Until my junior year of college, I hadn’t paid much attention to the Jewish State of Israel or its issues. Of course, I was up to date about what was happening in Israel, including the attacks, but I never did anything further than just knowing about it, nor did I ever plan on acting upon it.
The summer right before entering junior year, I went on birthright and I was moved by the amount of love and passion that Israelis have. The people of Israel care and love their land and show it with great spirit. I have never seen something so beautiful and graceful and that was the moment I fell in love with Israel. Walking down the streets of Jerusalem during Shabbat and seeing our Arab neighbors greeting us with “Shabbat Shalom” was absolutely incredible. That was when I truly believed that we can have peace, and that people in Israel already had a piece of that peace the nation is fighting for. The most important things that I learned from my time in Israel was that you have to hear out both sides of the story and you must respect both sides, even if you disagree. Without those two factors you won’t have peace or any type of solutions.
I was sitting in my Jewish History class along with two classmates, one of them I knew since freshmen year and the other one I had just met that day. Out of the three of us I was the only one to receive an email about an SJP event and automatically thought to myself, where are the pro-Israel groups? There weren’t any at all – even Pace Hillel wasn’t active for a few years now. That very moment I felt obligated to do something and so I screenshot a picture of the email and sent it into my birthright group’s Facebook page. Moments after my post, one of my staff members messaged me and asked if I wanted to start a pro-Israel group on campus. I turned to both classmates and asked if they wanted to start this with me and they said yes. I was then connected with Students Supporting Israel – SSI – and the journey began.
The three of us were so excited to start a brand new pro-Israel group on campus but it took much longer than we expected – a whole semester just to get our organization approved. During that semester, we had been at the students activities office well over 100 times, constantly asking for updates about our approval status. Once we were finally approved the following semester, we went straight to work.
Our main goal was to first get full recognition on campus, which was what we felt was most necessary being that we were a new organization. Once we accomplished our first goal we then started to host events as well as tabling. While tabling we experienced everything from rude comments, nasty facial reactions to students asking where we were hiding all this time; however the majority disregarded us. Those who ignored us were the ones who wanted to stay “neutral” and not get involved. The rude comments and the disgusted facial reactions came from the pro Palestinian students who were approached by the SJP prior to us. What we found to be very interesting about the newly pro Palestinian students was that they did not have any reasoning to back up why they believed that Israel was bad. They only knew that they were supposed to think of and picture Israel as this horrible thing. We encountered a perfect example of this when a student came up to our table, and after realizing what we were supporting, quickly said “Oh no I was just over there (pointing to the SJP table) and my friends would kill me if I joined you guys.” We then asked him for his reasons as to why he couldn’t support us and he simply didn’t have an answer. Right there and then we understood SJP’s method, which is to manipulate students and friends into supporting them.
As a pro-Israel group on campus we did not choose to manipulate students into joining or supporting us. We showed respect to everyone and presented facts to back up our reasoning. All of us stayed positive and shaped our group’s image to be warm and welcoming to all.
After we established SSI at Pace University, Hillel reopened its doors and became active on campus. The most notable thing I have experienced with founding and running SSI on campus has been that the Jewish students almost never participate in our events, except for a select few. Something else to note about my experience is that students who know most about Israel do not show support or attend our events, but the students who know the least show up to our events and show incredible support.
It’s easy for Jewish students to take the truth for granted, but if I’ve learned anything it’s that cowering in fear, shame or embarrassment won’t solve the problem – standing up for the truth will.
If you want to start an SSI on your campus, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.