Paint for Peace activity at Loyala University
David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first Prime Minister once said that for Israel, "It is both a privilege and an obligation to be a 'Light unto the Nations'." What does it mean to be a light to other nations as a state or to other people as an individual? As a non-Jew I was raised with a Christian perspective that being a light meant service to others, helping those in need, standing up for what is right and living a life of purpose in order to make a positive impact on the world around you.
After working in the Jewish community for almost three years, I've learned about a similar concept but one that is truly unique to the community--the concept of an imperative. In Illinois alone, I've seen this imperative carried out and expressed in so many impactful ways through individual and collective action for the good of those in the community and to hundreds of thousands beyond.
In the case of the Jewish community and I believe--in the case of Israel, being a light translates into a major obligation--both to oneself and to others. It truly is not for the faint of heart. In general, being a light asks of an individual or a community to constantly look for opportunities to make things better, to create positive change, to give of one's self or one's resources, to take up the call of leadership--and to do this even in the face of opposition, unpopularity (at times, persecution) and constant challenges.
When posed with the statement that Israel is a light unto the nations, what is your response? As part of the work that we do, the Israel Education Center (IEC) makes it our mission to constantly educate the next generation about the various ways that Israel is shining brightly in the world: Israel's technological innovations, environmental achievements, human and civil rights advancements, breakthroughs in the medical field, the flourishing of democracy and freedom in a tumultuous region rocked by disorder and oppression, her continual outreach and humanitarian aid throughout the world, and the list goes on and on!
This might have been part of what Ben-Gurion envisioned when he referenced the Book of Isaiah. Even at the beginning of statehood and through continuous attacks he recognized Israel's imperative: the right of self-determination for the Jewish nation, and a call to action of what this nation's imperative would be in the world around them. But he also knew that this undertaking would not come without challenges and opposition, and after 65 years of independence, the Jewish state continues to fulfill this imperative. Every nation has its issues and is not without blemish, but Israel's impact on the world continues to be a force for good.
Spreading awareness about all of Israel's many accomplishments and contributions to her people and to the world over the past 65 years truly makes an indelible impact on the next generation. Looking back at this year on college campuses across Illinois, I believe through collective action we accomplished this.
Through the efforts of the IEC, Hillel professional staff and our 10 Israel Interns. nearly 100 events focusing on Israel took place on campuses across the state--all of which impacted thousands of students and faculty from a wide diversity of studies, interests and backgrounds. Through student interns' creativity, hard work and passion for Israel, incredible campus events took place ranging from Yom Ha'atzmaut celebrations on the quad to presentations in public venues and in classrooms by Israeli scholars, journalists, environmental activists and artists. Through all of our efforts, entire campus communities were exposed to Israel in a new light, thousands were offered new opportunities to engage further with Israel and many lives were changed for the good.
Many of our students had the opportunity to stand up to anti-Israel sentiment, campus programming, and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement on campus. Due to the efforts, conviction and perseverance of our interns and with the IEC's support, these efforts failed. Students and faculty were made aware of anti-Israel groups' ultimate agenda-- the delegitimization of Israel's right to exist as a Jewish and democratic state. Although efforts by these groups were low-key this year, the IEC continued to monitor their actions and gave students the tools necessary to combat false arguments through campus articles, coalition building and through continual positive programming.
From my perspective looking back on the year, this is exactly what it means to "be a light". Ben-Gurion's vision is one that calls out to those who are determined to fulfill an imperative and to live a life of significance and purpose - one that changes the world for the good. Today his vision for Israel is flourishing and is a testament of what happens when an individual, a community, a people and a state determine to shine brightly.