Drexel’s Israel Week, which ends May 12, had campus-wide events mixed with serious educational roundtables at coffee shops with fun activities, including a party with music and food.
Drexel University sophomore Max Kahn, a bespectacled graphic design major with preternaturally long eyelashes and an abbreviated beard, wants to put a different spin on the way people seem to reflexively think about Israel.
The David Project intern and president of the Drexel Hillel student board wants to “normalize” Israel, he said, so that people think of it as a foreign country like any other, rather than as a linchpin of controversy.
Such normalization was a big part of what motivated Kahn and his fellow students to organize this year’s expanded Israel Week, which ends May 12. The campus-wide events mixed serious educational roundtables at coffee shops with fun activities, including a party with music and food.
An Israel Defense Forces soldier, who served in a unit that trains military canines, came with her dog and spoke to 40 students about her experience. In a room across from the Hillel’s offices, there was a sampling of photographs by Israeli Nechama Perton, whose work touches on a broad swathe of the Israeli experience.
It was all a bit of an experiment in reaching out and engaging students — both Jewish and non-Jewish — and in bringing multiple Jewish organizations together around a single issue.
It’s still an experiment because when the Raymond G. Perelman Center for Jewish Life is completed in September, it will expand Hillel’s potential (and real estate), so now is a good time to launch pilot projects and prepare for the future.
Ahead of moving into the new home, Kahn said, “we’ve been thinking about how we’re going to activate a space and expand our reach.” That includes new ways of engaging stakeholders on the subject of Israel.
“We had a community organizing meeting for pro-Israel students and created overarching goals,” Kahn said. “We decided we were going to create this one week where everyone is going to take responsibility for one event but it’s going to be presented to the public in one unified voice, to show that the Jewish community is united on this issue.”
Indeed, fliers for Drexel Israel Week said, “The Jewish Community at Drexel University Presents …” Said community includes everyone from Chabad to a Jewish fraternity.
On some college campuses, a well-publicized Israel Week”might engender protest.
“Israel is kind of a heated topic,” Kahn conceded. But that hasn’t happened at Drexel at all, which Kahn attributed to a top-down respect for the Jewish state.
“The president of our university, John Fry, has traveled to Israel on multiple occasions. He went with the AJC and hosts a breakfast for the fellows that he went with,” Kahn noted. “Our office of study abroad has multiple partnerships with Israeli institutions like Ben Gurion University, so it’s promoted in a normal light. So, since Israel has been normalized on our campus, there’s not so much stigma around it. People hang Israeli flags in their windows and are proud of it.”
He said Drexel has never been an especially political environment.
“It’s kind of a sharp contrast for me seeing Penn and their politics, and then you see us and our students are really career-focused,” Kahn said.
“Ninety percent of students declare their majors before they set foot on campus. So, the type of student that Drexel attracts are those who are extremely focused and don’t have time for bigotry or slandering Israel.”
Israel Week is likely to happen again next year, after the big move has been made.
“It’s a country, it’s really beautiful and it’s ours,” Kahn said. “We have to treat it as a normal society.”
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