With everything going on around the world right now, I thought this would be a great time to reflect on my past year working with Students Supporting Israel.
Looking back to when I started working with SSI in 2018, I came in new and not knowing what to expect — being new to the pro-Israel world. This year, I knew what to expect when the year started, we had goals, and many relationships have been built since. The year started with a bang when SSI decided to expand and add Sophia Witt to our team. You cannot put a price tag on how much she has meant to our organization since joining this Fall alone. She not only makes life easier for us in the office, but it is always great to have another friend and personality on the team.
Once the team expanded, one of our first projects was to do our annual Van Campaign in the Midwest region. We hit campuses such as: the University of Michigan, Michigan State University, Notre Dame University, University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign & Benedictine University. We even had an Israeli journalist join us this time so he could write a piece (in Hebrew, for Israelis) on how the sentiment towards Israel on campus really is. As usual, the haters came out when we used our “Hamas Bake Sale” tactic; basically seeing who would donate money to a known terrorist organization before an organization that builds bomb shelters for people in Israel. However, we did get a new SSI chapter established as a result of the campaign (at Michigan State University) and we were hopefully able to give some insight to Israelis on what the climate on campus is really like as a result of the article.
About a year ago exactly, we started recording and having our own podcast “The Last Word with SSI”. We finished our first season and already have content coming out for our second season. Check out the discussions on different but interesting topics regarding Israel and activism on either Spotify or Apple.
I also had the opportunity to attend multiple conferences this year. This year, SSI hosted our fifth National Conference in New York City at Columbia University. Around 80 pro-Israel activists took to Columbia University, one of the most anti-Israel campuses in the country, and had an unforgettable experience. I also had the chance to attend the Israel on Campus Coalition (ICC) Field Professional Retreat in Denver, the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington DC, and the Israeli American Council (IAC) National Summit in Miami. It is always a relief to see all the pro-Israel advocates and professionals at these gatherings — none of us are in this fight alone.
This year specifically, I had the ability to travel more often as well. Not only to conferences and for projects like our Van Campaign, but to travel with my own presentation that I give to students about the Israeli Government System. If you asked me five years ago if I envisioned myself traveling to campuses giving students presentations, I probably would have looked at you with a confused smirk. But here I am and every campus I had the opportunity to be on has been so welcoming and interested in the subject matter that it makes it easy and fun. I have already presented at Benedictine University, Middle Georgia State University, Mercer University, the University of Georgia, Kennesaw State University and the University of Toronto (with one online webinar for it coming next week). And I look forward to presenting at more campuses on the topic in the future to come.
It technically would not be work if there were not obstacles to work around, or challenges that pop-up here and there. This year specifically, I saw a large spike in a movement that claims “anti-Zionism is NOT anti-Semitism”. It was even passed on campus by the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign Student Government. Even after our SSI chapter on the ground there organized a 400+ person walkout from the student government vote — they still voted against the communities and passed the bill. The efforts of our students there are not diminished in any way, what they were able to organize still gives me goosebumps through this day when I replay it. Columbia University is facing a student-wide referendum on campus on passing BDS (the Boycott, Divest & Sanction movement against Israel). NSJP decided to host their annual national conference in our backyard at the University of Minnesota this Fall. A gathering dedicated to delegitimizing Israel and yelling chants that call for the murder of innocent Jews and Israelis. Just like last year at UCLA, we were on the ground with our student activists ready to stand up to the hate group. When the detractors come to campus, no matter where there at, our students are always prepared and ready to take action, and we’re always here to help with any problems you face on your campus regarding Israel.
This year showed me a lot: how to become more educated on Israel, how to stay updated with what’s happening on campuses, how to speak in front of students and faculty. But most importantly what I saw this year was a dedicated and passionate group of students who are always ready to step up to the plate.
While the situation has drastically changed this past month, SSI is continuing our advocacy (online) and keeping students engaged regarding Israel. Sometimes you have to adapt to the situation at hand. But I know when we return to campus, whenever that is, we will be more ready and stronger than ever to make an impact on the ground. To all of our students and supporters — thank you for an unbelievable year. I cannot wait to see what we accomplish next year! Stay healthy, stay safe and when you can, stay in touch with SSI.