Congratulations on graduating! Enjoy this important milestone. As you look forward to next year, I wanted to take a minute to offer you my two cents on what to expect next year with Israel on campus.
1. Not everyone on campus is anti-Israel
Despite news reports about the growth of the anti-Israel movement on campus, it is important to remember that not everyone holds anti-Israel opinions. The truth is that most of the peers you will meet will not know very much about Israel at all, and honestly they probably simply won’t be interested enough to learn more on their own. As a potential Israel advocate, you should keep that idea in mind. Your opportunity when you get to campus is to show your new friends Israel through your eyes. Remember, if you don’t share your perspective then it’s likely they won’t learn more about Israel at all. Or they will only learn through comments about Israel from others.
2. There are more resources for people who love Israel than ever before
If you feel connected to Israel, then in terms of resources and support it has never been a better time for you to be in college. Once you arrive on campus there are Hillel, Chabad, AEPi, and other Jewish groups and spaces ready to welcome you. If you want to travel to the Jewish State you can go on Birthright. If you’ve already been, then you can find other ways such as service trips, advocacy trips, policy trips, and other tours. I know many students who have been to Israel several times while in college and barely had to pay the cost of one airplane ticket. The impact of all of these trips is extraordinary. Consider that because so many more young people have been to Israel, it is more likely than ever before that a college student today knows someone who has been to Israel him/herself. Also, when you are looking for the words to talk about and understand Israel there are many Israel advocacy organizations, including The David Project, that are here to help you.
3. You will be faced with tough questions from your friends, but not the ones you expect
As you bring Israel up in conversation, you will be asked questions, and some of them may be hard to answer. But, unless you are engaging an Israel detractor, the questions you will face will not be about complicated historical or political analysis. Instead the question that students are dealing with on campus is why does Israel exist and whether or not it’s a moral place. For these questions there is no better ambassador than you. All you need to do is talk about why you care about Israel and and think the country is important. Show them why Israel is meaningful to you so that they will begin to understand Israel on a values-based level. Tell them about your experiences with Israel and with Israelis. As they learn and have more questions they will feel comfortable coming to you for answers.
4. College is a great opportunity to learn (about Israel)
College is all about learning and you will be afforded tons of time formally through your classes and informally in your spare time to learn about Israel. No matter what your major is, take advantage of the fact that you will be surrounded by experts on world affairs and the Middle East. So, take a class on Israel or Zionism. Or you can learn in other ways. Enroll in an online course, work with an advocacy organization, read a book, go to hear a speaker, watch YouTube. There are so many ways to learn about Israel, and some of them are fun too! The more you learn the better equipped you will be able to explain to your friends, peers (and yourself) what is going on in Israel and the world.
5. Being a leader means getting involved on campus
One of the best parts of college is the friendships you will make. Seek out Hillel and Chabad and get involved with the Jewish community. Find the Israel club and introduce yourself. But, be sure to follow your other interests as well. Be brave, cross cafeterias lines, and get to know lots of people on your campus. As you take on leadership positions, you will have the opportunity to reach out to anyone on your campus. Use this advantage wisely to expand your personal network by meeting with leaders across your campus community.
6. There is an anti-Israel movement on campus
In addition to the positive news I’ve shared about Israel on campus, it is also important to know that there is an anti-Israel movement on campus seeking to demonize the Jewish State and undermine Israel’s place in the world. On campus you may be confronted with anti-Israel speakers, anti-Israel rallies, and anti-Israel petitions in student government. Be aware that these groups exist, but do not be afraid or intimidated. On some campuses the anti-Israel movement is only a few students. On other campuses the movement is much larger. Sometimes anti-Semitism comes to campus as well in the form of comments or graffiti. But, it is important to know that no matter what, college is a safe place, and if you ever do feel unsafe the administration and others are there to help you.
Also, no matter how much someone may try, no one can take your connection to Judaism or Israel from you. You should feel proud to be who you are, and no one should make you feel otherwise.
7. Being pro-Israel does not mean that you are anti-anything else
An important distinction to make to your peers is that just because you are pro-Israel does not mean that you are anti-peace or even anti-Palestinian. Being pro-Israel today means appreciating Israel’s history and believing in her future. Don’t let others define you. Let them know that you share the same values and worldviews as them and that caring about Israel is in line with your core beliefs as a college student today.
8. There are many ways to be an advocate for Israel, no matter your leadership or communication style
As a rising freshman, you are blessed with living in interesting times. The world has significant problems facing it in the years and decades ahead, and it is up to your generation to take on the work of creating a positive future. Included in these problems is Israel’s struggle on the international stage and the movement to disconnect Americans from recognizing the shared values they have with Israel and the Israeli people. While you are going to campus to follow your passions, Israel needs you to help represent her on campus. The worst thing you can do is to shy away from sharing your passions while in college, including your connection to Israel.