By Orrin Konheim
Special to WJW
Naomi Grant, 24, is a Modern Orthodox Jew living in Washington, D.C. After graduating from the University of Maryland, she landed a job where she could put her love of Israel to work — as communications director for the think tank Endowment for Middle East Truth
WJW: Tell me about your Jewish upbringing.
NG: I’d say Reform-slash-traditional. I grew up Reform, but my family was more traditional than secular.
WJW: So what kept you Jewish growing up?
NG: It’s a ready-made community, which is really nice. It was just a given that I was going to get involved with Hillel, like I never thought about it. And after graduating college, looking back, I’m not sure how I would have made friends if I didn’t have the Jewish community.
WJW: Did you go to college specifically seeking out a Hillel?
NG: I started out as a journalism major, so I just Googled best journalism programs in the U.S., and after that I looked at the Jewish populations of school, and Maryland [happened to have both those things] and I liked that Maryland was near a big city but not in a big city.
WJW: So what was your big goal going out of college?
NG: I don’t think I had a dream job in mind. When I graduated, I was originally doing sales for a software company but I found a much better fit at EMET. Surprisingly, the thing I used most was the journalism experience I got from writing for the student newspaper that I already used my academic studies.
WJW: There are many Jewish organizations vying for the public’s attention. When you host webinars, what makes yours stand out?
NG: Our webinars are often, but not always, on a pretty specific subject. In the past couple months, the UN has had a continuing Commission of Inquiry concerning Israel, which we consider to be anti-Israel. We hosted a webinar about the inquiry and our speaker led the audiences on very concrete steps on how we can fight back and explained why this inquiry is unlike any the UN has had.
WJW: What do you think truth means and how do you know EMET has it?
NG: Because we can back up everything we’re doing with hard facts.
WJW: Israel seems to be a heavy topic in policy debates. Is it really a challenge to get Israel on the radar?
NG: I don’t think it’s a challenge to get Israel on the radar. It’s a challenge to get actual facts about Israel on the radar.
WJW: Do you think visiting Israel itself will bring more truth to the travelers?
NG: I think it’s really important. But a lot of universities have trips for non-Jewish student leaders to go to Israel. I think it’s really important for non-Jews to understand what is actually going on in Israel. Unfortunately, it very rarely makes news that the Arab citizens of Israel enjoy a higher quality of life than virtually anywhere else.
WJW: Do you think these trips are without bias?
NG: I really hate when people think that Birthright is supposed to be even-handed. Birthright has never purported to be a trip about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The purpose of Birthright is to connect Jews with their Jewish heritage. So that is not a good way to learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
WJW: When did you first go to Israel and how many times have you been back?
NG: My first trip to Israel was the second semester of my sophomore year with an organization called NFTY-EIE [now called URJ Heller High School] on a kibbutz. We had a three-hour Jewish class every day. That semester taught me about Israel and Judaism and it was a ton of fun and a really good life experience. I’ve been back four times since then.
WJW: Have you been there professionally on behalf of EMET?
NG: I started working at EMET during COVID so it’s been very difficult, but maybe in the future. I think it would be really cool to meet with Israeli Arabs. I think it would be nice to meet them again to enhance our conversations with Capitol Hill staffers. We can get it on camera and we can say “this is what things are actually like on the ground.” And then, of course, some free time at the beach in Caesarea.