Student Spotlight: Yehuda Jian and Keren Lonstein
Meet our student spotlights for this week, Keren Lonstein and Yehuda Jian! Keren and Yehuda are both seniors and co-presidents of Students Supporting Israel at the University of California, Santa Barbara. Both of them have a strong and deep connection to Israel. Yehuda explains,
“My parents were born in Israel and my entire extended family lives there. My connection to Israel is in my blood and I can’t do anything but support it.”
Even more specifically, Keren shares her connection to Jerusalem.
“I was born in Jerusalem, and I am so happy to be able to say that I was born in the holiest city in the world. I truly do feel a connection to the land of Israel, and not just because I was born there. Although it may sound cliché, every time I fly to Israel and land on the runway, I feel that I am home. In fact, for me, the Anti-Zionism and Antisemitism I experience living in the US and outside of Israel only strengthens my connection and support for Israel.”
Haters of Israel may think that they are succeeding, but according to Keren, it is only making her stronger. For some students, there is a moment in time where they have a desire to get involved and make a difference on campus. For Keren, it was during a BDS resolution. She explains,
“During my freshman year, I attended the Associated Students meeting where a BDS resolution was almost passed. After this meeting, I was inspired to get more involved in helping to educate students at UCSB about how closely Antisemitism and Anti-Zionism are related, and how there is always more than one side to every story.”
For Yehuda, it was a similar experience. He decided to get involved after going to the BDS meeting, and according to him, “SSI was the most natural progression.”
Yehuda Jian wants to combat BDS head-on this year, and make real change on campus.
“My goal for this year is to create an environment where any of our members, not just the select few who are involved, can lead the charge against BDS.”
Keren echoes this goal and adds,
“On the legislative level, our goal every year is to make sure a BDS resolution doesn’t pass, and so far, we have been the only UC school to have never passed a BDS resolution on campus.”
This is a huge accomplishment on a legislative level for Students Supporting Israel at UCSB. Both Keren and Yehuda agree that social media has been a difficulty and has altered their activism. Yehuda describes social media as “the new battleground” and Keren goes on to say,
“Social media has completely evolved the way people my age such as college students find out about current events, including what is happening in the Middle East. Unfortunately, apps such as Tik Tok and Instagram aren’t the most credible sources, yet this is where many students get their information. For our generation, I believe that social media is the biggest propagator of the idea that Anti-Zionism is not Antisemitic at all.”
Yehuda would describe UCSB as apathetic and highlights a difficulty they experience in their recruitment efforts.
“Misinformation and recruitment. The people that are against us don’t even know who they are fighting. New students avoid both sides of the conflict like the plague and it makes it hard to recruit.”
COVID was an additional struggle for many on campus, and UCSB was no exception. It’s easy to get discouraged, but Keren looks at the positive side.
“With COVID, it was extremely hard to maintain our activism on campus. On the other hand, however, during the year of the pandemic, our community of pro-peace pro-Israel students became stronger and more tight-knit.”
Due to UCSB’s apathetic campus, Keren expresses their goals on how to address the apathy.
“Our main goal this year is getting as many students who are not yet educated about Israel involved with SSI. For this, we want to host social events that teach students about the beautiful parts of Israeli culture such as food and music.”
Keren and Yehuda’s leadership and teamwork are strong and other students can look to them for advice on how to make change on campus. Zionism weaves into SSI activists on a daily basis. Both Keren and Yehuda are strong Zionists on campus. Yehuda states,
“Zionism IS my activism on campus. Everything I do is a manifestation of my Zionism.”
We are looking forward to the future of Students Supporting Israel at the University of California, Santa Barbara!