Avery Litwin has been busy since she started attending Shady Side Academy two years ago.
Litwin, 16, studies multiple languages — French for the past 12 years and German for six — helps lead Shady Side Academy’s Model U.N. and International Club, and serves on the student council. During her free time, she volunteers at the Friendship Circle of Pittsburgh, loves eating at Mercurio’s and watches Michigan football.
The Fox Chapel teen recently added another line to her growing resume when StandWithUs, an educational group that supports Israel and fights antisemitism, named her as one of six area students participating in the 2023-24 Kenneth Leventhal High School Internship. The internship, which was launched for student leaders 12 years ago, runs for two semesters for a select group of high school juniors and seniors.
“I am excited to learn how to effectively bring awareness and education to my school and to Pittsburgh at large about antisemitism, in order to minimize it,” Litwin, who is Jewish, told the Chronicle.
The interns will join hundreds of others from high schools and universities throughout North America and SWU chapters worldwide, officials said.
SWU, now in its 22nd year, created the internship “to formalize a growing network of Zionist students who proudly educate their peers about Israel and stand firmly against antisemitism,” officials said.
SWU runs campus and high school chapters throughout the U.S., Canada, in Israel, the U.K., Brazil, South Africa and the Netherlands.
Longtime Israel advocate Julie Paris, a Pittsburgher who serves as SWU’s Mid-Atlantic regional director, believes Jewish and pro-Israel students “are facing a crisis today at their schools and in their communities as antisemitism rises.”
“This year, there was an increase in the number of students who reported being victimized by antisemitic incidents,” Paris said.
“More students are reporting that they are made to feel isolated because of their religious or national identity,” she continued. “Our programs aim to give students the tools, education and support they need to participate in their schools and communities confidently and fully while proudly expressing core parts of their identity, including their Zionism.”
Litwin admits she was a little nervous before attending her first SWU conference, a weeklong affair, in August in Los Angeles.
“I didn’t know any of the other students who would be attending,” Litwin said. “It turned out to be an amazing experience. It was empowering to meet students from all over the U.S. and Canada who were passionate about fighting antisemitism and learning about their Jewish identity.”
Litwin will join Leventhal interns in a second SWU conference, “Israel in Focus,” from Feb. 29 to March 3 in Los Angeles. The conference is open to both student leaders and community members.
Litwin, who moved to Pittsburgh from Portland, Oregon, considers herself lucky to already have experienced Israel first-hand. Her family and friends visited the Jewish state in December, and her sister became a bat mitzvah at the Western Wall. (Litwin had a Zoom-based virtual bat mitzvah during the pandemic.)
“It was fascinating to hear from our non-Jewish friends who traveled with us that Israel was not like what they see portrayed in the American news,” she said. “I realized that it is important to fight antisemitic disinformation.” PJC
Justin Vellucci is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh.