a student studying anthropology at the University of Florida when she took her Birthright trip. She said she returned the next semester “with an entire different life course. I wanted more knowledge and understanding of Israel, so I signed up for Hebrew courses and chose my schedule to include as many Israel and Middle Eastern courses as possible.”

This was still not enough, so she signed up for Young Judaea’s Year Course program that offers college course credits for students who go to Israel for a year, learn Hebrew, study the culture and perform volunteer services.

When the Year Course was up, she decided to move to Israel and join the Israel Defense Force (IDF). They put her in a program that assists immigrants in making aliyah, recruits members to the IDF and arranges for lone soldiers — the term for IDF members who do not have relatives in Israel — to live on a Kibbutz during their service.

She lived on Kibbutz Hatzerim in Beer Sheva from 2010-2012. “The kibbutz is still socialistic, so I was very lucky for the opportunity to experience real kibbutz life,” Greenberg said.

There was some danger as well living on the kibbutz. Due to its location in southern Israel, “I experienced many rocket attacks from the Gaza Strip,” she said.

Because it was quite a run to the nearest bomb shelter, she wore tennis shoes or kept them by her bed when sleeping, and music could not be played loud so she could hear sirens warning of rocket attacks.

“In short, my daily life was affected by the attacks and I experienced for two years what Israelis have been dealing with since 2001,” she said.

She lived in the kibbutz with 18 other American immigrants who joined the IDF, she said, adding, “We all served in different places in the army, but came back to the kibbutz on off weekends and served as each other’s families. I also had an adoptive family on the kibbutz who was a great help in adapting to Israeli life.”

In the IDF, she was a liaison officer to the country of Jordan, serving at the Allenby Bridge where Palestinians can cross from Jordan into the West Bank. She delivered humanitarian aid to Gaza, Jenin, and Ramallah, led several Israeli-Jordanian delegations and worked with the United Nations Truce Supervision Organization. She also conducted research at Hebrew University on activities of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan.

“The relationship we had with the Jordanians was very personal and strong. I saw myself at that time becoming an advocate for Israel and the Middle East, so it was a great opportunity to serve in the Israeli army and work directly with an Arab country,” Greenberg said.

During her service, Greenberg met a group from Tampa at the Dead Sea and told of her experiences in Israel, on the kibbutz under rocket attacks, and her army experience. Among those on that trip was Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

In 2011, she attended the AIPAC Policy Conference and was asked to be a lobby representative for the Tampa delegation and explain to Congress her experience of living under rocket fire.

In 2012 Greenberg began studies at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC) in Herzliya and is currently a second year student in the Raphel Recanti International School, studying government diplomacy and strategy with a focus on counter-terrorism and the Middle East.

She is a regional ambassador for IDC and meets with influential people who visit the center. She is also an intern for the International Institute for Counter- Terrorism, where she conducts research on terrorists and terror groups and creates and updates terrorists’ profiles.

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