Chloé Valdary sat down for a discussion about Zionism with Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia CEO Naomi Adler.
As evidenced by the 200 people who showed up to hear her speak at Temple Sinai in Dresher on Nov. 19, Chloé Valdary knows how to get the attention of Jewish audiences.
As she should: The 22-year-old is the pre-eminent black female voice in the Zionist movement.
Valdary was in town to discuss with Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia CEO Naomi Adler how the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement is hurting Israel — and what people can do about it here and on college campuses.
Valdary, 22, is not Jewish — her family belongs to the Seventh Day Sabbatarian Christian Intercontinental Church of God — although as she grew up in New Orleans, she kept kosher, studied the Bible and celebrated Jewish holidays as part of her family’s religion. She attended elementary school with several Jewish kids, but despite their common religious practices, she didn’t feel a personal connection to Jews.
That changed in her freshman year of high school, when she watched the film Freedom Writers, where a high school teacher uses the Holocaust to educate her minority students about discrimination in their own lives.
“I was mesmerized by this idea of the fighting Jew,” she told the Jewish Exponent in a phone interview.
She was a typical teenager until her sophomore year, when her views on Judaism and Zionism changed after reading Exodus and The Town Beyond the Wall.
At the University of New Orleans, her pro-Israel activism grew. She majored in film, but eventually changed it to international politics because of her infatuation with Israel.
In 2012, she created the nonprofit organization, Allies of Israel. As a result of her work, she was named one of the top 100 people positively affecting Jewish and Israeli life in the Algemeiner’s inaugural celebration of this category.
She believes Zionism has nothing to do with the conflict, and that “Israel is really the manifestation of this idea that the Jewish people have something to say. Zionism is fundamentally a love story between a people and its world,” she said.
“It’s important to rise above the persecution,” Valdary said. “I think the story is not only powerful and moving for the Jews, but it has potential to inspire millions of people around the world.”
Valdary said it’s interesting how the Students for Justice in Palestine describe BDS as a social justice movement trying to bring freedom to Palestinians from the evil Israeli government. She even compared BDS proponents to the Nazis, because they both believe Jews hurt their existence.
“We, on the other hand, say BDS is racist and anti-Semitic,” she said.
As an Israel advocate, it is her goal to discover what works and what doesn’t.
In November, she began a nine-month Bartley Fellowship with the Wall Street Journal, where she is studying the BDS movement. She wants to use that experience and others to eventually build a multimedia company dedicated to telling the Jewish story to young adults.
“I think the majority of America is becoming more and more indifferent,” she said referring to Israel and BDS. “It’s a problem — but a fixable problem.”
Adam Wohlberg, the rabbi at Temple Sinai, said he first saw Valdary two years ago in a video and was quite impressed with her activism.
“Just looking at her, I would not expect her to be Zionistic,” the rabbi said. “I think it was remarkable how eloquently she spoke about how we can share the story of Israel and how we can impact people.”
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