Go to the Students: Our Reflections on Hillel International’s Israel Summit



March 6, 2024

More than 800 college students from across North America gathered in Atlanta for Hillel International’s third Israel Summit in late February to learn from foremost experts, widely acclaimed journalists and influencers, and the full delegation of Jewish Agency for Israel Fellows. Following the horrific attacks on October 7th and the ensuing vitriolic antisemitism experienced by many attendees, this conference struck the perfect tone for the moment.

Eylon Levy, a charismatic and superstar spokesperson for the Israeli government, encouraged Generation Z to fulfill our potential to become “Generation Zionist.” “Generation Zionist” is proud, courageous, and persistent in supporting Israel along with an expanding array of allies and progressive causes. The greatest defense against antisemitism, Levy proclaimed, is the indomitable Jewish spirit to stand up to bullies and persist. Following Levy’s call to action, chants and dancing to “Am Israel Chai” proved empowering and inspiring. 

Other speakers and participants offered their approaches to confronting antisemitism on campuses. 

Yair Rosenberg, staff writer for The Atlantic, argued for the need to keep a sense of humor in times of hatred. If the Jewish people did not laugh, he said, they could not endure each successive calamity—from the destruction of the second temple to that dark Saturday in October.

Additional speakers included Washington Institute for Near East Policy experts Ghaith al-Omari and Ambassador Dennis Ross, The Times of Israel senior analyst and political correspondent Haviv Rettig Gur, and former Israeli Vice Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Justice Minister Tzipi Livni. They engaged in fascinating discussions about American-Israeli relations, Middle Eastern geopolitics, and the question of the hour—“the day after.”

The most moving part of the event, however, was listening to the remarks of family members of two of the 134 hostages still held by Hamas. Visible everywhere were the many yellow ribbons, dog tags reading “our hearts are trapped in Gaza,” and T-shirts with the words “Bring Them Home Now!” The collective sentiment of grief was nevertheless overtaken by the hope that our passionate prayers will be answered so we can feel the joy upon the safe return of our Israeli brethren.

Perhaps the most inspiring figure who joined the Hillel International community was former Soviet dissident and Israeli-Jewish hero Natan Sharansky. He urged the audience to focus on their goals and never allow fear to hinder them. Sharansky detailed his time in isolation as a political prisoner and his experience organizing mass demonstrations for Soviet Jewry and beyond. His story reminded us that Jews are living a repeated history of antisemitism, and that the fight for global Jewry and Israel is intertwined with the future of civilization.

Two of the Jewish world’s most prominent heroes have shared this crucial insight: Go to the students. These were the words of Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel to Sharansky amid his impassioned campaign for the freedom of Soviet Jews. Sharansky has conveyed this message to world leaders in Israel and worldwide ever since. 

Jewish college students have proven Sharansky and Wiesel right — that going to the students works — and demonstrate that they will continue to do so, bearing the torch of their moral courage and resolute leadership. This generation, Generation Z, will live up to its ascribed name as “Generation Zionist:” brave and bold, strong and supportive, and forever in solidarity with the Jewish homeland.

Sabrina Soffer is a junior at the George Washington University where she served as the commissioner of GWU’s Special Presidential Antisemitism Task Force. Jeremy Davis is a senior at The Ohio State University and Student Board President of OSU Hillel.