As anti-Israel protests are influencing leaders around the world and making their way across college campuses in the United States, it may seem as if it is a perilous time to stand with Israel. In Europe, the demonstrations are becoming increasingly violent. In the United States, pseudo-intellectual organizations attempt to delegitimize Israel from an academic angle. Even at New York University, a school with 6,000 Jewish students (many of whom have spent time in Israel, whether studying or on Birthright), this movement has popped its head up and made some noise. Here are some program ideas for college students who are looking to run activities on their college campuses to show the non-political side of Israel.
Two weeks ago, NYU’s cultural Israel club, Gesher, hosted a Get Back to Israel Fair. This fair, which had representatives from over 15 different internship, learning, and volunteer opportunities in Israel, was designed to promote the various programming that is available to college students in Israel during collegiate breaks and over the summer. Some of the programs included the Jewish National Fund’s Alternative Spring Break, World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms (WWOOF) in Israel, and the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. The programs were geared towards all students, irrespective of their religious level, their previous affinity with Israel, or the amount of time they have previously spent in the country.
Did you know that Israel has been nominated for more Academy Awards in Best Foreign Language Film than any other Middle Eastern country? Or that Israel has produced globally acclaimed theater? At the end of October, NYU’s Jewish theater troupe, Shmutz, hosted Israeli Stage, who preformed Anat Gov’s “Oh God.” This play showed a satirical look at God’s relationship with humanity. While bringing in a theater company might be out of budget for some Israel campus groups, film screenings are a great way to provide a little Israeli culture on campus without as much of the cost. Popular movies include Kazablan, Sallah Shabati and Footnote.
Israeli culture festivals are also fun, social events. A college Israel group can get very creative with this type of activity. Different clubs at the college or university can co-sponsor different elements of the fair. For example, a food club on campus can co-sponsor a table with Israeli food, a business club on campus can co-sponsor a table demonstrating technological advances in Israel, and an environment club on campus can co-sponsor a table about environmental trends in Israel. A great time to do this festival is at the beginning of the academic year, or in the spring around Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israel’s Independence Day).
For some students, their involvement with Israel increases when the activities are more adrenaline provoking and have a political angle. However, Israel is a country with normal features, just like the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada, and others around the world. An important factor of being an advocate for Israel is running activities such as the ones listed above, which broadcast the non-political components of Israel and show an angle of the country which many students might not see.