300 Israeli American students. 94 campuses. 72 hours.
Last weekend, IAC’s college program, Mishelanu, hosted its second annual national conference in Los Angeles, California. Students arrived on Friday and were greeted by a creatively designed wall where they could write what Mishelanu meant to them, what being Israeli-American meant to them, and how Mishelanu inspired them. 300 collective thoughts and ideas were written and posted on the wall and served as inspiration and motivation through out the weekend.
There were a plethora of sessions about campus outreach, technology, culture, social media, and of course Israel.
The first morning of the conference kicked off with different workshops, some of which rotated through out the day, so students would have a chance to gain skills from each.
The first session I attended was titled What Would You Do? in regards to the serious anti-Israel activity on campuses today that creates many challenges for Jewish-Israeli students. Students were divided into groups and given theoretical situations where they would encounter anti-Israel challenges in different ways and had to strategize on how to act. Additionally, there was a panel of representatives from different pro-Israel organizations such as StandWithUs, ICC, and SSI. CAMERA and the Jewish Agency Israel Fellows that provided advice and feedback.
Many things were discussed, but some of the notable things I learned is that it is important to know your student government’s constitution so that you can know what is permitted for them to do and what is not. Another effective tool is for students to table, not only at the regular spots and school fairs, but also in other central places where they can make a lasting impression. When one of the representatives spoke about how coalitions between clubs on campus are a key to strengthening our cause Mishelanu’s National Director Nathalie Landesman asked me to speak about a successful event my Mishelanu club at Yeshiva University hosted regarding Jewish refugees from Arab Lands in the 20th century. Although we do not have SJP or BDS resolutions on our campus it was still important for us to maintain a connection to our past and our roots and is even all the more so vital on campuses that do have those who will try to delegitimize our identity and heritage.
The IAC, having a special connection with the IDC in Herzliya, brought the fantastic crew from the IDC Situation Room, Yarden Ben Yosef, Gur Yalon, Danielle Israel, and Yael Zur to teach students how to effectively combat anti-Israel sentiment online by creating unique videos, info graphics, hashtags, and campaigns to address mock news headlines. One of the coolest features of this exercise was not only that could you create a virtual campaign, but target it at specific audiences worldwide and then track its effectiveness on the desired how population.
Former Ambassador of Israel to the United Nations Ron Proser, who ended his four year term this past Fall, joined IDC’s faculty in January as the Abba Eban Chair of International Diplomacy and delivered the opening remarks before students were shown the mock headlines read by Israeli news anchor Michal Divon. The Situation Room, in partnership with Sheldon Adelson’s Maccabee Academy, continued to travel to UC campuses after our conference to promote their project and teach other students how to become effective advocates for truth. The technology they use is incredibly precise, surreally realistic, and beautifully orchestrated; it gave me a real hands on experience of what Israel goes through every day in the media and how I can make a positive difference.
Philippe Assouline, Ph.D. candidate in International Relations and Political science at UCLA, delivered his presentation on the Science of Mass Persuasion with unapologetic wit and an incredibly down to earth humor. Philippe taught us how to make Israel connect and relatable with and to others. While the Palestinians and SJP use false propaganda and out of context images that evoke human compassion wrongfully we must make people see the truth of the matter. He showed us his effective campaigns created to contrast the compassion of Israel with the brutality of Hamas and Syria and stressed that advocacy is not just online or in Hasbara, but in genuine people to people relations; we must show the world the truths of who we are in spite of the constant vicious falsehoods that circulate.
As someone who understands the importance of a strong positive social media presence and identity, I was curious as to how I could further develop myself and my message to the world. Noa Jensch explained that even if we do not think we have a “brand,” anything we post, are interested in, attend, and surround ourselves with by definition creates our brand — we just need to be aware of ourselves and refine the message we give. Noa taught us to promote our accomplishments and be proud of our achievements so that we can move forward to even more opportunity in the future.
After lunch, the second plenary commenced and we heard from a Masa representative about the endless opportunities students have to intern in Israel for several months or even a gap year. Later on the first pro-Israel advocacy app Talk Israel was introduced by its innovative creators Dr. Amir Givon and Gadi Rouache. The app, a not for profit initiative, allows users to filter information they receive based off their interests and is changing the ways pro-Israel content is consumed and shared, allowing advocates to broaden their reach and measure their impact like never before.
To close off the plenary, Matan Katzman, a former Israeli soldier, came to the stage and captivated the audience with his story and motivation to start My Truth — האמת שלי a non profit organization that aims to spread the true stories of those who served in the IDF and truths of Israel’s morality. Matan constantly speaks out in interviews and online defending the IDF and Israel; he even presented the cause at the European Parliament Human Rights Committee and did so with love and pride for our homeland.
At the end of full day of sessions and plenaries, we sat down for an awesome Israeli dinner complete with falafel and shwarma, and heard strengthening words from IAC’s chairman Adam Milstein and CEO Shoham Nicolet. A panel of students came onto the stage and shared what being Israeli-American represented and their involvement in Mishelanu, followed by the Student of Year award.
As dinner concluded the real party started. The extremely talented Israeli singer and actor Tsahi HaLevi, (Bethlehem, Fauda), joined us on stage and created an amazingly laid back and comfortable environment, bringing us all closer together. We sang beloved songs, watched clips of his movies, and dance the night away. (I have to admit that post conference, I spent 2 whole days watching the entire first season of Fauda and am in endless suspense until the second season starts.)
Sunday was short and sweet. To open up the morning, students divided into teams and brainstormed their biggest challenges on campus and gave feedback on how we can improve and where we see Mishelanu in the next few years. We were also privy to hear once again from Adam Milstein and Shoham Nicolet about Mishelanu, BDS, and the future of our communities. This was the last part of our amazing conference, before 300 of us gathered together, *group hug* to take a group photo (which I am still trying to locate!)
After 3 days we left LA with new friends, new skills, and new inspiration to take back to campuses.
Each region has its own unique strengths, challenges, and programming, but the national conference brings us all together to learn from each other and collaborate. Next year I will be at the IDC (yes, with the Situation Room team!) pursuing a degree in Diplomacy and Conflict Studies so my attendance at the 3rd national conference is still undecided, but I am forever grateful for what this conference has given me and the home Mishelanu continues to connect me to.
Click here for more information on Mishelanu’s mission, regions, and programming near YOU!