Posted by: Ilan Wagner on 2/12/2007 5:13:00 PM
The future of the North American political, intellectual and cultural leadership will emerge from today’s university students. For this reason, the image of Israel on campus is of critical importance in forging the future relationship between North America and Israel, a relationship which is vital both for Israel’s national security and for the well-being and identity of North American Jews. The stakes involved in this work are high, and the work is complex.
But how are Hillel professionals to promote a positive image of Israel when Jewish students lack the strong emotional attachment and connection to Israel, or to Jewish peoplehood, that their parents and grandparents had?
Research on today’s generation of students, the “Millennials,” teaches us much about modes of identification of the current student generation. Students are plugged into the global information highway, have multiple identities, demand authenticity and critical thinking, and are suspicious of officially produced and packaged messaging. The future of their relationship with Israel depends on our ability to connect them to Israel today on their own terms and in an atmosphere of pluralism, open debate, reflection and exploration. The future of their identity as Jews might depend upon this as well.
Across the continent, local Hillel professionals invest significantly to strengthen Israel engagement, advocacy and education on the campus. As they pursue this important objective they engage in several different types of activities. They guide dedicated groups of students, many of them returnees from Taglit-birthright israel trips and MASA long-term programs in Israel. Hillel professionals partner with the university community to bring compelling and attractive Israel content onto campus. They plan and implement large-scale Israel cultural activities to attract a wider range of students and have conversations with students about travel to Israel, principally through the amazing opportunity that Taglit-birthright israel offers. At times Hillel staffers are called upon to work with student leaders, and to interact with national organizations, on advocating for Israel in the wider campus community. Finally, they are asked to serve as the campus gatekeeper for a highly diverse universe of messages, contents and organizations, all of whom are interested in reaching the key audience of college students.
There are times when the imperative of strengthening Israel’s image on campus clashes with the imperative of connecting young Jews to Israel. Traditional “hasbara
” -- what Israelis like to call “Yisrael ha yafah
,” pretty Israel – may not always be effective with this questioning, information-saturated generation. It might seem paradoxical, but perhaps the best way of strengthening the connection between Jewish students and Israel in the long run is to allow it to be challenged, re-examined and questioned in the short term. By introducing elements of self-critique, debate, dialogue and reflection into our Israel content we are not only sending a more engaging picture of a vigorous society in Israel but also doing more to engage students who are suspicious of talking points, simple messages and being drafted to the cause. We need to take risks, but the greatest risk is to turn our back on this challenge and assume that pro-Israel messaging will always lead directly to a stronger relationship with Israel.
RE: Israel Education: A Time to Teach, A Time to Challenge
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