By LEAH KARCHMER
Coming to DePaul University from a Jewish day school was a major transition. As a graduate of Solomon Schechter and Chicagoland Jewish High School, I had never before encountered any form of anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism. While I consider myself privileged to have received an extensive Jewish education, it did not prepare me for what I faced at DePaul.
At DePaul for the first time I confronted propaganda aimed towards delegitimizing Israel's right to exist.
Throughout my years at day school, I developed a strong love and connection to the state of Israel, which remains a core element of my identity. However, my education fell short in providing me with the tools to advocate for Israel. Never before had I felt it necessary to defend Israel and, upon arriving on campus and suddenly facing this challenge, I discovered that I was utterly unprepared.
It was not long before I found DePaul Hillel and an entire network of support. Duriong my freshman year I went from being a fearful new student to an outspoken leader for Israel. This transformation would not have happened without the support and education I received from the students and mentors at DePaul Hillel.
After co-founding the first politically focused pro-Israel group on campus, I spent the year serving as President of DePaul Israel Advocates. In this position, I worked with my fellow pro-Israel students to reconstruct our campus's image of Israel. Through a wide range of programs and campaigns, we were able to demonstrate to the DePaul student body that Israel is a modern, flourishing country with a rich culture and beautiful history. Striving to expose a fuller understanding of Israel, expanding its image beyond the conflict, our group succeeded by highlighting the many contributions the state has made to the global community, in fields such as environmentalism, science, art, and humanitarian aid.
Building coalitions with other groups on campus was perhaps the most important aspect of our group's work, as it was through these relationships that we ultimately spread our message and expanded our scope beyond the Jewish community. Reaching out to the various Indian groups on campus, we co-hosted a cultural exchange, in which we celebrated commonalities between Indian and Israeli culture, sharing in one another's food, dance, and music. Along with the ROTC, we hosted Sargent Benjamin Anthony from the Israeli Defense Forces who shared with students his experiences in combat. With both the DePaul Democrats and DePaul Republicans, we invited a speaker to talk about the American-Israeli alliance and the ways in which it benefits both nations.
Our greatest achievement was the film we co-sponsored with the Islamic Studies Department. Attendees watched and discussed the film, Pickles, which tells the story of Palestinian and Israeli women who worked together to start a small business selling pickles. This event allowed us to have a dialogue with the Muslim and Arab students, focusing our conversation on issues of peace and cooperation across religious and cultural boarders.
Throughout my first year at DePaul, I experienced the challenges Jewish and non-Jewish pro-Israel students face across the country. Up against a well-organized force of students and faculty members working to delegitimize the state of Israel, I often struggled to balance my role as both a student and an advocate. In both social and academic contexts, from students and professors alike, I felt isolated because of my pro-Israel beliefs. However, the support I received from Hillel and from my fellow Israel advocates enabled me to overcome these obstacles and become an effective Israel activist.
Leah Karchmer is a DePaul student and Lewis Summer Intern at the Israel Education Center.