How did The Orange County Register find out about you? I was nominated by my high school. I did an application, which involved writing an essay and submitting a resume of my accomplishments.
How did you become interested in working on behalf of Israel?
I had been apathetic about the Arab-Israeli conflict. I went to Ambassador Michael Oren’s speech at UCI in 2010. It was a riotous, ugly event. My grandparents arranged a meeting with the local director of AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee). The rubber met the road when I reached out to AIPAC. I went to local events, then the high school summit in Washington, then a college-level seminar and then the student speakers bureau. I’ve been in Washington for AIPAC six times. Then my parents got involved in AIPAC too.
What else have you done on Israel’s behalf? Everything stemmed from the exposure to AIPAC. I found out what I really cared about. I got more involved in Israel advocacy. Last year I launched a local campaign that gathered more than 1,500 signatures calling on members of Congress to pass the 2011 Foreign Aid Appropriations Bill. I hand-delivered the signatures to four members of Congress.
What other Jewish activities do you do? I found a group of friends at my first (Bureau of Jewish Education) TALIT event and decided I wanted to go back. I went to Camp Hilltop for five years and was a counselor there last year. I am a camp counselor at Temple Beth Sholom this summer, and I was president of the youth group (there). I like the social and cultural aspects of Judaism, as well as the political.
What do you do for fun? I play guitar and go to movies with my friends.
What’s next? I’m going to the University of Pennsylvania in the fall. I expect to major in international relations and economics. Then I want to go to law school and go into politics or diplomacy.
How did you choose Penn? I wanted an Ivy League education with a fun campus and a good Jewish environment.
Have you been to Israel? I’m hoping to go there this winter break or as soon as possible. I care about Israel so much before going. I want to see the country for myself. I’m just waiting for the opportunity.
How will you change the world? I often dream of being a senator or the secretary of state, which would allow me the power necessary to create this positive political change. To me, “peace” is not simply a buzzword, but rather a tangible and necessary goal. I want to bring an end to oppressive regimes that sacrifice the well-being of their citizenry in the name of wealth and power. I want to help create a less tense Middle East, where the acceptance of Israel’s right to exist is accompanied by normalized relations between countries.
About Justin Taleisnik
GPA 4.8; SAT 2330; National
AP Scholar with Honors
National Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership Award
Tustin Community Foundation Award of Excellence
Founder and President, Orange County Teens Advocating for Israel
Why he was selected:
“a natural leader, engaging hundreds of students in his community and across the country in the political process”
About the Competition
The Orange County Register’s second annual report on the top graduates of 2012 chose ten top graduates and eight honorable-mention graduates from an ultra-competitive pool of nominees who have “a selfless commitment to figuring out not what they can take from the world, but how they can use their talents and skills to give back to it” and “whose drive and ambition will help them lead and inspire thousands, perhaps millions, in their lifetime.”