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"Every Jewish student is an ambassador for Israel, but she is the Ambassador." Such was the introduction Wednesday night for Gabrielle Nejad at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
The 17-year-old high school student is in Israel for seven days after winning the Jewish Free School's (JFS) "Ambassador" contest, modeled after the hit Israel television show by the same name (HaShagrir in Hebrew).
On the show, which premiered last year, contestants vied for a job at the New York-based non-profit group Israel at Heart, which promotes Israel's image in the US.
Eytan Schwartz, an American-born Israeli, won the coveted position, beating finalists Mehereta Baruch and Zvicka Deutsch.
In the JFS's version, students from the school fought to win a one-week trip to Israel and an internship at the Israeli embassy in Britain.
This trip is Nejad's second to Israel; her first was with the B'nei Akiva youth movement's Israel Tour.
Nejad spoke about the Ambassador program to about 25 members of the Anglo Israeli community who work in fields related to Israeli advocacy.
"For me, being an ambassador means being able to effect change in others," Nejad told the group.
That's something she feels better equipped to do now, having gone through the trials of the competition, which included debates and public speaking challenges as well as chances to learn about Israel from experienced advocates.
"I've never been afraid of speaking my mind," Nejad said of her reasons for entering the competition.
And after being named JFS's Ambassador, Nejad said she now feels that as well as her passion, she has the facts to advocate for Israel properly.
The Ambassador contest was organized by the JFS along with United Synagogue's TRIBE, and Stand With US, an American Israel advocacy group.
The program was designed to better prepare UK Jewish youth to fight the growing anti-Israel and anti-Semitic sentiment on their campuses.
Nejad wholeheartedly supports the aim of the Ambassador program: "In today's world, anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism have never been so apparent and acceptable, so campus preparation is especially important."
Michael Dickson, director of Jewish Informal Education at JFS, called the situation on campuses "dire," and claimed it is not being addressed properly.
Dickson spoke about the need to give UK students "the tools they need to advocate for Israel."
Shannon Shibata of Stand With Us addressed many of the same points: "We have to invest in the next generation because they are the future of this," he said.
As Nejad addressed the group, the student confidently affirmed the program's success. "I've now got a responsibility to my peers, my community and my country... The program instilled a sense of pride in our country. We can now stand up for [Israel] in a coherent way that we know will be heard."
Nejad plans to come to Israel for a year after she finishes high school. And while she mentioned the possibility of staying to study in a Israel, "realistically," she said, "I'll probably finish university in Britain."
But she still dreams of making aliya.
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