Working to Amplify Israel on College Campuses with AEPi

by Rabbi Daniel R. Allen

Israel Amplified” raised my optimist quotient regarding Israel advocacy on college campuses by 100%. Established and hosted by the AEPi Fraternity, the more than 100 students who gathered for the conference earlier this week in Phoenix, Arizona represented many Greek houses, men and women, Jews and non Jews. AEPi has been joined by AEPHiThe David ProjectIsrael on Campus CoalitionThe Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation, Jewish National Fund and Hasbara Fellowship of Aish HaTorah. I was there to participate, teach, shmooze, and share the perspectives of our Reform Movement and our efforts  to build an ever more inclusive, pluralistic Israeli society.

My optimism was encouraged and nourished by the college age men and women who shlepped to Phoenix from across America, as well as England and Israel, to spend several days in 110 degree heat learning strategies to advocate for Israel. Let me tell you about a few of them.

A young man who grew up attending a modern Orthodox day school now attends Yale and struggles with the issue of how Israel can be open and maintain a Jewish identity. His struggle is impacted by being an active member of the Greek campus community which he values and whose diversity positively challenges his views.

A young woman, born in Russia, a dual citizen of Israel and the United States, attending a large public university who can not figure out why non Jews support Israel. Her journey was informed by the Evangelical Christian who attends the University of Nevada in Reno whose theology demands he love Jews and support Israel’s complete sovereignty over the entirety of the Land of Israel.

We discussed the wonders and the warts of Israel. The attendees were encouraged to “be themselves” and create relationships with a wide variety of their fellow students first as friends and only secondarily as Israel Advocates.” We teach about people not politics” is how one of the AEPi staff explained it to me. The Greek system’s style and strengths became the basis for the tools used to advocate for Israel.

The most refreshing aspect of “Israel Amplified” was the positive, unabashedly proud, but still puzzling over the details, attitude of this newest generation of lovers of Zion.  The smiles, happiness, and can-do attitude should be adopted in the senior councils of our efforts to advocate for Israel.

Rabbi Daniel R. Allen is Executive Director of ARZA, The Reform Israel Fund.

cross-posted at the Arza blog