Forming unique connections to Israel

Abigail Seitz
IEC/Hillel Israel Intern at Columbia College

Monica Hirsch, Shaanan Streett, and Abigail Seitz

I was walking back to my dorm after a Hillel meeting one evening when a girl I did not know stopped me. "Hey! Aren't you the girl who planned that event a few weeks ago with the Israeli hip-hop guy?" she asked. The student went on to say she had attended the event and had a fantastic experience and asked for my email so we could discuss the event and its content more. I was totally stunned. The event, an interactive discussion with Shaanan Streett of Hadag Nachash, had been held over two weeks prior, so I was overjoyed that the night was still fresh in her mind.

The event was co-sponsored by Columbia College Chicago's music department, as well as the on-campus organization Art + Activism. In the weeks leading up to the event, I was nervous that the event would only attract Jewish students who already have ties to Israel. Columbia has a large commuter population, so organizations frequently struggle to get students to come to events.

The event drew about 40 people. When I looked out at the crowd, I only recognized about half of the attendees from Hillel. When asked how they heard about the event, each student had a different answer. Some said they heard about the event from their professors, while some had found the event online. Regardless of how they were attracted to the event, I was proud to look out and see over a dozen students with no relationship to Israel eagerly listening to Streett discuss Jerusalem nightlife.

I began the event by asking Streett questions about Israel's music scene and his personal journey as both an artist and activist. When I turned the question-asking over to the audience, I found the students I didn't recognize from Hillel asking the most engaging questions. While Israel is a common topic of discussion amongst my Jewish peers, it was exciting to see students with little previous exposure to Israeli culture engaged.

It is easy to forget that Israel is a fusion of different cultures and ideas when the news focuses on conflict and war, which is why working to engage students through Israel's unique culture has been a rewarding experience. Columbia is an innovative arts school, so the student body is relatively unconventional. Columbia does not have a Model U.N. or a College Democrats organization; students are typically more consumed by their artistic mediums and interests. Some may see this as a dilemma for campus Israel advocacy, but I have found it to enhance the programming that I plan as an Israel Education Center intern for Columbia's campus.

When students have the chance to meet an actual Israeli musician and activist, more meaningful connections are formed, even without direct ties to the land. Throughout the rest of the semester, I plan to continue to create unique and artistic events with the Israel Education Center and Columbia's distinctive student body so that more students can have the opportunity to learn about Israel in a context outside of its conflicts in hopes of creating a greater understanding of Israel as a state today. 

Personal stories of lives impacted by the opportunities offered through JUF's Israel Education Center.... Read More

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