Out of many, one



March 30, 2017

“Many voices, one mission.”

That was the theme of AIPAC’s annual Policy Conference, which drew 18,000 Israel supporters, including 200 Hillel professionals and thousands of students, to Washington this week for a series of plenaries, panels and parties.

And that diversity was obvious at the gathering, from AIPAC’s accommodations for those with disabilities to the backgrounds and stories of the Hillel students and staff who attended — a Virginia Tech Hillel student representing his Puerto Rican Jewish community, a University of Central Florida Hillel student set to make Aliyah and a Jewish Agency for Israel Fellow to Hillel honored by AIPAC for her campus Israel advocacy.

Jewish Agency for Israel Fellow Rebecca Avera and Hillels of Georgia Executive Director Rabbi Russ Shulkes are named AIPAC allies of the year. 

As an Israeli of Ethiopian descent, “my roots are different from some other Israel fellows. We hold great Ethiopian events on campus” to showcase Israel’s diversity, said Rebecca Avera, who received AIPAC’s Ally of the Year award, along with Rabbi Russ Shulkes of Hillels of Georgia.

Hillel International President & CEO Eric D. Fingerhut told a large crowd during an Israel on campus panel discussion that the work of Avera and her colleagues is an essential part of Hillel’s strategy of proactive Israel engagement.

Hillel International President & CEO Eric D. Fingerhut speaks at the conference.

“We have Israel Fellows on 75 campuses, young Israelis who have finished the IDF and college. The fellows spend two years living on college campuses, so people are having conversations with actual Israelis. While we focus on additional work, we shouldn’t lose sight of what we are doing to proactively build the next Jewish generation–Hillel had over 135,000 students participate in some sort of Israel experience this year. These things are vital.”

This generation of emerging Israel advocates is pluralistic, collaborative and vocal — just look at NolePac, the Israel advocacy group on Florida State University’s campus, which includes many Hillel leaders. Made up of more than 100 Jewish, non-Jewish, black and Hispanic students, 40 of whom attended the conference, NolePac has built bridges on its own campus, to football rival University of Florida and to state and federal lawmakers. For its efforts, NolePac received AIPAC’s campus of the year award on the Verizon Center mainstage. (AIPAC also honored four campuses with its activist of the year award: University of Maryland, Brown University, UCLA and University of Rochester.)

Florida State University Hillel students and fellow members of NolePac receive AIPAC’s campus of the year award on the Verizon Center mainstage. 

“We reach out to many diverse groups to engage them and get them involved,” said Florida State University sophomore and Hillel community service chair Carly Cohen. “A love of Israel should not be confined to the Jewish students on campus.”

And loving Israel should never mean giving up another part of your identity as a student, said Hillel’s Fingerhut.

“We have to make sure students are able to pursue all elements of their identity, and not create this false choice. You don’t have to give up your pro-Israel identity to participate in these other elements. It’s an essence of who we are to step up, so our Jewish students can pursue all elements of their identity without having to compromise.”