Dina Kraft writes about dozens of young Israeli envoys who are aggressively pushing engagement with all things Israel on North American college campuses as Hillel Israel Fellows.
"Their headquarters are wherever the college students they court can be found: coffee houses, dorm hallways, campus greens. They have no set office hours and are always up for a conversation, especially if the topic is Israel. In fact, that’s their job. Meet the ranks of a relatively new and growing cadre of Israel’s young emissaries whose mission is to engage with Jewish and non-Jewish students on North American college campuses on any and all things Israel − with an eye out for what might be perceived as anti-Israel.
In old-school Hebrew, they would be known as shlichim, or emissaries, but in an effort to imbue their work with an American sensibility, the Jewish Agency of Israel, which sends them here in partnership with Hillel, calls them “Israel Fellows.”
Recruiting students to go on Birthright trips and accompanying them on their journey is a key part of their work. Often, it is the Birthright trip that becomes a key trigger for returning students to come back to campus as activists and leaders on Israel-related issues. Most return with more questions than answers, and that is also where the Israel Fellows step in.
The returnees vary but some do become involved with Israel advocacy and community leadership on campus; others go in different directions. Some focus more on becoming involved with religious streams on campus, others are drawn to social justice issues as a way to explore their Jewish identity, and still others simply enjoy having a larger pool of Jewish friends.
This year, the University of Florida is sending 200 students on Birthright trips. And as part of their work, the fellows also help students navigate other ways of spending time in Israel, including short- or long-term programs that can include internships or study.
The Israel Fellows program is something Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky has championed as an integral piece of his larger vision of bolstering Jewish identity among young Diaspora Jews. Since he became chairman in 2009, the number of Israel Fellows has increased from 19 to 56 on 70 North American campuses."
The Israel Fellows are talented Israelis between the ages of 24 and 30, who have served in the IDF and are university graduates. They receive comprehensive training prior to their posting and work closely with campus Hillel staffs. By establishing strong peer relationships and implementing innovative programming and cultural initiatives, Israel Fellows provide Jewish students with the knowledge and tools to form their own relationships with Israel and to share Israel with the broader campus community. In many instances, the Israel Fellow is the first Israeli that college students and professors have encountered. The fellows’ reach extends beyond Hillel as they partner with other student organizations, campus study abroad offices, Jewish and Israel studies departments, local Jewish federations, Israeli consulates, and JCCs to bring Israel alive for local communities. The Fellows also encourage Jewish students to explore and build lasting relationships with Israel through such powerful experiences as Taglit-Birthright Israel and MASA.
Read Kraft's article in Haaretz.