By Jonathan Kamel
IEC/Hillel Israel Intern, Northwestern University
My name is Jonathan Kamel and I am a sophomore at Northwestern University majoring in Political Science. I grew up in the great city of Chicago and am still a member of the incredible AnsheEmet Synagogue. I am currently the Israel Education Center's Intern at Northwestern working with the Fielder Hillel on my campus.
I'm writing today to talk about this community's investment in the next generation of Jewish leaders. As a leader on my campus, I have chosen to dedicate a significant amount of time away from my school work and social life to advocate for Israel on my campus. I consciously made this decision because I have deep connections to my Jewish faith, the nation of Israel, and its place as the homeland of the Jewish people.
The Israel Education Center has empowered me to become this leader on campus. I have been encouraged to build relationships with other student leaders, connect with non-Jewish students, and broaden the base of pro-Israel activists at Northwestern. By thinking of Israel not only through a Jewish lens, but a place where minority rights, freedom of the press, and democracy are protected, I can engage students with vastly different religious, cultural, and ethnic backgrounds. This is currently my goal as the IEC Intern and President of Wildcats for Israel: to build a broad coalition of support for the Jewish state inclusive of all backgrounds and students.
If I can call myself a success story of the Jewish community (I sure hope I can), what is going on with my fellow Jewish peers? What are some of their connections with Israel? Do they even care at all?
While recent surveys shows that a large percentage of young American Jews have no connection to Israel, if you walk into any Hillel in Illinois you will find the opposite is true. Students are actively talking about Israel, Israeli politics, and the peace process. Hillel continues to be an open space for students to voice their opinions on Israel in a safe and nurturing environment. Yet it is important for students like me that Hillel remains firm on its policy of preventing the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement from dividing the Jewish community on campus. BDS must not be allowed in the walls of Hillel or in any campus in Illinois.
It is my opinion that the Jewish community must engage my generation in many different facets and strategies in order to cultivate a love for Israel. Talking about Israel as the historic homeland of the Jewish people is a great challenge for today's media and Twitter obsessed generation. Students want something tangible they can hold onto and a place they can call home. They must learn to love Israel as a place where they will always be welcome and as a country that deserves their respect and devotion.
Birthright does this for many students. Northwestern students come back from Birthright in love with the land, food, and even some of the soldiers they met. Yet, like a Bar Mitzvah, Birthright cannot be the only involvement students have with Israel during their four year college experience. If this is so, we have failed. It is our community's role to continue to provide opportunities for Jewish students to engage with the fascination and diversity of modern Israeli culture. Whether this is through seminars, weekly discussions on Israeli current events, or Falafel fests, on-going pro-Israel programming demonstrates a healthy Hillel and an active Jewish student body.
We must continue to work with the plethora of Israel organizations on campus that encompasses a variety of different political views on Israel and with similar goals as Hillel and the Israel Education Center. Only as a united front can we face and defeat the anti-Israel activity that occurs on our nation's campuses. IEC Interns across Illinois are working with other student leaders to bolster the pro-Israel movement. This is why Hillel is so important and essential to the Jewish college experience. It is the hub, the meeting place, and the catalyst for Jewish life on campus and this includes Israel.
One of my favorite quotes is from the great Zionist, Theodor Herzl. In 1902, he wrote the famous words, "If you will it, it is no dream." Israel today is no longer a figment of our imagination, it is real, vibrant but continues to need our support and activism. I look forward to continue my work to educate my peers regarding the modern, Jewish state and I take pride in the fact that I am having a meaningful and positive impact at Northwestern.