Udi Asaraf shares picture of real life in Israel
Udi Asaraf says he isn't easily offended and encourages people of all ages to ask him any question they wish. As a volunteer with Stand With Us, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that focuses on Israel education, he is working with local middle and high schools to diminish hatred toward Israeli people.
The Jewish Federation of Greater Portland is partnering with Stand With Us to have Asaraf speak with local teens with hope he can provide them with a more true perspective of life in Israel. "I visit schools for discussion and conversation," Asaraf said. "I want to debunk claims against Israel." He says Americans often form their opinions on short news snippets of information, and have little or no knowledge of what life is like in Israel. He is extremely informed about issues in the Middle East, and can talk about Israeli society, culture including music, dance, food, service in the military and education, similarities and differences in life for American and Israeli teens, as well as Israel's relationships with its Arab neighbors, particularly the Palestinians.
Now 27, Asaraf was born and grew up in Netivot, a small town in southern Israel, which is located just nine miles from the Gaza Strip. He is the second of four children, and comes from a traditional Mizrachi family. (Mizrachi is the term for Jews who came to Israel after many centuries living in Arab countries.) His father was born in Morocco, and retired from working for the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). His mother is a teacher and was born in Israel to Moroccan immigrants.
After high school, Asaraf joined an IDF program that gave him the opportunity to complete his bachelor's degree in chemical engineering. While studying for his chemical engineering degree, Asaraf taught physics, mathematics, English and chemistry at several high schools.
After receiving his degree in chemical engineering he was commissioned as an officer in the IDF. As an officer, he served as an engineer in the Negev Research Center in southern Israel. During his military service he also completed a master's degree in energy engineering.
Asaraf has been a long-time volunteer tutor at the nonprofit organization Tzeva, where he worked with children who face challenging social backgrounds. He found himself drawn to politics and to educating people about the State of Israel, Palestinians and all other people of the regions. He says many people are too shy to ask questions, but he encourages them
"I encourage people to ask any questions," he said. "Israelis are not easily offended, so you can ask whatever you like. Ask questions and do your own research."
In school presentations Asaraf shares his personal story and presents many facts that are not in dispute. He also shares his opinions, but makes it clear they are his opinions. He delivers as fair a presentation that is factual and free from bias as possible.
He aims to help students gain perspective and think for themselves, in hopes of a more peaceful and prosperous future in the Middle East for Israelis, Palestinians and all other people in the region.
"I'm here to educate and invite you to come and see for yourself (what life is like in Israel)," he said. "I like to say I learn from all my teachers, but from my students I learn everything."