I just returned home from a wonderful weekend in Chicago with close to 20 Indiana University Hillel students who were on our past Birthright Israel: Hillel, Indiana University trips. Thanks to our special partnership with Stand With Us, we were able to offer a Birthright Israel Reunion Weekend in Chicago. On Saturday, students were inspired about Israel advocacy through two thought-provoking sessions. Stand With Us offered a presentation about the anti-Israel climate on college campuses across the country and in the second session, our Jewish Agency for Israel Fellow discussed his connection to Israel and our campus’ Israel programming.
On the heels of this powerful weekend, I am especially saddened and confused by David Axelrod’s opinion piece in the Times of Israel, “Indiana U Hillel Shuts Down Zionist Effort.” Mr. Axelrod takes a minor incident that happened two months ago, describes it inaccurately and extrapolates from this exaggerated description an inaccurate picture of Jewish life on our campus.
Unfortunately, the messages that were chalked on the campus sidewalks were misconstrued and misunderstood by some students and faculty. We received feedback that some people mistakenly thought that the chalkings were anti-Semitic and others felt that there were more productive ways to express our love and support for Israel. IU Hillel strongly encourages students to express their love and support for Israel in a variety of ways, including joining one of our pro-Israel student groups, attending our many pro-Israel programs and/or working with our Jewish Agency for Israel Fellow.
In addition, our strong Israel agenda can be seen in the many programs that we offer such as our Business and the Israel Connection course taught at Hillel by our Hillel staff in conjunction with Jewish Studies. We have an annual celebration of Israeli life and culture, Israelpalooza. Last April we partnered with Students Supporting Israel (SSI) to bring Israelpalooza: Declare Your Freedom to campus. SSI received an award for this powerful pro-Israel program. Over the next 3 weeks, we are hosting four powerful Israel programs starting with Hoosiers for Israel Day, a “Pro- Israel, Pro-Peace Gathering” this coming Wednesday with special guest Benjamin Pogrund, followed by a talk, “Israel: Tiny Nation, Leading Innovator and Global Contributor” by Dr. Steve Malter. Next week students will enjoy an Ethiopian Shabbat Dinner and learn about Yahel: an Israel Service Learning Program and Israel Internship opportunities with the Ethiopian community. Shortly after this, we are hosting the film screening of Brave Miss World, in conjunction with the five predominantly Jewish Greek chapters on our campus, the story of Miss Israel, later crowned Miss World who uses her personal story to explore the stigma surrounding rape and sexual assault—a very important topic on the college campuses currently. Next we are bringing comedian Benji Lovitt to campus from Israel.
We should not be measuring Indiana University’s support for Israel in chalk. Having been on campus for 26 years, I know that we take a very strong pro-Israel stance and that IU Hillel has always spoken out against anti-Semitism anytime it is promulgated on our campus.
Indiana University Hillel has been recognized, both on campus and nationally, as a leader in ensuring that our campus is free from anti-Semitism. Indiana University President, Michael A. McRobbie was the first Big Ten University President to suspend IU’s membership from the American Studies Association when they boycotted Israeli universities and strongly spoke out against the ASA. He was given the Haver Award by IU Hillel last year to recognize him for his strong positive stance on Israel. In addition, IU Hillel was awarded the Schreck Community Award by the IU Dean of Students Office for our leadership in promoting diversity, fighting against anti-Semitism and being a leader on campus. I was invited to the White House by former President Clinton in recognition of the work that I have done to promote diversity and fight racism and anti-Semitism.
Ironically, just this past week, we hosted a program: “A Lie that Went Viral, The Origins of the Blood Libel” with special guest speaker Dr. Emily Rose. She explored the roots of the myth of the blood libel and how lies can be promulgated and lead to hatred and anti-Semitism. We brought this program to campus because of our commitment to learning about medieval anti-Semitism in order to better understand and fight against modern anti-Semitism. These are only a few examples of the strong stance that we at IU Hillel take in support of Israel and against anti- Semitism or any form of hate.
Indiana University Hillel has always encouraged our students to proudly and loudly express our support for Israel and our love for Judaism and the Jewish community. We have also encouraged students to appreciate diversity and to stand up for what they believe. The impact we are having on students cannot be washed away by the next rainstorm.