Andrea Morabito didn't expect much when the Syracuse University student newspaper, The Daily Orange, chose her to cover the iFest on campus earlier this month.
"The next 26 hours proved to be a fantastic learning experience in the music, food and culture of Israel," Morabito wrote.
Israel advocates around the country hope that many more students will echo Morabito's sentiment throughout the year. Through programs like iFest, students are taking a proactive approach that focuses on Israel's relevancy to a modern, sophisticated world rather than a place of conflict. Introducing students to the "softer" side of Israel is the focus of the new "Israel Starts with I" campaign, developed earlier this semester by the Israel on Campus Coalition, a partnership of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, in cooperation with nearly 30 member organizations,
"It's no longer, in our view, a necessity or desirable to always start this from the idea that it's a two-sided issue - that's the old paradigm of how to relate to Israel," said Wayne Firestone, Hillel's executive vice president for the United States and founding executive director of the ICC.
Music, film and culture are hallmarks of the initiative, which includes a concert tour with the Israeli band Shotei Hanevua (Fools of Prophecy) and screenings of the award-winning film "Mechina: A Preparation," produced by recent Duke University graduate Maital Guttman. A group of 12 Israeli university basketball players will also play several American college teams in Pennsylvania, New York and the Washington, D.C., area during November through the Israel at Heart organization.
Another ICC campaign, "Let Our Students Go!," has also made a profound impact on college campuses since its launch last year. Created to increase the number of Israel study and travel opportunities, the initiative has helped reinstate many programs that were cancelled by American universities in recent years. Since the University of Wisconsin-Madison became the first major public university to restore its Israel study-abroad program in February, many others have followed suit by reinstating their own programs or loosening their restrictions on student travel there.
Recent successes have not been limited to the ICC campaigns, however. At campuses like San Jose State University, students are educating their classmates through sophisticated advocacy programs. Hillel of Silicon Valley teamed with BlueStar PR, a local pro-Israel media firm, to produce a series of pro-Israel posters and postcards and distribute them all over campus.
"People were surprised," SJSU sophomore David Ben Israel told the j. news weekly of San Francisco. "They didn't know there were Arab or Muslim people in Israel. They didn't know Israel was a modern country. They didn't realize that not all Jews were Caucasian."
Hillel will also be sponsoring its first lay leadership mission to Israel on Jan. 4-10, 2006. The one-of-a-kind trip will allow participants to experience Israel through the eyes of those touched by three exciting and unique Hillel initiatives: Taglit-birthright israel: Hillel trips for first-time visitors, Hillel's Student Leadership Missions for Israel advocates, and Hillel programs at Israeli universities that enable Israeli students to explore their Jewish identities in a pluralistic context. The cost is $1,800/person, double occupancy, plus airfare. A $500 deposit/person is due by Friday, Dec. 2 to reserve your spot. For more information, contact Keith Krivitzky at 202-449-6535 or firstname.lastname@example.org.