More than 40 Jewish and non-Jewish student leaders from two Midwest universities will travel to Israel in January through a mission organized by Hillel and JUF's Israel Education Center (IEC).
The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and DePaul University will send delegations. The objective of the trip is to provide students with a diverse exploration of the Jewish state.
"Bringing such a large and diverse group of non-Jewish student leaders to Israel will transform the Israel conversation on campus," said Erez Cohen, executive director of Hillel at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "Leaders will see with their own eyes what Israel is, as a democracy, a modern state, and a pillar of stability in the Middle East."
Students will engage with a diverse selection of journalists, professors, and politicians during the trip.
"The best way to learn more about Israel is to travel there, meet Israelis, and see Israel for oneself," said Emily Briskman, IEC's executive director. "We will explore a variety of narratives and meet with key people from various facets of Israeli society so students can walk away with a robust understanding of contemporary Israel."
Each university's delegation has a unique itinerary. In addition to visiting Yad Vashem, the Western Wall, and Tel Aviv University, delegates will learn about Israel's security challenges, its role as the Start-Up Nation, and the history of Zionism. Students will also visit Ramallah to meet with Palestinian activists and interfaith leaders.
"I wanted to [go on] this trip to experience Hanukkah in Israel and to find stronger ways to connect with Israel for myself and my campus," said Kati Danforth, a student at DePaul University. "I am looking forward to visiting the Old City and Jerusalem. I would also like to advance my knowledge on Palestinian and Israeli life in Israel."
Both universities have faced BDS resolutions and referendums in recent years. By bringing students from diverse backgrounds to Israel, Hillel hopes to counter the misinformation students often encounter on campus.
"The ability of a non-Jewish student leader to stand against an anti-Israel protester is deeply affected when they can express what they experienced firsthand," Cohen said. "It will put to rest so many of the biased and untrue claims made about Israel on campus."