The University of Illinois is a school bustling with energy and spirit, and much of that passion comes from the Students Supporting Israel chapter on campus; one that is driven and informed about their cause.
Melech Lapson, this years president of SSI on his campus has always had a connection to Israel, regardless of the fact that he was born and raised in Chicago; “I went to Israel for the first time with my family over the summer, and after that I spent 2 years in Yeshiva. Since then, I’ve gone back every winter break to visit”.
Every campus has its difficulties and unease, and that is exactly what inclined Melech, a student studying electrical engineering, to join SSI in the beginning, “I went to one of the SSI events, and I saw SJP there. I saw the hate and lies they were trying to spread about Israel, which made me realize what the situation was. I felt that I needed to help out in spreading the truth about Israel, and educating people on campus.” He initially joined SSI’s board freshman year, and after attending his first event, he made a conscious effort to get more involved.
The climate on Illinois’ campus has been calm overall, “SJP here doesn’t have too strong of a following, and in terms of the university in and of itself, they are very pro-Israel, and they don’t support BDS.” Melech brought up the policies that have been implemented in the administration, which is what led to the prevention of a BDS resolution being pushed for the first time in three years!
“One event that we do every semester is a seminar led by our board called, “Illini Students Discussing Israel”. SSI members get groups of students willing to learn that show up every semester, and go over all things that led to the conflict in addition to talking about the conflict itself. “We are getting new members every semester, meeting new people willing to get involved, and building new connections”. People have given them good feedback, and thanked them for the knowledge that they have spread.
When asked about what Melech would like to see his campus turn into, he was very adamant about his answer, “I would like to see a campus which is ideally informed about the conflict. We don’t have to agree about who is right or wrong, but we do have to be knowledgeable. I was at AIPAC, and someone said that the ‘opposite to love is not hate, the opposite of love is indifference’. I would like to see people realize that it’s not a black and white conflict, and that it is more nuanced and complex”.
Melech has seen many positives from his decision to become an activist for Israel, “Its helped me become more knowledgeable about Israel and its history, and gave me a more nuanced understanding. It’s also helped me learn to become a better leader, and run events that only get better and better”.
Ten years from now, Melech plans to be working with others, and he hopes to be able to spread knowledge and educate those around him, even when his university days are over.
To all the members of SSI across North America, Melech stated, “it’s important to do coalition building. The way to figure out how to get more people involved is by finding people from different student organizations and build relationships with them. Building those coalitions is a big way to grow stronger and ensure that our voices are heard”.