Minnesota Hillel brings Israel to the Midwest



April 26, 2016

Check out our photo album on Facebook to see how Hillels across the country are celebrating Israel this month.

An Artists 4 Israel staffer sprays a message on the back of Minnesota Hillel’s mural at the University of Minnesota on April 20. Photo by Jessie Bekker.

Nearly 500 University of Minnesota Jewish students walked the streets of the Old City Wednesday, from more than 6,000 miles away.

But they didn’t need a passport, or an El Al flight to get there. A pair of virtual reality goggles made their stroll down Israel’s streets possible.

“A lot of people tried the glasses [and] they really liked it,” Minnesota Hillel’s Jewish Agency for Israel Fellow Idan Cohen said. “They were seeing Jerusalem and Tel Aviv for the first time.”

A virtual reality tour of Israel was just one piece of a Student Supporting Israel and Minnesota Hillel effort to bring flavor and culture from the Jewish country to the United States. The student groups hosted Artists 4 Israel, a pro-peace organization centered on beautifying and uniting for Israel, creating a mural at Minnesota Hillel that now decorates the exterior of the building.

The piece depicts the university mascot, Goldy Gopher, the Star of David, a crescent moon and the word “united,” in honor of efforts on campus to unite Jews and others for Israel.

At the event, Hillel and SSI gave students and artists the opportunity to design custom spray painted t-shirts together. Each decorated a side of the mural wall; on the back, students wrote messages of peace and hope. 

Students Supporting Israel President and Minnesota Hillel’s Vice President of Israel and Jewish Content Sami Rahamim met Artists 4 Israel executive director Craig Dershowitz in January and fell in love with the organization’s mission to promote peace through art.

“The conversation about Israel is often times very one-sided and that I think art, and specifically this form of art, spray paint graffiti, which is very off-the-cuff and just flowed into a beautiful masterpiece, would be fitting for our message on campus,” Rahamim said. “It gave us a chance to really bring our narrative into the light as the pro-Israel community, that we want peace for everyone on campus.”

Artists 4 Israel, led by 5,000 artists in 15 countries around the globe, focuses on advocating for peace in the Middle East through art. What began as an effort to beautify the streets of Israel during the 2009 Hamas attacks on Jerusalem has transformed into a worldwide mission, from painting bomb shelters on playgrounds in Israel to brighten the lives of affected children, to distributing Healing Art Kits that give mental health support in the form of art therapy to Israeli children affected by PTSD.

A crew of artists travels to Jewish campus communities and Hillel’s nationwide, including Washington University in St. Louis, the University of Minnesota and San Diego State University most recently.

Cohen said the event served as an artistic educational tool.

“I think it’s important to show another area and another side of Israel that people don’t get exposed to, but also it’s to create a common space between students, so it’ll be easier for them to understand Israel more,” he said.

Senior Adam Bender said he came to the event to promote peaceful talk around Israel, and was glad to see the campus embracing a positive attitude toward the Jewish State.

“The average person on the street, when they hear Israel, they think of the conflict,” he said. “Whereas in reality, there’s stuff like this where people are trying to fix the problem.”

Jessie Bekker, University of Minnesota class of 2017, is a Jews of the University photojournalist. Learn more about the photojournalists on our blog.

Two Artists 4 Israel graffiti artists design a shirt with a University of Minnesota student at an event sponsored by Students Supporting Israel and Minnesota Hillel on April 20. Photo by Jessie Bekker.

Callie Sher poses with her custom spray-painted t-shirt at an Artists 4 Israel event sponsored by Students Supporting Israel and Minnesota Hillel at the University of Minnesota on April 20. Photo by Jessie Bekker.