Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) Chairman Natan Sharansky met with Hillel’s Israel Fellows during a recent North American meeting of JAFI shelichim (emissaries) at the Pearlstone Retreat Center near Baltimore. Sharansky, a former Israeli deputy prime minister and an iconic Soviet Jewry activist, spoke with the Israel Fellows about the importance of their work on campus.
“Mr. Sharansky was curious to learn what the Fellows had experienced in their first months on campus and what they hope to accomplish,” explained Doron Rubin, the Jewish Agency’s shaliach, or emissary, to Hillel and the director of the Israel Fellows program.
Hillel Executive Vice President Scott Brown, who also presented at the meeting, added: “It was clear that Mr. Sharansky inspired the fellows and was inspired by them.”
The Israel Fellows program, supported by the Jewish Agency, places 19 recent Israeli college graduates in Hillels on North American college campuses to assist with Israel education and advocacy. After the meeting, Sharansky told The Jerusalem Post that he wishes to expand the JAFI-supported Israel Fellows program to 100 campuses.
"It was a small experimental program but now I want to make it one of the most central stones of our shlichut (emissary) program," he said, adding that he also plans to improve the training for young shlichim by providing intense courses in Jewish identity and advocacy before they head to the U.S. "They must come prepared to combat Israel's negative image around the world, especially on college campuses," he said.
Sharansky told the Post that JAFI shelichim must focus on Jewish identity through a connection to Israel and advocacy for the Jewish state. "In the past it was only about promoting Israel," claimed Sharansky, 61. "But I do not believe that one can promote Israel using propaganda. It's not about saying, 'This is what Israel has achieved since it was created. Why don't you make aliya now?'
"Today there has been a fundamental change, with more focus on Jewish continuity and identity," he continued, adding "Jewish communities have discovered there is no better way to tackle this than by bringing an Israeli to their community."