When I was asked to write about Israel and educating my students about it, I have to admit, I was quite overwhelmed: How can I put it all into words? How do I convey in a simple post my passion and love to the place I'm coming from – and to make it even worse – in ENGLISH??
I thought to myself, how can an Israel Fellow who has been here for only a short time write about fostering a positive connection to Israel for students? How do I do it professionally? It seemed to me like the hardest task in the world, but thinking of all the students I have already engaged with, who keep asking me when am I coming to school, who text me that they miss me or tell me that I'm the reason they are going on Taglit-Birthright Israel- gave me the answer.
Israel is quite a delicate subject, which raises the questions – how do I engage people with that touchy thing? How do I make them think, deal and feel some kind of positive connection to this place? I don't think there's a secret formula for that, but I do know that it is all about the personal connection. I am not talking about regular coffee dates – it is those little moments of joining in the middle of a discussion in a Shabbat dinner with students and discovering that despite the cultural differences, despite the age differences, the mentality, you still share those common interests – like Game of Thrones – and from that little small talk you can actually get to someone's heart. Yes, it did happen.
It is also about explaining to students that Israel is not all black and white, it is not about "the good guys" and "the bad guys," or us vs. them – it is far more complicated than what we see on television and hear on the news. It's presenting the full picture as much as you can, talking and explaining about the various opinions, the problems we're facing inside and out, and showing the real deal – without any masks or pretty colors. And when I am asked by my students about home, my eyes glow and you can see a huge smile spread across my face. That is what’s special about having an Israel Fellow. We bring something special. Yes, we are coming from different houses, backgrounds and different lives, but we are all here for the same reason: we love our country, a genuine love which is viral because we do not wear any masks. We bring ourselves solely. That, in my opinion, is the essence of the personal connection and building that positive connection to Israel. It enriches the Hillel in a way that Israel brings something which is more than the Jewish religion, more than the Shabbat dinners and the holidays' services – it brings something cultural to the Hillel, that social solidarity that us Jews are so good at in times of need.<
Pictured above: Tabling during Yitzhak Rabin Memorial Day at CSUF, left to right: Joe Rosenblum, Lihi Gordon, Jeff Rosenblum, Haley Binder and Arthur DeTalia
Lihi Gordon has been the Jewish Agency Israel Fellow at the Hillel Foundation of Orange County, which serves UC Irvine, California State University, Fullerton and Chapman University, since August 2013. Born in Tel-Aviv, Lihi grew up in Hadera and served the Israeli army in the air force. Lihi holds a BA in communications from Netanya Academic College and an MA in diplomacy from Tel Aviv University.