Though Election Day in Israel takes place later this week, Jewish students worldwide got an early start on voting last week for the country's next unofficial "Ambassador" to the United States. Hillel partnered with the hit Israeli reality television show "The Ambassador" – think "The Apprentice," but in Hebrew – to help narrow the field of candidates. Almost 500 students at 21 campuses in North America, South America and the former Soviet Union cast their votes for their favorites, and TV crews were on hand at five Hillels to capture the excitement, which will be aired on Israeli TV later this spring.
Now in its second season, "The Ambassador" features 14 participants vying for a one-year tenure representing Israel to the world by taking on challenges in public speaking, communications, diplomacy and international affairs. The new "Ambassador" will spend the next year working with Israel at Heart, an organization founded by Hillel International Board of Governors member Joey Low that brings the real faces and stories of Israeli students to the world, in its New York office and around the globe. This season, the show asked the final six contenders to create the best promotional video for Israel. Students gathered at their campus Hillels to watch the videos and vote for the candidate whom they felt did the best job of representing Israel.
Five Hillels – Hillel Montreal, Hillel Rio, Kiev Hillel, University of Florida Hillel and the Edgar M. Bronfman Center for Jewish Student Life at New York University – played an even larger role in the project, hosting film crews that recorded their spirited debates and voting. The footage will broadcast as part of "The Ambassador" episode featuring this challenge when it airs in May.
"Our students seemed to really enjoy themselves," said Inbal Naveh, the Steinhardt JCSC fellow at NYU's Bronfman Center, who helped coordinate the voting on her campus as part of a falafel dinner and drum circle program. "We even had some new Israeli students whom we hadn't seen at the Bronfman Center before come out of the woodwork and join us."
In Brazil, the event coincided with a visit from students at Cornell University, and voting took place during a "Brazilian Night" program Hillel Rio hosted for the American students. In between samba dance lessons and traditional Brazilian food, the students enjoyed coming together to choose their favorite candidates.
"The students loved the event, especially the videos and the idea of the program, since they know that Israel has problems with its image. They are also familiar with the reality-show trend and were very excited about influencing who gets to stay or leave the show," said Keren Sharon, the Jewish student life coordinator at Hillel Rio.
The other participating Hillels included Georgetown University, the University of Arizona, Binghamton University, Brown University, Hofstra University, Indiana University, California State University - Long Beach, University of Ottawa, University of California - Riverside, Silicon Valley, Stony Brook University, Uruguay, Virginia Tech, Purdue University, Queens College, Buenos Aires (Argentina) and Krasnoyarsk (Russia).
Learn more about "The Ambassador" by contacting Israel at Heart's Joey Low at email@example.com or visiting the Israel at Heart Web site.