Update on the Campus Initiative on Israel Engagement

We are so pleased to provide you with this update on the Campus Initiative on Israel Engagement, which just concluded its first year in the field.

Made possible with your generous support, the Initiative is a partnership among the three Bay Area Federations, Hillel International, and the eight Hillels across Northern California, covering more than 12 campuses. The initiative, launched in July of 2016, was developed in response to the anti-Israel activity across campuses and students’ need for support, learning, and safe spaces to dialogue – all in an effort to meet students where they are and help them create a meaningful relationship with Israel.

In 2016, we hired Dror Stein as regional director to lead the Initiative. An Israeli who served as a Jewish Agency Israel Fellow at Berkeley Hillel prior to accepting this new role, Dror comes to the position with experience working with Bay Area college students, deep knowledge about Israel, and great sensitivity. She is in the field daily, working closely with Hillel directors and their Israel professional teams, developing and coordinating Israel engagement strategy and experiential opportunities that meet the needs of diverse students, and being a tremendous support for the directors when anti-Israel activities or rhetoric is present on campus. The Hillel directors are no longer alone “holding Israel” on their campuses but, rather, they are collaborating and sharing the responsibility with Dror so that they can focus on their primary role of supporting students in their Jewish journeys and developing meaningful relationships among Jewish students.

As one Hillel director puts it, “We are already experiencing results from this collaborative resource and approach. Dror, as regional director of the Initiative, serves as a central hub, identifying trends across campuses, helping us plan and be both proactive and reactive, improving the campus climate for our students around Israel.” Another director reports: “A clear example of the value that Dror brings was evident during Palestinian Solidarity Week this year. She focused on the week and helped us coordinate our response so effectively; it was the most positive of these weeks during my tenure.”

Under the Initiative, we had the first ever Northern California Israel retreat for students, inviting student leaders from across Northern California to a day of learning about Israel with a Shalom Hartman scholar, allowing for the nuanced conversations about Israel and mutual support. As one student said, “I thought the retreat was a wonderful experience and it was helpful in giving me a perspective of my own campus’ relationship with Israel, as well as other campuses. The retreat made me realize how much of a support system my school has.”

Other special opportunities under the Initiative’s first year included three unique speaker tours, each exposing a different perspective of Israeli society and culture, appealing to the broadest range of students. Chef Ori Shavit introduced the growing vegan cooking scene in Israel, complete with cooking classes; Arab Israeli news broadcaster Lucy Aharish shared her story of struggle and privilege being the first Arab woman in Israeli media; and Yavilah McCoy, a Jewish woman of color, facilitated lectures and workshops on relationship-building across differences, supporting students who are coping with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a complex campus climate. One student said, “I loved hearing Lucy Aharish, I thought she was inspiring and motivating in terms of standing up for what we believe in and being advocates for Israel.”

The Initiative also provides a structure for mutual learning and idea sharing among Northern California Hillel professionals. Regional roundtables now occur quarterly and relevant Israel-themed materials are shared regularly. This more formal and intentional information sharing has helped to identify different events and trends, anti-Israel among them, that are occurring on more than one campus. Materials and learning sessions are being facilitated and distributed by the regional director to all of the Hillels.

As an engagement-focused initiative, the goal is to provide Jewish students on campus with rich, diverse, and substantive Israel educational experiences during the school year so that, when anti-Israel activity does occur on campus (in any form), students are equipped with a personal connection to Israel and are, therefore, much less disturbed by the incident.

In addition to the establishment of the regional director role, the Campus Initiative on Israel Engagement provides direct grants to each Hillel to help fund Israel “engagers” on campus. The flexibility and three-year commitments of funding allows each Hillel to plan strategically and also to be nimble, as needs change year to year. (Campus Hillels include: San Francisco Hillel, Hillel at Stanford, Hillel of Silicon Valley, Hillel of Sonoma County, Berkeley Hillel, Santa Cruz Hillel, Hillel at Davis and Sacramento, and Chico Hillel.)

The Campus Initiative on Israel Engagement is a unique partnership among the San Francisco-based Jewish Community Federation and Endowment Fund, Hillel International, the Jewish Federation of the East Bay and the Jewish Community Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Silicon Valley, and all eight Hillels within Northern California. The planning, funding, implementation, oversight, and evaluation of this Initiative are done collaboratively among all partners.

We are so proud of the progress of the Initiative during its first year and are excited to help it develop and bloom next year. On behalf of the community, we thank you for your support of our Northern California Jewish students. Should you have any questions on the Initiative and its progress this year, please do not hesitate to contact Julie Golde, Director of Community Impact at the San Francisco-based Federation, at julieg@sfjcf.org or 415.512.6435.

Categories: Israel, Community


July 31, 2017