The reality is, never did I truly imagine what my Jewish and Israel experience would be like on campus. All I knew was to check out Hillel, Chabad, and see what this Students Supporting Israel thing was. Coming from a Russian-Jewish background, Israel was always as close to me as my soul, and I knew that I wanted to be involved just as much as in specifically Jewish life.
One of the first people I met at Minnesota Hillel in the fall of 2015 was Idan Cohen, the new Israel Fellow (not that I knew there was at some point an old one). We were both new to campus, and not quite knowing how things would go but with some idea of direction. Idan and I became friends, first and foremost, talking about everything Israel-related – as well as who I happened to be in love with at the time.
I was in the process of obsessively figuring out my relationship to Israel both in context of finally being on a college campus with anti-Israel activity, but also as Jew relatively on his own for the first time. Idan helped guide me through all my questions and realizations, from realizing how diverse Israel actually is to how entirely screwed the political system is there, from the utmost best to some of the unpleasant realities. Idan also introduced me to the first Palestinian I ever met in my life, which both broke many preconceptions I had about Palestinians as well as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but also brings me to my next point in this love letter to the Israel community on campus.
The reason anybody was at Minnesota Hillel that day was because of an Israel Advocacy class offered to students in collaboration with the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas. The class that day was about having a panel with an Israeli and a Palestinian side by side. I sat in while I had time, and my world was turned upside down. Before the panel, I saw the two of them casually trading jokes. To think: An Israeli and a Palestinian could be in the same room and crack jokes together! My mind was blown with the sheer awesomeness of the moment. And it was also shared with an entire class! Unbelievable.
Later, in the spring of 2016 with the introduction of BDS and the campaign of UMN United, I received the chance to really be out on campus and working with everyone from SSI to Hillel International, StandWithUS, and ICC. But one of the people who put the massive work in to help the students fight BDS was Idan, who truly lived up to his title as the Israel Fellow.
After that exhausting semester, fall of 2016 found the University of Minnesota campus with more Israel groups than could be counted. Naturally all with slightly different agendas, alliances, and rules. Most likely there would not have been much collaboration or cooperation between the different interns and organizations, but once again Idan worked himself to stress and back to organize an overall coalition of the Israel groups on campus, all while organizing Birthright and Hillel Israel events. And on a less logistical level, while continuing to always be a supportive friend, ear, and staff to me personally.
To sum it up, in the Israel world on campus I never imagined all of these possibilities that would be here to guide me, with an Israel Fellow, an Israel Advocacy class, and events both to celebrate Israel as well as combat a negative narrative.
With just a few months left in this academic year I am worried though; worried that these things I took for granted will not be here for those who come after me. I fully understand that the opportunities I’ve had are thanks to the generosity of individuals who have supported Hillel directly or via Federation support of the Minnesota Israel Leadership Collaborative (MILC) grant. I also fully understand that the MILC grant is set to conclude at the end of this year and thus may or may not continue in its current form moving forward.
While I am not yet at a point in my life where I can give back, I am hopeful that by sharing my story, individual, foundation, and Federated funders with consider the impact that pro-Israel work on campus is having on the next generation of communal leaders.
I don’t want my college experience to be unique because it has been truly amazing. The things I’ve taken part in and the people I have met will always be a part of me. Other students deserve this as well.