SSI Student Spotlight: Yarden Wiesenfeld
Meet Yarden Wiesenfeld, President of Students Supporting Israel at the Ivy League, University of Pennsylvania.
Yarden is a Junior Biochemistry major at UPenn, with intentions of becoming a Molecular neuroscience researcher.
As the Co-President of her chapter, Yarden delegates responsibilities to other members of the board and assists in their tasks. She communicates regularly with SSI Nationals, and comes up with new ideas for events. She represents SSI at various events, helps the outreach chair with finding co-sponsors and building relationships with other groups, and she ensures her chapter’s board applications are sent out and reviewed each year.
Her “Israel story” begins with her Grandparents — the most influential figures in Yarden’s pro-Israel journey.
I grew up listening to two of my grandparents — who both served in the Haganah, tell the story of what it was like to stand in Dizengoff Center as Ben Gurion read the Declaration of Independence of the State of Israel, only to hear Syrian fighter jets flying ahead hours later. These early memories have engendered me with an understanding of how lucky we are to have the State of Israel, and the fact that maintaining Israel’s security among hostile neighbors has never been easy.
She continues with her support for Israel with,
As the granddaughter of three Holocaust survivors and a Syrian Jew whose family fled from persecution, I recognize that if Israel had not provided a place of refuge to my grandparents I likely would not be here today. Israel is now the home of much of my extended family, including my older sister. I am incredibly lucky to have grown up visiting Israel every other year — and lately even more frequently — with family, youth groups, my school, and alone. Before matriculating at Penn, I spent a year volunteering in a biomedical lab at Tel Aviv University, working for Magen David Adom, and assisting in gymnastics classes for children. It was during this year that I decided that I would like to make Aliyah soon after my studies at Penn. Of course, as a Jew my connection to Israel also stems from a feeling of nationhood and linkage to my ancestral homeland. The recognition of how significant this land is to my religion and culture, as well as a feeling of responsibility to protect my friends and family from abroad, have motivated me to become involved in Israel activism. In high school, I interned for the Israel education organization StandWithUs, giving lectures on UN-Israel relations in international politics classes, organizing speaker events in my synagogue, and running programs to educate high school seniors on the anti-Israel sentiment that they may face on their campuses.
At Penn, Yarden continues her Zionism, or as she describes it, “the Jewish right to self-determination in the land of Israel,” through Students Supporting Israel (SSI) and the Hasbara Fellowship.
While the majority of Students at University of Pennsylvania feel positively towards Israel, Yarden explains that students are disengaged from global issues around them, or are too quick to accept what they hear without checking the facts. Last year, SJP disbanded and no longer exists at Penn. SSI had been founded at Penn just a year before Yarden joined. She believes it offered a ‘blank slate’ from which she could “craft the kind of pro-Israel club that I wanted to see on campus — one that presents Israel from all angles, including cultural, political and entrepreneurial, acknowledges the nuances of the Arab-Israeli conflict, and appeals to a broader, not exclusively Jewish part of our student body.”
With the help of Yarden’s other board members (three of which are not Jewish) SSI at University of Pennsylvania has been able to create a multi-faceted, diverse pro-Israel group with a strong presence at Penn.
Being a part of SSI has taught me how to be a better leader and inspired me to keep up with Israeli current events better! It has also taught me what kind of events college students are attracted to, and what they don’t see as worthwhile.
University of Pennsylvania is a strongly pro-Israel campus with many Israel groups, but they tend to emphasize strengthening the pro-Israel base internally or discussing Israel from a social or entrepreneurial, but not political, standpoint. Until SSI was established, Penn did not have an Israel group that focused on outreach and making Israel relatable to students of various religious, ethnic and political backgrounds. Yarden’s SSI group provides, as she explains,
“a much needed space for learning about Israel in more fun ways — such as through martial arts or dance — as well as discussing the subtleties of Israel’s political system and current issues.”
Yarden would like SSI to be a nexus that brings together other pro-Israel groups and encourages coordination and dialogue.
Yarden’s favorite SSI memory was when SSI at University of Pennsylvania invited the Israeli Olympic Judo team to speak about their experiences competing in the international arena last spring. They collaborated with Penn’s Judo team to host the event, and the Olympic teammates taught them how to get their opponents to the ground and they got to throw and be thrown by each other.
The continuous growth of University of Pennsylvania’s SSI chapter, thanks to great leaders like Yarden, exemplifies what Students Supporting Israel is all about! We, at SSI Nationals, are proud to have a prestigious SSI chapter at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania!