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Student Activist No Longer Takes Her Love of Israel for Granted
Even though I live freely in America, I understand the need for a country that provides the Jewish people with a safe haven, and more important still, the ability to defend itself. Having grown up attending Jewish day schools and Zionist summer camps, together with listening to my grandparents speak of surviving the Holocaust, gave me a strong Jewish identity.
My immersion in Jewish life led me to take my love for Israel for granted. But when I entered Drexel University, I learned quickly that not many shared my passion for the the Jewish people.
Although Drexel's Jewish community pales in comparison to neighboring universities, it is growing. When I entered college, there was only a small Hillel where a handful of students attended Shabbat dinners each week. Back then, Drexel's student organizations were not the focus of student culture. Instead, networking and tweaking resumes took up most students' time, which is to be expected at a career-oriented school.
During winter break freshman year, I attended a Hasbara (public relations) seminar in Israel, where I and others learned how to advocate for Israel. I met students from other schools who spoke about groups dedicated to Israel. I was astounded. I thought Hillel was the only option.
I also heard other students speak of Muslim and pro-Palestinian student groups that taunt and insult pro-Israel groups whenever possible. Tales of mock Israeli checkpoints and Israeli Apartheid Weeks spurred me to reflect upon the apathetic nature at Drexel. Because student groups did not take up a large part of the culture, we did not have pro-Palestinian groups.
Back at school, I became Israel chair of Drexel Hillel, and began spreading the word about my passion for the Jewish state. I helped host a Yom Ha'atzmaut event but it was not until I received a fellowship to Israel from CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, that things took off.
I and others learned about the Mideast conflict from scholars. We focused on the bias in media treatment of Israel. Returning home, I took a position as CAMERA intern at Drexel. I wrote articles for the school paper critiquing biased media reports and hosted pro-Israel lecturers, including Bret Stephens from The Wall Street Journal.
Anti-Israel activists were of no concern; I was battling apathy. That was the main opponent. I was baffled as to why Jewish students wouldn't attend such events. In my mind, if you were Jewish, you had an obligation to fight for Israel.
I worked with CAMERA to found Dragons for Israel, a first on our campus. We worked with a plethora of external pro-Israel groups to help students advocate for the Jewish state. We hosted guest lecturers and took part in Israel Peace Week. Again, attendance was weak.
I continued to attend pro-Israel seminars with others from around the globe to learn how student groups succeed. Soon I identified a common theme. The schools that had vocal anti-Israel groups were able to pull large crowds to pro-Israel events while a place like Drexel, without organized anti-Israel sentiment, struggled with apathy.
I saw my situation in a new light. Whereas other colleges used lots of energy fighting the delegitimization of Israel on campus, I could funnel my resources into promoting a positive image of Israel to students, most of whom knew little about the state and were not tainted by anti-Israel activists.
All Dragons for Israel events would be co-hosted with at least one other organization. This allowed us to target as many students as possible and spread the truth about Israel even farther.
But this still wasn't enough to overcome apathy. Even if we co-hosted, we couldn't guarantee a crowd. To resolve this, we tried to meet students where their interests were. If, for example, we were able to find a photojournalist to discuss images of the Mideast conflict, we could co-host with the photography club and pull other students in that way.
Using this approach, Dragons has co-hosted events with the Black Student Union, the Drexel Republicans, the Drexel Islamic Society and the LGBT community.
This past weekend, Dragons was one of two recipients of CAMERA's David Bar-Illan Award for Outstanding Campus Activism. This shows me, above all else, that our group is headed in the right direction.
Shoshana Weiss, of Cherry Hill, N.J., is a third-year student at Drexel.