By Phillip Brodsky
This week The David Project announced an agreement with Hillel International to join Hinenu, Hillel’s Israel education and engagement department. This merger is the culmination of a long process of activity, learning and growth that The David Project has gone through since our formation in 2002.
The David Project was originally founded to build a cadre of young American Jews who are passionate about Israel and ready to intelligently defend the country’s values on college campuses. In a short time, The David Project’s Israel advocacy curriculum was taught at more than 100 Jewish day schools and Hebrew schools across the country, and thousands of high school, gap-year and college students were trained by The David Project to stand up for Israel.
But by the summer of 2010, our students, despite their best efforts, often found that they were standing alone in Israel’s defense. Our core group of activists was strong, but almost no one from the larger campus community stood beside them. Our combative approach had not met the broader goal of ridding college campuses of anti-Israel sentiment.
So we decided to change.
Over the next two years, our staff, board, funders and students refocused The David Project around two key principals that continue to shape our work today. The first was to concentrate our efforts on impacting the Israel conversation on select college campuses. And, the second was to change our model of advocacy to embrace relationship building as our key organizing strategy.
Starting with 10 campuses in 2012, The David Project began teaching students how to talk about Israel in their own words, find common ground with their non-Jewish peers, and organize Israel engagement programs with other faith, ethnic and cultural student groups. And we started taking Jewish students to Israel alongside their non-Jewish peers.
Over the next five years we sent more than 600 students to Israel on our Israel Uncovered trip, reached tens of thousands of non-Jewish students through one-on-one conversations on Israel, and organized hundreds of Israel programs, initiatives and coalitions. Today we are active on 45 campuses, where our student activists and Israel Uncovered alumni are creating new inter-group dialogue groups like Penn Blacks and Jews at the University of Pennsylvania, organizing large annual events like the Jewish Latino Seder at the University of Texas, and planning programs that reach new audiences, such as teaching sorority leaders at Florida Atlantic University about women’s empowerment in Israel and around the world.
We made a key decision early on to always collaborate with the local Hillel on campus. As we did this, Hillel executive directors, engagement associates and Jewish Agency for Israel Fellows became our key partners in building our new movement of Israel advocates and non-Jewish leaders working together to explore shared issues and expand the conversation on Israel.
As our impact grew, so did our relationship with Hillel, and today, The David Project is evolving once again. By joining with Hillel, The David Project brings our relational advocacy platform to Hillel’s advanced model of engagement and measurement, dedication to Israel, and talented campus professionals.
Our relational advocacy model, diverse student activists and established programs like Israel Uncovered will help Hillel expand Israel engagement programming beyond the Jewish community on campus. As part of the global Hillel movement, we will cement campus Hillels as the central place for Israel education, engagement and support at colleges and universities.
Phillip Brodsky is Executive Director of The David Project.