Tremayne Smith has become a very outspoken advocate for Israel lately. His passion for American-Israeli relations from a political perspective began in college at East Carolina University, where he was the student body president. It came alive for him when he participated in Jewish National Fund’s Caravan for Democracy Student Leadership Mission in January of 2017.
The Caravan for Democracy Student Leadership Mission is a 10-day, fully subsidized educational program to Israel for non-Jewish student leaders who have never been there before. This exceptional trip enables students to explore Israel through meetings with political, cultural and community leaders from diverse backgrounds and faiths. Ideal candidates are American students who hold significant leadership positions in student government, ethnic and minority groups, LGBTQA groups, women’s groups, service groups and Greek life. They generally are sophomores, juniors or seniors at the time of travel.
“I was made aware of the Caravan for Democracy, and I thought this is like Birthright for us gentiles,” says Tremayne. “I applied not thinking I would get it because there are so many other people who I imagined were more involved or had more experience. I applied anyway because you miss 100% of the balls you don’t swing at.”
Tremayne was accepted as one of the few graduate students on the trip.
“I felt I could provide an entirely different perspective,” he says. “All the undergrads were fantastic students, very learned, one of the most intelligent groups of people from varied backgrounds that I ever have been a part of.”
He feels that the trip was a great sampling of Israel – geographically, culturally and sociologically. “We traveled from the Golan Heights and Haifa up north; down to Beersheba and Negev in the south; Masada, Jerusalem and of course Tel Aviv. We spoke with former members of the Knesset; we had dinner with Druze and Bedouins – it was a very good overview of the country.”
The more than 25 young adults on the trip became very close. “We are the future decision makers, future politicians. I am a future president,” says Tremayne, and he wasn’t joking. “We are the future. I am so grateful to JNF in investing in word and in deed; not to indoctrinate folks but to offer an opportunity to see it for yourself and come to your own conclusion, and then do something about it.”
When he returned, he discovered an anti-Israel BDS resolution had been submitted to the student senate. He was then enrolled at George Washington University and believed the resolution would pass due to the composition of the student body and the organization of the people behind it. His friends told him that he should attend the meeting and come out against the resolution.
“I reached out to a senator who was for the resolution,” says Tremayne. “I wanted to understand what his reason was. I was quickly told it was none of my concern. That lit the fire for me. As a fee and tuition-paying student, and as a new alum of Caravan for Democracy – it was my business.”
The night of the meeting was the same night he was defending his master’s thesis. “I ran to the senate meeting, and I got my two minutes to speak. I very forcefully came out against the resolution for a number of reasons. One, that it would not have the desired effect that they wanted. It was a one-sided hollow gesture and it was not anything that was right for our campus or the sake of peace in the long run,” says Tremayne. “Luckily, and with the help of a very strong, concerted effort, the resolution failed by one vote. Someone’s mind changed, I like to think I may have contributed to someone’s mind changing.”
It was from there that Tremayne realized the power in words and the power in sharing your experiences. Not talking at people, but to them. “That’s how I got involved with JNF, and I’ve been at it ever since May of 2017,” he says.
One of the most impactful moments of Tremayne’s trip to Israel happened at the Kotel. “My friend Caleb, whom I met at an AIPAC conference 10 years ago, is from California but has dual citizenship and went back to Israel for the IDF,” he explains. “We both went to the (Western) Wall. We put one arm around each other and touched the Wall with the other arm. There were so many reasons why both of us should not have been there together. You have this white, West Coast, Israeli who was praying in Hebrew with this black, Southern Christian praying in English, but we were both praying to the same God. For the same peace. That still gets me choked up. That was a moment that sort of put things in perspective. If we can somehow encapsulate this and multiply this.”
Tremayne’s is now special assistant to U.S. Rep. G. K. Butterfield, D-NC, chief deputy whip of the U.S. House of Representatives. Now that he has finished his master’s degree in political management, Tremayne is looking for ways to become more challenged; possibly working with nonprofits or in community building.
“There is still an opportunity to have meaningful dialogues in a goal towards peace,” he says. “But we have to get the right folks at the table to hammer these things out.”