Advocating for Israel on Campus
Central to our mission at ICJA is educating students to be passionate Zionists, who feel a deep connection and love for Israel. Today, that also means to provide our students with tools to advocate for Israel on what can sometimes be a hostile atmosphere on campus.
For students like alumni Nava Wolgel (’16) and Elana Zelden (’13), who are at University of Illinois in Urbana Champaign, and Tamara Soleymani (’16) at the University of Maryland, the task of promoting Israel on campus can be a delicate balance.
Nava and Elana are members of Illini Students Supporting Israel (ISSI) and have hosted numerous events and programs to promote Israel advocacy on campus. As part of the club, they teach a class called Illini Students Discussing Israel and bring in Israel advocacy speakers.
Members of the group, including Nava and Elana, issued a joint statement, saying, “We have witnessed a rampant rise in anti-Zionism on our campus. Campus members have placed a dangerous stigma on us, as Zionists and as students. Recently, we welcomed Israeli writer, activist, and former IDF soldier Hen Mazzig to speak at our event. We were greeted with the utmost disrespect, and hatred far beyond what we could imagine from an organization called Student Justice for Palestine. Between acts of protest like what occurred at our event, and the desecration of the Israeli flag, we are deeply and constantly affected. With this, however, we have found a way to build a stronger community and we will continue to be outspoken, loyal advocates for the State of Israel.”
Elana says, “I would say ICJA instilled in me a love for religious Zionism and an understanding of the importance of the State of Israel for the Jewish people.”
Nava says, “I am appreciative to Ida Crown for encouraging me to spend a gap year in Israel. I feel confident in my ability to promote Israel advocacy on campus because of my education at Ida Crown and my experiences in Israel.” At least 80 percent of our graduating seniors spend one to two years post high school in Israel.
At University of Maryland this week, alum Tamara Soleymani (’16) was among outspoken students who defended Israel against a legislator of the student government association (SGA) who proposed a bill calling for the school to boycott and divest from Israel. A bunch of the pro-israel groups on campus as well as a few pro-israel SGA legislators banded together to fight this bill. They collected over 1200 student signatures on a petition and over 1200 alumni signatures all against the bill. When the SGA met this week, students were given a chance to raise concerns. Tamara and 44 other pro-israel students spoke out against BDS at this meeting. She says, “The room only allowed 400 people in, and I would say over 300 UMD students came out to protest the bill and even more showed up and weren’t allowed in. at the end of the night, the bill was killed before it could even be voted on because of the strong opposition to it.” Tamara spoke about about the persecution her family faced in Iran and how much of her extended family members were saved by Israel. She explained how the bill ignored the complexities of the Middle East and the stories of those like her family.
At University of Michigan this week, a similar bill did pass in the student legislature, the University of Michigan’s Central Student Government.
In order to prepare our students, we offer numerous opportunities to learn Israel advocacy, both in school and through extracurricular programs. Second semester seniors at the Academy prepare for life on college campuses through an Israel advocacy course with Rabbi Michael Myers. Faced with the often-tense political climate on campus, one Academy alumni family recognized the need to arm high school graduates with Israel knowledge. The hope is that seniors will graduate with the essential tools to advocate for Israel once they arrive on campus. The course builds upon years of courses in Tanach, Jewish history and even writing and rhetoric.
The Gorenstein family, who sent all of their children to ICJA, approached the school to initiate the course, committed funds and have been involved in the course’s development and in raising more of the necessary funds. The family’s efforts in developing the course are in memory of their father and grandfather, Sam Gorenstein, ע’’ה. Carl Schrag–a journalist, teacher and Middle East analyst–helped develop the course.
Juniors and seniors also annually join Write On For Israel, a prestigious, competitive two-year program from the JUF. A core group of ICJA students have joined the program annually since its inception over a decade ago.
All of this is in addition to our Hebrew and Tanach courses, regular speakers who visit our school to address and inspire students and, of course, Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut programs.