A diverse group of 26 students, alumni, faculty, lay leaders, and Hillel professionals has just returned from an eight-day Israel Engaged Campus (IEC) seminar in Israel, training on Israel engagement through deep learning and exploration of the country’s entrepreneurial initiatives, arts and culture, and social action.
The 2014-2016 IEC pilot program is a new initiative of Hillel International and the Jewish Agency for Israel that aims to create vibrant and enduring connections with Israel and Israelis for Jewish college students through academic, professional and networking opportunities. The IEC seminar offered participants bound by the shared mission of expanding pro-Israel visibility the opportunity to explore Israel’s diverse narratives.
“Through creative educational experiences we highlighted the many ways in which Israel’s robust and diverse society is an important tool for helping to foster and develop Jewish identity,” said Rabbi Daniel Levitt, Executive Director of Temple Hillel.
These 26 participants hail from the IEC’s five 2014-2016 pilot campuses: George Washington University, Ryerson University, Temple University, the University of Western Ontario, and the University of California, San Diego. These high-performing campuses were selected based on their ability and desire to create high-level educational engagement.
The IEC Seminar group poses in front of the Susan Dellal Center for Dance and Theater after experiencing a modern art performance by the international dance group BatSheva.
The seminar in Israel exposed the group to Israel’s varied and unique markets and industries. They met with young robotics entrepreneurs in Yerucham and visited Shenkar College of Engineering, Design and Art, where the group saw the ingenuity of young Israelis weaving technology into the fine arts.
“Jewish students are missing the important role that Israel plays in developing Jewish identity,” Levitt said. “Not only does the Israel Engaged Campus approach not miss this opportunity to engage young Jews at this level, it has the potential to revolutionize the campus experience with regard to Israel engagement.”
The participants engaged with representatives from large tech companies at the Israeli Chamber of Commerce who work in partnership with Palestinians. Representatives from Cisco Israel and the Palestinian Internship Program (PIP) shared how they train Palestinian workers for the high-tech industry and spoke about the benefits that Israel gains from collaborating in the business sphere and supporting a strong Palestinian economy.
The group also met with a female Bedouin leader, Salima, who creates job opportunities for local women and families through government initiatives.
Makom, the Jewish Agency’s content unit, was the educator in residence for the seminar that infused thought-provoking discussions on Jewish peoplehood and Jewish pluralism. The seminar participants learned about innovative solutions to the challenges of Jewish pluralism and the loss of cohesion. The group met with a Chavruta representative about creating space for religious gay Jews and explored marriage equality issues with leadership from the New Israel Fund. They also discussed alternative ways of observing and monitoring kosher laws.
One of the most memorable sessions of the seminar was with Machon Shaharit, an Israeli think tank that brought together speakers from various Israeli groups—Orthodox, secular, immigrant, Arab, and liberal youth—to share similarities and dreams for the future of Israel. Participants left the event understanding how Israel thrives from its diverse makeup and appreciating each groups’ eagerness to build a better nation.
The IEC seminar inspired valuable discussion and reflection among the trip participants who will return to their campus communities with a renewed passion and energy. After this formative experience, these campus leaders are equipped and empowered to improve and safeguard Israel’s place in the campus ecosystem.
“The passion that each participant had about Israel was truly something special, and something that is extremely rare to find,” said Adam Gurza, Jewish campus life associate at Western Hillel.