Nineteen Jewish and non-Jewish student leaders from 15 Midwest campuses convened in Chicago in September for JUF's Israel Education Center (IEC)'s fall training. The students will work remotely as IEC interns on their campuses during the 2017-2018 academic year.
IEC professionals led sessions on leadership, professionalism, and effectively countering anti-Israel activity on campus. Interns brainstormed programming and goals for the upcoming school year while forming connections with other student leaders from across the Midwest.
Students must meet several benchmarks during their internship, including hosting Israel-related events, providing opportunities for guest speakers on campus, building relationships, writing Israel-related articles, and assisting with Birthright recruitment.
Working beyond the Jewish community is critical for interns, especially in the current divisive political climate, according to Emily White, IEC's program director. Last year, interns engaged diverse student organizations through bonfires, interfaith dinners, lectures, and educational events.
"The work IEC interns do on campus has never been more important," White said. "During training, students brainstormed ways to reach out beyond the Jewish community and engage with their peers. We look forward to seeing the unique and new ways interns bring Israel to campus, and we look forward to supporting their grassroots work every step of the way."
The internship attracts students from diverse backgrounds and varying experiences with Israel. As a non-Jewish student and a sustainable systems management major, Carter Blankenship connects to Israel through its culture and commitment to the environment.
"I was blown away by the culture and the openness of the country," said Blankenship, a junior at the University of Minnesota. "I wasn't introduced to Israel until college. When I began learning about it, BDS was going on, and I was disgusted by the divisiveness by certain groups. I wanted to get active and support Israel."
For Zachary Lempert, a freshman at the University of Toledo, the IEC internship provides unique opportunities to get involved and expand his skillset.
"I was a USY Israel Affairs vice president for my chapter in high school, so I thought this would be a nice transition into collegiate programming," Lempert said. "At training, I gained a lot of different perspectives on very similar views. I come from a school that has a Jewish population that is small and mighty, so I want to educate my peers and make it clear that it's okay to disagree on Israel and religion. I want to open that dialogue."
The training included two educational sessions. Emily Shire, the political editor for Bustle, led a discussion on Zionism, political identity, and intersectionality. Shire has written several articles for The New York Times , The Washington Post , and The Nation about progressives on the left excluding Zionists, and about her identities as a liberal, feminist, Jewish Zionist.
IEC educator Carl Schrag led a session on Israeli history and the competing narratives present in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
"I enjoyed the history and perspectives session," said Pierce Boyd-Bagby, a sophomore at the University of Illinois at Chicago. "The entire training was inspiring, too. Seeing a group of students equally as passionate about Israel advocacy was truly inspiring. I'm excited to showcase Israel as a country with a unique, diverse culture, outside of the politics of the conflict."