By Gordon Haas
After 5,000 rockets were launched at Israel this summer over a 50-day period, Jewish students on college campuses have experienced an increase in anti-Israel actions. Students for Justice in Palestine clubs are popping up everywhere and BDS resolutions are on the agenda and passing in some student governments. We don’t mean to sound the alarm bells, but we do mean to ensure that the students who live in Greater MetroWest are prepared to handle situations with which they might be confronted. Israel Apartheid Week (we refer to it as Hate Week) is taking place February 26-March 12 on some campuses in the U.S.
To this end, the CRC in coordination with the Israel Center and The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life organized Israel advocacy programs for both high school and college students this past weekend.
The Talk Israel Retreat for Jewish College Students in NJ brought together 50 students from Rutgers, Montclair State University, Drew University, Fairleigh Dickinson at Madison, and Kean University and five students from Israel. The programming focused on Israeli elections to teach how Israel operates as a democratic state. We looked at the system of government, minority voices, and influences from the outside – especially as it relates to security. We also provided leadership and advocacy training. The programs were run by Israel Experts and Hasbara Fellowships.
The highlight of the retreat was a private screening of “Beneath the Helmet: From High School to the Home Front” followed by a discussion with Lt. Eden Adler. Lt. Adler, who was featured in the movie, joined the students for the entire retreat, thanks to Jerusalem OnlineU. The retreat was funded by the generous contribution of the Cooperman Family Fund for a Jewish Future.
One of the accusations is that Israel is a militaristic state. This movie helps to humanize the IDF soldiers and to remind us that the Israeli soldiers are our sons and daughters. The students in the U.S. have the opportunity to on to college and also visit Israel through Birthright, while an Israeli at age 18 upon graduation from high school must serve in the army. It is mandatory.
On Sunday night, in competition with the Oscars, there was a community viewing of “Beneath the Helmet” at Kushner Academy. More than 310 people attended – many families came with teens. It was a wonderful program, and helped us to develop a relationship with the Kushner Israel club that meets every Friday to focus on advocacy. Prior to the movie many of the students had the opportunity to enjoy a pizza dinner with Lt. Adler. The program was co-sponsored with The Partnership for Jewish Learning and Life.
Lt. Adler also spoke at Kushner after the movie. He left the army so he could come to speak in the U.S. “I have one thing to ask you,” said Adler. “Protect me while I’m here in the U.S. and I will protect you in Israel. We are all part of the same army. I am proud to be Jewish and we are a Jewish army defending each other.”
In parallel to our efforts in NJ, our Write on For Israel students were visiting Israel, seeing and learning for themselves about the situation and issues Israel faces, which will help reinforce their advocacy work. Write on For Israel is a two-year Israel advocacy program for high school students to prepare them to be on the front lines of defense at college. Our CRC helps to raise the funds for 10 community members to participate in this stellar experience. The seniors’ blogs are on our home page.
Our aim is to provide students a balanced, productive, and well-thought-out advocacy experience to be well equipped to address situations on college campuses. Studies have shown that 70% of Americans do not really know much about Israel. If we stay focused on educating our young adults, through our personal stories and connections, we can best influence their understanding and ability to speak about Israel. In the CRC and Federation, our aim is to provide students with personal experiences that will inspire them to engage and speak up for Israel.