Reflection of SSI 2022 Conference from SSI Director of Campus Programming and KSU Alumna
In the past twelve months since becoming the Director of Campus Programming, I tell students all the time the best decision I have made in college was starting Students Supporting Israel. Before joining the SSI National team, I started off as a KSU student and became the Founder and President of SSI at Kennesaw State University. After hearing about SSI, I quickly realized how advantageous it was to join SSI Movement. Students from across the country were standing up against antisemitism and anti-Israel rhetoric every day. Students across the country were making coalitions with other student leaders and campus clubs, just like me. They were all making themselves known on campus, and so was I with my SSI chapter. In addition, I attended several of the SSI National Conferences. I made connections with Zionists from all over and my Zionist identity has only strengthened as we have come together in unity for the only Jewish State in the world, Israel. Let’s fast-forward a few years to now. I have the honor of being on the Students Supporting Israel National Team. We get to support students every day, strengthen, inspire them and join them on the ground to fight against Israel hate. When I found out our SSI National Conference was going to be taking place in Atlanta, Georgia at Kennesaw State University, it became full circle for me. I would not have guessed it would be at my Alma Mater, but wow was it a meaningful and surreal experience.
This past August 3rd-5th, as 100 Zionist student leaders walked inside the doors of the KSU student center, the room was filled with excitement, energy, and a desire to learn about Zionism and how to bring it back to campus. We started off with cornhole, a photo booth, and gave out SSI materials. That evening, Israeli Social Media Activist, Hananya Naftali spoke and shared his experience and inspired the students. The conference was filled with practical tools and presentations about how to start and maintain an SSI chapter to interactive activities designed to enable the students to pass legislation on campus. We discussed the variety of programs SSI National offers and helped the students strategize on how to market their events effectively. Later on, we hosted an SSI Alumni Panel featuring: Sean Siegel, Pace University — JNF-USA, Dalia Levy, Columbia University — New Jersey Jewish Federation, Rebecca Katzman, Ryerson University — Stand with Us Canada, and Justin Feldman, UCLA — Israeli American Council. Reservists on Duty also inspired the students to engage in difficult conversations on campus.
The next event was extremely impactful to me. To rewind back several years when I just started SSI on my campus, I had a dream of bringing a huge group of Zionists to the campus green at KSU, with Israeli flags, great energy, and unity. It turns out, my dream came true! At the SSI Conference, I led an on-campus mock protest or rally to show the students what they can do in response to anti-Israel events, speakers, etc. We used chalk, prepared signs, chants, and flags, and brought the students outside on the campus green. The energy everyone brought along with their strength was inspiring and so beautiful. It was not only students from America but all over the world. As we walked throughout campus in support of Israel, I was filled with pride for my country and my dream was playing out in front of my eyes.
Afterward, we heard from SSI Co-Founder, Naor R. Bitton about the anti-Israel voices on campus and then Marvel Joseph, of the National Black Empowerment Council, to discuss how to build meaningful coalitions and engage in community outreach. That evening, we made our way to the Kennesaw State University Holocaust Museum to host the 2022 SSI Awards Night. Our SSI Activists of the Year was presented to Jacqueline Blyudoy and Eden Litvin, and Chapter of the Year, University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne. The night began with an important commitment made by the students to their future Zionist selves with the Jewish Youth Pledge presented by our Keynote Speaker and generous sponsor of the conference, Mr. Michael Leven. We had the honor of hearing powerful and inspiring words from JNF-USA’s CEO, Russell Robinson, and concluded the evening with the Deputy Consul General of Israel to the Southeast, Alex Gandler. In addition, Eli Rickles, the President of SSI at Kennesaw State University performed the Israeli and American National Anthem on his trumpet. This moment was truly surreal and emotional for me. Zionist student leaders from all over the world were all singing the Hatikvah, from Argentina, Panama, Mexico, Canada, and all throughout the states.
To think that several years ago, I made the decision to start an SSI chapter, and build SSI on my campus, then now to be working as the Director of Campus Programming for SSI truly is full circle for me. Not only was the room filled with Zionists, but this was the most international conference SSI has ever had. From all backgrounds, we are united under one name: Students Supporting Israel. I left the conference extremely proud, inspired, and hopeful to send back all of the Zionist Leaders from different countries and backgrounds to support the only Jewish State in the world, Israel.