This piece was originally featured in the Fall 2016 Hillel College Guide Magazine.
At 12 years old, I crossed the Atlantic for the first time, for what would be eight years (and counting) of living in the United States. Although I have always embraced my Judaism, and been proud of my Israeli heritage, it wasn’t until last year that I became involved in Israel advocacy and Jewish life on campus. As I saw it, I didn’t need validation of these aspects of my identity. Israel and Judaism were in my heart, and that was fulfilling enough for me.
At the end of my sophomore year, Vered Juhl, our Jewish Agency for Israel Fellow on campus, reached out to me regarding an opportunity to participate in an Israel advocacy trip the following summer. During this trip, I was introduced to an entirely different outlook on being an Israeli Jewish student. I became aware of Hillel’s efforts to represent Israel on campus and felt compelled to become part of the movement.
As the president of the University of Pittsburgh’s Israel advocacy group, Panthers for Israel, I now collaborate with other passionate students to inspire others to learn about Israeli society, politics and culture. With the support of Hillel, our group has held a variety of successful events ranging from insightful speakers to an Israeli fashion workshop. In the fall semester, we hosted an impactful #StopIncitement campaign. Standing at the most populated part of campus, Panthers for Israel set out to engage students passing by and inform those who may not have been aware of the recent violence that has been detrimental to peace efforts. Handing out T-shirts and laptop stickers reading, “I love Israel” and “I stand against incitement,” we sparked eye-opening conversations with a diverse group of students. We are making great strides toward achieving our goals on campus, largely thanks to the guidance and resources provided by our Hillel.
Besides the significant impact that it has had on Panthers for Israel, Hillel has also enriched my personal college experience more than I could have ever imagined. As I started attending Friday night services and dinners at Hillel on a more frequent basis, I met others who shared my values and passions. I surrounded myself with students who connect deeply with Judaism and can empathize with the warmth I feel every time I return to Israel, a place to which I truly belong. Although at first I didn’t fully appreciate the importance of participating in the Jewish community at Pitt, I now feel that Hillel is my “Israel” on campus. I never imagined I would feel such a sense of belonging at Hillel, but I do. I am confident that you will feel the same way at your campus Hillel, and that Hillel can have the same powerful impact on your life that it’s had on mine.
Amit Shimshi is a member of the Class of 2018 at the University of Pittsburgh, and the president of Panthers for Israel.