Santa Monica College: Isaac “Yitz” Shafa
Santa Monica College (SMC) is a campus with great energy and passion driving their pro-Israel advocacy on campus and they were also given the “Most Outstanding Chapter” award by Students Supporting Israel (SSI) National this past December. Leading these students as SSI President at SMC is Isaac “Yitz” Shafa. He was born and raised in Los Angeles, California, while his family’s cultural background is diasporically Persian. Shafa is a second year student at SMC, where he majors in accounting. This last semester as Shafa has been getting more into Israel activism, he has been taking a few political science courses which got him to be interested in politics and international relations. With this, now Shafa may want to double major in accounting and political science due to his growing interest, and because it connects a lot with what he does within SSI.
Shafa feels a great connection to Israel not only because he had his Bar Mitzvah at the Western Wall and wrapped his Tefillin there for the first time, but he also had the great experience of living in Israel for one and a half years for a gap year after high school. In this time living in Israel, Shafa fell in love with the culture and the people, which is a main factor in why he is so vocal about his love for Israel. “Before I was just pro-Israel and Jewish” Shafa says. “But now, after living in Israel, I realized that part of my Jewish identity is fighting for Israel.” When Shafa began attending SMC last year, he wanted to do more to advocate for Israel, so he found SSI and thought it was a great way to protect Israel and advocate for it on campus.
All in all, Shafa envisions his campus turning into an environment where people are curious to learn from all points of view, understand what it means to be a Jew and Zionist, and not label others as Jews and Zionists when the students creating these labels are not even Jewish or Zionist themselves. “At SMC we have students who feel that they can define what it means to be Jewish, Zionist, or even describe forms of anti-Semitism, even though they are not Jewish, Zionist, or haven’t experienced any form of anti-Semitism.”
SMC is a campus that preaches diversity and equality in hopes of making every student feel like they belong. While doing this, it seems to Shafa and to many other Jewish students that SMC has overlooked this diversity and equality when it applies to Jews. Shafa highlights that “when Jewish students have the inability to attend conferences on Saturdays because it is Shabbat, they feel like it is unfair to them because all the other non-Jewish students have the ability to go. When other campus organizations spread rumours about the Jewish students and tell other clubs and such not to associate with us, it makes us feel unsafe and unheard.” This has been a great challenge to deal with because the administration does not listen to the Jewish students and they fail to observe their needs.
Something that has worked well for SSI at SMC is the new General Ambassadors program. “This program is meant to grab incoming students and give them a chance to get involved with SSI and develop their leadership skills and their pro-Israel Jewish voice so in their future years they have that training.” It is a much easier transition from being a club member to becoming an ambassador and then becoming a board member rather than a large gap from being a club member to a board member.
When studying abroad, Shafa learned and felt that Zionism and pro-Israel activism was part of his Jewish identity. “Coming back to Los Angeles and SMC, I didn’t feel comfortable displaying my love for Israel publically due to how I would be treated by other students and faculty, and I felt that I should not antagonize people by being pro-Israel.” However, by joining SSI, Shafa has learned to be unapologetically Zionist and that he has no need to hide his identity.
In the future, Shafa is willing to see wherever life takes him, but in the end, he will always be fighting for Israel.
To the rest of the pro-Israel activists out there, Shafa advises you to join SSI. “Even though it will take time out of your schedule and make you seem different from others, it makes you more aware to other communities and information you didn’t know beforehand – about Israel.” Shafa adds that “others are being treated differently and being discriminated against because of their Jewish identity and they don’t have the SSI platform to help them.” Lastly, Shafa mentions that students should take the chance they have and really take advantage of it, because in the end, you will come out to be a leader who can take a stand and can ultimately fight for the Jewish people.