Starting this Spring, Students Supporting Israel will publish a series of articles and interviews that will highlight the faces of our student movement. Each week we will write about our activists, their work on campus, their challenges, and their success stories. In a movement where our students are on the front lines, and in a campus-based organization – we believe that empowering the students will help us to accomplish our mission on campus. In this article we will share the story of Raquel Cohen, the founder of the 6th and most recent SSI chapter in New York City at Hunter College.
Hunter College: Raquel Cohen
Gabriella Davoudpour: Tell us about yourself — where are you from, what are you studying, what do you like to do on your free time?
Raquel Cohen: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, but have a very diverse background. My mother was born and raised in Syria, and my father is Turkish, but was born and raised in Israel. Being brought up in a home with different cultures and traditions has allowed me to have a multiplex view of the world around me. I’ve been to Israel many times, and am studying to be a nutritionist and personal trainer.
GD: How did you get involved with SSI?
RC: My friend, who’s now made aliyah to Israel, went to City College and was going to the annual SSI conference in San Diego 2 years ago. She invited me to come along with her, and I applied, even though I didn’t have a chapter at my school. I’ve always been involved with conferences like AIPAC and other policy conferences since high school, so I was always interested in Israel activism. After the SSI conference, I had a phone call with Ilan (President of SSI), and said that I would love to start a chapter with my school. I loved everything that the organization represented, and their approach on things, so I was inspired to start a chapter!
GD: What motivated you to get involved with SSI?
RC: I felt like everyone in SSI was a family. It’s more about getting people involved and educating them about Israel; it doesn’t only have to be a political thing. It’s something that can be done on campus, which I love.
GD: How’s the climate at Hunter College?
RC: SJP has a strong voice on campus, and there is no registered Israel club on campus. The Israel clubs are all under Hillel’s (an in-school organization) branch; so if the Israel clubs on campus want to book a room or get a table, we go through Hillel. SSI at Hunter College is not currently registered because we missed the registration deadline which is open only once a year in the fall. We are operating without being “official” yet.
GD: What would you like to see your campus turn into?
RC: I want to be the first registered Israel club on campus. I hope that we can grow in terms of having a following from our peers. Currently, my team is only 3 people, so I would like that to expand as well. My long term goals would be to have another event with all the other SSI’s in New York because I know that is something that has been done, but not in a while.
GD: What kind of impact has SSI and pro-activism in general had on you throughout school?
RC: I got to meet a lot of people that I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me, saying, “Oh, let’s grab a coffee, and just talk about your club goals, where you want this to go”, and those people have become very important in my life. I feel like it’s also opened my eyes, because in my first semester of college, I wasn’t even aware that SJP was a thing on campus. After going to the conference and learning about it, I became much more aware of the climate on my campus.
GD: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now?
RC: In 10 years from now, I hope to have completed both undergraduate and graduate school. I hope to have my own nutrition practice in Manhattan, as well as a gym where I can train my clients.
GD: Last question- If you have any advice for the rest of SSI’ers across the country what would it be?
RC: I would say that Elan and Ilan are your best resources, in addition to the SSI family in general. If you ever come across an obstacle, just reach out and give them a call, they’ll get you in touch with whoever you need to be in touch with. Even other SSI chapters in your area can help, because they have a similar campus. I’ve talked with the chapters in New York, we have a chat and have done google hangouts to figure out what our obstacles are, and how we can overcome it.
*interview has been condensed.