One student created a film about the post-high school experiences of American and Israeli students. Others organized Israel fairs on their campuses, or fought for the rights of Jewish refugees. But no matter what the 2004-05 AVI CHAI Israel Advocacy Grant recipients did, they brought a common passion to their project: a love for Israel they wanted to share with their campuses.
For the past three years, the AVI CHAI Foundation has funded a grant program, administered through Hillel, which offers grants of $2,500-$7,500 for student-initiated advocacy activities. The grants help students carry out impactful, transformative Israel advocacy campaigns that address the specific needs of their campuses.
Maital Guttman, a 2005 graduate of Duke University, was frustrated after the Palestinian Solidarity Movement, a student group that advocates divesting university assets from companies that do business with Israel, held its annual conference at her university this fall, especially since it focused so much on violence in the region. She wanted her fellow students to see Israel from a different perspective, one that showcased the lives of ordinary Israelis who aren't preoccupied with the conflict.
"There's a lack of public relations on what it's like to be Israeli," Guttman said.
The money she received from her AVI CHAI grant helped her make a documentary called "Mechinah: A Preparation," which focused on both Israeli and American students preparing for life after high school - military service for the Israelis and college for the Americans. The film premiered at Duke this spring to a receptive audience of students and faculty.
"It's a different way to communicate our love for Israel," she said.
At Georgia Tech, grant recipient Orit Sklar built on the success of an Israeli technology fair she organized last year to plan Israel Fest 2005, a campus-wide celebration of Israeli culture. Students received T-shirts featuring Israeli and American flags, learned how to write their names in Hebrew and relaxed in Bedouin tents. Sklar also partnered with the campus radio station to play Israeli music throughout the day and brought on the Episcopalian Ministry as a co-sponsor. The event attracted more than 600 students and generated positive coverage by campus media.
"The campus really felt our presence," Sklar said.
Shanit Hassid, a law student at Loyola University Law School in Los Angeles, was very involved in Israel advocacy as an undergraduate student but was disappointed to find little time to continue once she started law school.
"Law students have a lot to give and have a great potential to serve the pro-Israel community," Hassid said.
So she decided to combine her legal training with her passion for Israel and, thanks to her AVI CHAI grant, will spend the summer researching the legal options for Jewish natives of Arab countries who were forced to leave their homes after the creation of Israel. She hopes her work will lead her to a potential claimant who can sue the government of his or her native country for restitution. Knowing that the chances for a large settlement are slim, Hassid is hoping the case will lead to more awareness about the Jewish refugees since little attention has been paid to their stories during the past 50 years.
"Even if the claimant doesn't get the money, at least her story will be told for the first time," she said.
MIT graduate student Sam Korb's interest in science and engineering research taking place at the Technion - Israel Institute of Technology prompted him to form "Hibur," an initiative linking students and faculty at the two universities through e-mail pen pals and videoconference lectures. By focusing on Israel's scientific progress rather than its politics, Korb has found an eager group of participants on both sides of the ocean.
"This is the engagement tool I've been looking for my entire time at MIT," he said.