Amid the ongoing crisis in Gaza, J Street Philadelphia was one of a number of J Street chapters to participate in community rallies in solidarity with Israel. We sat down with new local chair Phyllis Snyder about what the chapter is doing to support a two-state solution in the Philadelphia community. Check out our interview with Phyllis, one of J Street’s newest local leaders:
J Street: What drew you to J Street?
Phyllis: My connection to Judaism has always been tremendously important to me and I’ve always been very involved in Jewish community life. I’ve held a number of leadership roles in my synagogue congregation and am committed to the need for Israel as a haven for the Jewish people. I joined J Street because I feel very strongly that Israel’s future depends on a two-state solution and peace with the Palestinians.
I’m constantly inspired by what J Street is doing in the middle of all this chaos. And–as an educator by training–I’m especially impressed by the leaders at J Street U. I remember meeting J Street U students at the last [national] conference, while waiting in line to see [Vice President] Joe Biden. I was so impressed by their passion and dedication. It’s critical that we bring in this next generation of leaders.
J Street: What drove you to take on this new leadership role now?
Phyllis: I had been involved with J Street for about three years and felt that I could really make a difference. And I’m at a point in my life when I have more time to take on a cause that I’m very passionate about. Fortunately I have some terrific advisers in the chapter–like Irl Barg and Steve Masters. It makes a huge difference to have their support and years of experience.
J Street: What has the chapter been doing during the current crisis in Gaza?
Phyllis: Obviously it’s a really difficult time, but J Street is doing important work. I actually just spoke with friends living outside of Tel Aviv and they’re very aware of what we’re doing. They said, if they were in America, they would be involved with J Street.
We were proud to co-sponsor the Israel solidarity rally last week. We came out in numbers and brought our own signs. It’s true that we don’t agree with everything that the establishment here says and does, but we stand with Israel. It was important that people saw us there, that we are working hard for Israel and for peace. We may not all be proceeding in the same way, but our goal is the same. People have very visceral reactions when it comes to Israel and we know we can’t change everyone’s minds. We do have to work alongside each other and understand that the future of Israel is paramount to all of us.
J Street: What have been some of the challenges facing J Street Philly?
Phyllis: We have a wonderful chapter here in Philadelphia. However, there are still so many Jews in the area who agree with our positions, but who don’t know that there’s another way to be pro-Israel and who aren’t aware of what they can do to make their voices heard. We’re trying to bring in people who are leaning in our direction, but haven’t connected with what we are trying to do. We’re encouraging our core members to host house parties and events at their synagogues to bring new people in. It’s important to raise our visibility, and let people know that they have a home with J Street.
And of course, the Philadelphia community is particularly challenging. It’s quite broad and dispersed across the region. We’re working to educate the community, so that they know where we stand and that we are working from a very Jewish and pro-Israel perspective. We want to strengthen our community’s conversation about Israel.
J Street: What motivates you to work for a two-state solution?
Phyllis: It’s very clear that unless we are able to get the parties talking again and working toward a two-state solution, they’re going to be fighting again very soon.