Numbers are important. The number of programs, educational opportunities, and initiatives that Israel Education Center (IEC) offers and the number of people we reach grows each year. Numbers are significant—they show the large impact we make and the diversity of people we reach. But sometimes the stories we’re not able to tell in those numbers are the individual lives that are directly impacted and changed forever. The true significance of what we do can be found in those personal stories and it is my hope that this blog serves as an opportunity to give voice to those impacted.
I’d like to start with a story from our Reach Across Illinois Campuses for Israel initiative. This is one of the first programs of its kind in the country that offers non-Jewish students, faculty, and staff on campuses where there are no Hillels, access to Israel education and opportunities that many of them would never have. I know this first hand because I was one of these students engaged through this program and it is because of RAIC that I am working here today as the Israel Education Center associate.
RAIC educates students by connecting them with Israel in a way that resonates with them, but it also opens new doors of opportunity in their life. John Green and William Grover are two ROTC Cadets at Western Illinois University and are currently serving as RAIC Israel Interns on their campus. John is majoring in International Relations and Comparative Politics with three minors in History, Asian Studies, and Military Science. His accomplishments on campus are in ROTC training, in which he remains in the top 10 percent of 22 cadets, and has been given awards for excellence in character, personification of value, and military history excellence. William plans to graduate from WIU with a degree in Political Science as well as commission as a Second Lieutenant of the US Army through the ROTC program. He is currently in his junior year, which is considered one of the toughest years for cadet training, and yet he manages to balance the rigors of intensive training, schoolwork, and on top that excelling in this internship. Both are exceptional young men.
William and John’s desire to learn more about Israel is pertinent and genuine because they have a vested interest. There is a good chance that these young men will soon serve our nation abroad in the Middle East. This is real life to them—their real futures. They understand the value of Israel’s example in the world as one that they can relate to as Americans and look to as a model of success in a region collapsing in chaos.
John and William have not stopped there. They have become convinced that this message is not only relevant to their campus community but essential to their education. As a kickoff to the new school year we worked with these young men and faculty at Western to bring Amos Guiora, counterterrorism expert and professor of law at the University of Utah, to speak in three different classrooms and one large campus lecture.
ROTC Cadets with Amos Guiora. John, pictured in his best suit left of speaker and William in uniform, far right.
The most impactful portion of this program was made possible by John and William. Guiora was able to address a classroom of over 30 ROTC Cadets on the topic of “Morality in Armed Conflict”, using his 19 years of real life experience as a Commander of the IDF School of Military Law and Legal Advisor to the IDF Home Front Command. One Lieutenant Colonel at Western Illinois University described the lectures as providing “an invaluable opportunity for the cadets”.
But the story doesn’t end here. RAIC opens doors for so many students, faculty and staff. We offer fly-ins to D.C. where participants can meet with congress members; opportunities where they can join us at major policy conferences; access to Israeli scholars and experts in fields related to their studies; an internship which enables them to advocate for Israel on their campus; connect them with the Jewish community in Chicago; demonstrate the connection that this community and Jewish communities worldwide have with Israel and finally, take students and faculty to Israel to experience it firsthand. This is just one of the many personal stories and lives impacted by the opportunities offered through JUF's Israel Education Center, and there are still many more to come.