On September 15, 2010, I had the rare opportunity to meet Natan Sharansky before the annual Jewish Federation Annual Meeting Luncheon where he was the main speaker. As an active participant with the Levine Hillel at the University of Illinois at Chicago and as the MASA* intern for my campus, I spend a lot of time educating people about Israel and promoting Israel advocacy.
When I was invited by The Hillels of Illinois to a private meeting with Sharansky before the luncheon, I was ecstatic. I told all my professors I could not make it to class that day because I had to go meet the former refusenik, former Deputy Prime Minister of Israel and now the Chairman of the Jewish Agency.
My Jewish and non-Jewish friends alike were amazed at the opportunity. I was hoping that this meeting would help me to stay strong in the face of growing anti-Israel sentiment on campus, and perhaps teach me how to be a better Israel advocate.
When I arrived in the meeting room at the Hyatt Regency and took my seat around the table with fellow students and staff representing various Hillels throughout Illinois, I felt a sense of true purpose. I took up a pen and notebook knowing that this was an experience I did not want to forget.
When Mr. Sharansky walked into the room and began speaking with us, it was amazing how well we could relate to his story and how relevant his advice was for us on college campuses today. Here is a man who has served in the Israeli Knesset, written books, served as a human rights activist, who was sitting down and telling me and all the other students that we are the future.
He noted that Israel’s toughest ideological conflict is on college campuses and it was up to my generation to speak out and support Israel. He explained that we could best do this by each staying strong in our own Jewish identity and that we should never be afraid to show how beautiful our homeland truly is.
I was so grateful to hear the words of Natan Sharansky, specifically spoken to my peers and me. A man who is a hero, standing up for what he believes in, telling me that I can and should do it too. It was even more remarkable to join the Jewish community at the Jewish Federation Annual Luncheon.
For me, a senior in college, the luncheon expanded my view of the broad Jewish community that exists in Chicago, and I realized what a wonderful place this is to be a young Jew and explore my own identity.
And that The Hillels of Illinois and the Chicago Jewish Federation are helping to make it possible to do that.
I am confident that I can be an advocate for Israel on or off campus, as long as I never forget who I am and what it means to be part of the Jewish people.
Cara Frazin is a student at the University of Illinois at Chicago and an active participant of the Levine Hillel on campus, and was a 2010 Lewis Summer Intern.
*MASA enables young Jews from all over the world to spend a semester to a year in Israel on any of over 160 programs.
The Hillels of Illinois, a partner in serving our community, is supported by the Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago and Hillel: The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life. For more information about The Hillels of Illinois, contact Rabbi Paul Z. Saiger at (312) 673-2356.