Students Discuss Their Activism, and Their Future Plans

For some Jews, becoming an activist for the State of Israel can prove invigorating and promote better understanding of Zionism. Yet when the dust settles and the fight is over, can a Jew find normalcy after taking such a plunge, or will they find it difficult to deal with negative feedback? Three such students – Ayal Feinberg, 18; Josh Stulman, 23; and Yosef Kalish, 29 – came away from experiences of activism with differing answers.

Brought together by the Greater Philadelphia District of the Zionist Organization of America, the young men were honored at the group's quarterly meeting last week at the JCC Klein Branch in the Northeast. They talked about the importance of stepping up to support the Jewish homeland but also of the hardships endured after undertaking such a task.

Feinberg just graduated from Abington Friends School, where several months ago, he led students to complain of a dress-code double-standard, whereby Israeli Defense Force T-shirts were not allowed to be worn in school, though other types of cultural icons were deemed okay. Those included the South American revolutionary Ché Guevara. Feinberg also complained of anti-Israel sentiment among faculty.

Abington Friends held a meeting for Jewish families to express their concerns to school officials; as a result, the school promised a more equal enforcement of the dress code.

During the rest of the year, Feinberg did not see other military shirts worn in the school, and he and his supporters left their IDF ones at home "out of respect" for the administration's response.

With plans to go to Trinity College in Hartford, Conn., this fall, Feinberg sees himself continuing to speak out for Jewish causes, noting that there was an active Hillel on campus.

"I hope to be a lobbyist one day," said Feinberg, who, along with the other honorees, received a certificate of appreciation, in addition to a free one-year membership to the ZOA.

For Stulman, stepping up for Zionism did not create the positive change in administrative policy that Feinberg was able to garner. At Penn State University in April, Stulman, a senior at the time, was set to show Portraits of Terror, a set of paintings depicting Palestinian hatred of Jews. His exhibit was suddenly canceled by the university at the last minute, with Penn State claiming that it did not coincide with their policy on discrimination and hate.

Stulman claimed that Penn State was the one being biased; he also claims that a swastika was drawn on a poster promoting the event, and that he was lectured privately by a professor who called him a racist.

After initial news reports came out about the incident, Stulman claimed that he and Penn State Hillel executive director Tuvia Abramson heard negative comments while walking on campus.

"The issues of the anti-Semitism, the issues of the abuse – that is the forefront of what needs to be answered," said Stulman. "The university hasn't acknowledged it. They haven't even acknowledged that there was a swastika on my flyer."

In response to the situation, Philadelphia attorney Jerome Marcus has signed on pro bono to represent Stulman. They hope to negotiate with Penn State to rectify what they see as inaccuracies in the college's policies on appropriate speech, according to Marcus. Although he is the husband of Philadelphia ZOA president Lori Lowenthal Marcus, they claim that the case has no ties to the ZOA.

The stories of Feinberg and Stulman were previously reported in the Jewish Exponent.

As for Kalish, he's found himself facing a strong pro-Palestinian sentiment at Temple University, and felt like Israel needed a voice. For example, the group Students for Justice in Palestine re-created a checkpoint in Israel and pretended to be Israeli soldiers oppressing Palestinians.

"Their aim is to equate Israel with apartheid," said Kalish who made aliyah in 1997, and served as a paratrooper in the Israeli army after graduation from high school, then returned to the United States to attend college.

Through Temple Students for Israel, Kalish has been able to organize pro-Israel events, like discussions on Israel's place in technology and performances by an Israeli Ethiopian dance group.

Said Kalish: "What we have done is try to show Israel beyond the conflict. All they want to do is show Israel as an aggressor."



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