Hoping Others at Penn Will Stand With Israel

Alana Weiner, a senior at the University of Pennsylvania, is standing up for Israel by attempting to increase its visibility on campus, and thereby heighten an appreciation of the country's many achievements among her fellow students. She plans to do this thanks to a new fellowship program developed by a group called StandWithUs.

StandWithUs is an international, nonprofit, Israel education organization based in Los Angeles, with offices throughout the United States, as well as in Israel and Europe. The advocacy group was founded in 2001.

Weiner is one of 38 college students chosen to receive an Emerson Fellowship during the program's inaugural year.

Fellowship participants from the United States and Canada attended advocacy training in November in California, and continue to receive guidance to organize and run pro-Israel events, such a guest lecturers and film screenings during the remainder of the school year. Students receive up to a $1,000 stipend for their efforts.

The fellowship is funded by California-based philanthropists Rita and Steven Emerson.

For Weiner, Israel and Judaism have "really been a part of my life." As a youth in her home state of California, she attended Jewish day schools, went to a Ramah camp and participated in United Synagogue Youth. She has been to Israel three times, and spent her spring 2007 semester studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

Now, the Penn campus marks the center of her Jewish experiences and involvement; she's vice president of the Middle East Forum club and a leader in the Penn Israel Coalition, and is involved with other Jewish and secular groups and committees.

A history major and Jewish-studies minor, Weiner says that her academic studies — both at Penn and during her semester abroad — have helped prepare her for this fellowship.

The requirements are keeping her busy, as she arranges, organizes and plans a series of programs, along with other campus groups. During the fall semester, there was a coalition-building brunch, where student leaders at Penn came together to network and make contacts for potential co-sponsorship of events. Last week, there was a presentation from Aryeh Green, a former advisor to Natan Sharansky, speaking on the Middle East. Earlier this week, Khaled Abu Toameh, an Israeli-Arab who is West Bank and Gaza correspondent for The Jerusalem Post and also contributes to U.S. News & World Report, discussed what it's like working for an Israeli newspaper.

Other events she's working on include an Israel advocacy event and programs marking Israel Week. She is also trying to arrange for a professor from her college to speak about how the media handles the Middle East.

Weiner also has plans to be a group leader this summer on a Birthright trip to Israel.

"My passion for Israel comes out in my programs," said Weiner, 21, who feels that, with its rich traditions and history, "Israel is an unbelievable, amazing place."

Ron Kutas, the StandWithUs Emerson Fellowship director, said that the fellows were chosen based on their public speaking skills, knowledge of Israel, and the climate on their campuses regarding Israel and the Middle East, among other factors.

Kutas added that some colleges need more help in this area than others, and that hot spots for anti-Israel sentiment, such as the University of California-Irvine, Columbia University, the University of Michigan and the University of Windsor in Canada, were targeted by the fellowship program.

Weiner expressed that she hopes that the programs she's scheduled will "raise awareness on campus of the events in the Middle East," so that by the end of her fellowship year, she will have given people knowledge of the Jewish state "and ways they can advocate for Israel."



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