We Are All in This Together
June 06, 2002Comments (0)
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By Richard M. Joel, president and international director of Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life
I have just returned from Hillel's 2002 Israel Advocacy Mission. What a remarkable and uplifting experience it was, from the inauguration of the Hillel Jewish National Fund Forest on the first day of our trip to the sunset barbecue at U.S. Ambassador Daniel Kurtzer's residence on the last.
The 400 young people who came from 111 campuses to participate in this trip are our most committed Israel activists, students who have previously visited Israel through youth programs or with their families. One telling moment came when the UJC Israel Director Nachman Shai asked the group how many spoke Hebrew and half the room raised their hands. Mr. Shai was impressed.
These young people spent their teen years in a variety of youth groups -- Bnei Akiva, Young Judea, Habonim, USY, NFTY, NCSY -- and had absorbed the culture of Jewish commitment: the songs, the stories, the sense of cooperation. Seventy-one had their first Israel experience on birthright israel. When they joined together in singing and dancing in front of Jerusalem's city hall, Mayor Ehud Olmert was moved to remark, "That's the most beautiful music I have heard in a long time.". It was the sound of Jewish unity and Jewish renaissance. Our slogan, "Wherever we stand, we stand with Israel," never seemed more appropriate.
In creating this trip, Hillel brought together a wide range of organizations, including AIPAC, the United Jewish Communities, the Jewish Council on Public Affairs, the Jewish Agency for Israel, USD/Hagshama, the Ministry of Tourism and Hamagshimim/Hadassah. The Mission was made possible by Hillel International Board of Governors Chairman Edgar M. Bronfman, Co-Chair Lynn Schusterman, Co-Chair Michael Steinhardt, and members Leonard Abramson and Ronald Lauder.
The students studied political issues and the skills of advocacy from early in the morning until late at night. From their base in Jerusalem, they toured important sites around the city. They spent one morning performing service projects at Hadassah Hospital and other locations. That evening they were treated to a performance of A Chorus Line by Israeli and American members of Hillel's Theater Workshop at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. An Israel Expo enabled them to explore opportunities to work or study in Israel and, to their delight, to purchase souvenirs for their friends and families back home.
While the students appreciated the variety of political perspectives that were put before them, they also addressed questions that went beyond any particular party or ideology. Deputy Foreign Minister Michael Melchior, Efrat Chief Rabbi Shlomo Riskin, and Anat Hoffman, the director of the Reform Movement's Israel Action Center, discussed the existential issues of Israel's role in the life of the Jewish people and underscored its importance as an independent state. The students couldn't get enough information: During their free time on buses and between sessions, their conversation turned to Israel, advocacy and the role they will play back on campus.
We shared many stirring moments together, from watching the sunset over Jerusalem at the Haas Promenade, to an afternoon at the Knesset, to an address from former U.N. Ambassador Dore Gold. We learned upon our return to the United States that one of our speakers, Danny Ayalon, an advisor to the prime minister, has been named Israel's new ambassador to the United States. But what truly inspired me were the students. One participant, an immigrant from Iran, is the sole support for his mother and two sisters because his father has not yet emigrated. In addition to working and attending school full time, he conducts pro-Israel activities on his campus. Another young man, the president of the pro-Israel club at his elite college, made the grueling trip to Israel despite a condition that confines him to a wheelchair. During the wrap-up discussion at the end of the trip, a Russian Jewish immigrant reminded fellow participants of the sacrifices her family made during the Holocaust and the importance of a sovereign Jewish state.
It was clear to every participant that they have a lot of work to do on campus in the fall. Many drew strength from sharing this experience with fellow activists. University of Wisconsin, Madison student Robyn Sokolov said, "I loved learning from each other. Now I feel like I'm not alone, that we're all in this together."
More Coverage of Hillel's Israel Advocacy Mission:
- Notes from the Road, daily highlights from Hillel's birthright israel Trip and Hillel's Israel Advocacy Mission
- Girding For Campus Battles In The Fall, by Eric J. Greenberg, The Jewish Week, May 31, 2002
- Student Activists Learn Advocacy in Hillel Push to be More Proactive, by Jessica Steinberg, The Jewish Telegraphic Agency, May 28, 2002
- A New Chapter in the Jewish Story, by Richard M. Joel, The Jerusalem Post, May 28, 2002