This week, the Jewish Agency Israel Fellows to Hillel gathered online for a virtual Hanukkah candle lighting.
Some of the 76 Fellows were busy hosting candle lightings at their Hillel's. Some were en route to Israel on Birthright and other trips with their students because seeing Israel firsthand is the best way to learn about Israel.
But from across the continent, for that moment, most of the Israel Fellows were together. Singing. Laughing. Taking some time away from busy schedules for just a few moments to connect.
In honor of the eight candles we light to celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah, I share with you eight gifts that Israel Fellows bring to their campuses each day:
- Matan loves radio. He brought that love to Western Ontario by starting Radio Gesher. Gesher means bridge in Hebrew, and Gesher Radio connects students to Israel. By bringing Israeli music and culture to campus, Matan brings his students closer to Israel. Max at Vanderbilt connects students to Israeli families through a holiday card pen pal program. Israel Fellows get to hear the excitement of American parents experiencing Israel through their child’s Birthright trip or learn from American students how meaningful their relationship with their Israel Fellow is.
- Max at Vanderbilt connects students to Israeli families through a holiday card pen pal program. Israel Fellows get to hear the excitement of American parents experiencing Israel through their child’s Birthright trip or learn from American students how meaningful their relationship with their Israel Fellow is.
- Dor in San Diego sees his role as an Israel Fellow as a continuation of his national service and is always finding authentic ways to represent the Israeli people. Instead of meeting students in a café for coffee, Dor carries his own Israeli coffee with him to share. He brings Israeli speakers to campus to show Jewish and non-Jewish students what it really means to be part of the Israeli people.
- At Penn state, Alona started a BKind chapter. BKind is a social enterprise that aims to encourage schools and other environments to “take on a positive, kind and caring attitude toward others around them.” Participating in this global chain of good deeds has helped Alona and her students to bring to campus the concept of Tikkun Olam, the Jewish theme of helping to make the world a better place. And on Passover, Alona hosted a vegan Seder connecting with students on a topic of growing importance in Israeli society and on campus.
- In Detroit, Or hosted an Israel Week for more than 500 students. Or brought the best of Israeli culture to Hillel of Metro Detroit. Jewish and non-Jewish students ate Israeli cuisine, listened to Israeli music, celebrated Israeli art and played Israeli games. This is why we are here: to bring the Israel we know and love to our students.
- In Houston, just weeks after Hurricane Harvey’s devastating blow, a group of Israel Fellows flew in to join the local Fellow in volunteering. The Fellows cleaned homes, sang with children as their parents dealt with the tremendous losses they sustained, and volunteered in a church.
- Waga brings the diversity of Israel to the students of Illinois. Waga’s personal story as an Ethiopian Israeli and her incredible character empower her to educate, strengthen and unite students. Waga hosted a celebration of Sigd, an Ethiopian Jewish holiday, with traditional dress and food, to connect students to the cultural diversity and history of Israel and the Jewish people.
- Shira led her students, with less than a week’s notice, in the battle against an anti-Israel divestment vote at the University of Maryland. She helped students prepare and defeat the bill. Israel Fellows invest in building community, building Jewish identity, and educating their campuses about Israel. This is the best way to prevent BDS from gaining a foothold.
During our virtual candle lighting, the Israel Fellows celebrated the great miracle that happened “there,” in our home, before our time.
And we celebrate the miracles we get to be a part of on campus every day.
Michelle Rojas-Tal is the Jewish Agency for Israel Central Shlichah to Hillel and director, Israel Fellows to Hillel.