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Expanding a Jewish Presence on College Campuses

Israel Fellows will Help Students on 70 North American Campuses

By: Joshua Berkman
Published: September 28th, 2012 in News » World
Studying Torah
The Jewish Agency for Israel has bolstered the ranks of its campus emissaries for the 2012-2013 academic year. There are now 56 Israel Fellows on 70 North American campuses (including five in Canada), up from 50 Fellows last year. Trained and recruited by The Jewish Agency, these fellows help students connect to the Jewish State and respond to anti-Israel activity.

On campus, Jewish Agency Israel Fellows to Hillel function as Hillel staffers. They inspire individual students to connect to Israel and recruit them to participate in Israel experiences, including Birthright Israel and many longer-term programs affiliated with The Jewish Agency’s Masa initiative. Once students return from Israel, fellows keeps them engaged. And they empower the students to organize and lead Israel-based programming on campus.

Launched in 2003, during the aftermath of the second intifada, this strategic partnership between The Jewish Agency and Hillel’s national organization has created a multi-faceted Israel engagement campaign through the entire Hillel system. The environment for Jewish students on campus is becoming increasingly difficult. The anti-Israel sentiment has gone mainstream, which deters many Jewish students from indentifying with Judaism in a proud and public way. As a result, many motivated and informed students—including those who do travel to Israel—quickly lose their resolve to speak up when Israel comes under attack.

“These students and their connection to Israel are essential to our vibrant Jewish future,” said Ronen Weiss, The Jewish Agency’s national Hillel emissary.

As anti-Israel groups have built momentum on campus and hostile faculty members have found greater acceptance campus-wide, the number of Israel fellows has grown steadily from six emissaries in 2003 to more than 50 today.

Typically, Israel Fellows are charismatic young professionals in their late 20s, and they are highly-skilled at presenting modern Israel through the lens of its socially progressive values and its accomplishments in technology, life sciences and the arts. The Jewish Agency has trained the Fellows to work with students in a supportive fashion and to help them grapple with complex issues and realities that are often emotional and may seem contradictory.

“Jewish students need to be engaged with Israel through the vitality and appeal of their young Israeli peers,” Weiss said. “By focusing on social engagement, we can foster in these students a sense of pride and passion in their connection to the Jewish people.”

In the past year, Israel Fellows have empowered students to organize against calls for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel (BDS); they have mobilized student-led responses to campus visits by hostile speakers; and they have successfully advocated for the reinstatement of Israeli universities on rosters of approved study abroad options. The Fellows also led volunteer delegations to the developing world and played a key leadership role in Talk Israel, a nationwide initiative where centrally-located tents popped up on dozens of campuses. Inside these tents, Jewish students—as well as non-Jews—hosted programs that showcased Israel’s contemporary culture.

Campuses where students are now working with Jewish Agency Israel Fellows to Hillel for the first time include: University of Michigan, University of Virginia, University of Connecticut, University of Pittsburgh, University of Cincinnati, Johns Hopkins, Yale, Washington University, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, University of Nevada-Las Vegas, Virginia Tech and Queens University of Canada.

Related articles: Jewish, College, University, Israel, Fellowships, Students, North America, Campus
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