The Simmons College Hillel executive board welcomes the schoolmascot to iFest.
Jewish students in North America sent their best birthday wishes to the state of Israel last week by hosting numerous Israeli festivals and cultural programs. Though Israelis celebrated Yom Ha'Atzmaut (Israel Independence Day) last Wednesday, campus Hillels have been celebrating the country's vibrant culture all semester long with fun and informative events that reach the entire community.
As part of the Israel on Campus Coalition's "Israel Starts with i" campaign, many campuses have sponsored iFests, large-scale programs that not only allow students to enjoy Israeli food and music, but also share news about current and historical Israeli events and resources for students to travel and study in Israel. Event organizers have been pleased to find that iFests engage both non-Jewish students, many of whom know very little about Israel, and Jewish students who have yet to find their place in Jewish life on their campuses.
"Several times today, students have walked up to me and asked to be on the Hillel mailing list, saying how they never know how many different kinds of programs were offered by Hillel at Simmons. It's so encouraging that an event like this really makes the campus community more aware of Jewish life at Simmons," said sophomore Rachel Wallen, the president of Simmons College Hillel, which hosted a daylong iFest last month.
The iFest at Tufts University, co-sponsored by Tufts Hillel and Tufts Friends of Israel, also gave students the opportunity to combine community service with their interest in Israel. Attendees could decorate a picture frame for sick children in Israel or donate money to plant a tree there. Almost 300 Tufts students, faculty and staff, including Tufts President Lawrence Bacow and his wife, Adele, also signed a petition to pledge their support for Israel's "right to exist in security and peace."
Chewy the camel was the main attraction at University of Arizona Hillel's Israelpalooza, where more than 300 people had their photo taken with the good-natured animal. Students also held a mock Israeli election and tested their knowledge of Israeli history at a trivia booth.
"I had no idea about all the different parties and their slogans and platforms. There are so many different angles. Here [in the U.S.] there are only two to four parties," senior Katherine Handley told the Arizona Daily Wildcat.
But for those campuses lacking camels, food remained a big draw for students looking for a free or cheap lunch. Hofstra University Hillel offered food throughout the day, with falafel and other popular Israeli snacks during the day and sweets and coffee at a beit café (coffeehouse) later that night. At Carnegie Mellon University, the Edward and Rose Berman Hillel Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh partnered with Alpha Epsilon Phi to host a Yom Ha'Atzmaut barbecue, hookah and Israeli music event.
Rutgers University Hillel also joined with other student groups to put together its Israeli Culture Festival '06. The event featured a fashion show with students from the Filipino Students at Rutgers, the Association of Indians at Rutgers and the Rutgers Capoeira Club, for example. Eytan Morgenstern, the program's student director, said the collaboration among the diverse groups helped to underscore the Rutgers Jewish community's commitment to engaging the entire student body, and not just their own members, in its activities.
"I hope this will pique the interest of a lot of students to learn more about Israel, but also just to help build bridges with the general Rutgers community," Morgenstern said in the New Jersey Jewish News. "I see our mission now to create a pro-Israel environment on campus, and that's why I think the cultural message is the strongest way. It really builds positive attitudes toward Israel."