By Students, For Students: Meet the Movement Blog Series!
Starting spring semester 2019, Students Supporting Israel will publish a series of articles and interviews that will highlight the faces of our student movement. Each week we will write about our activists, their work on campus, their challenges and their success stories. In a movement where our students are on the front lines, and in a campus-based organization - we believe that empowering the students will help us accomplish our mission on campus.
Meet Ofri Avgil: Students Supporting Israel at UC Riverside
Meet Ofri Avgil, a Junior at UC Riverside studying Biology (Pre-Med), and President of Students Supporting Israel at UC Riverside. She hopes to attend Medical School upon graduation.
As the President of SSI at UC Riverside, Ofri is responsible for organizing fun events for the chapter, hosting weekly meetings for both the club and her board, organizing food each week for those meetings, reserving rooms for events, contacting speakers/sponsors for events, and organizing conference opportunities for the club. Ofri serves as an ICC Fellow in addition to her high demand position as President of SSI at UC Riverside.
Ofri’s connection to Israel really hits home for her.
“I was born in Israel and moved to San Diego when I was 7 years old. I’ve always had a strong connection to my childhood homeland and always look forward to connect with my Jewish/Israeli communities around me.” Her connection, she says, “motivates me constantly to protect my home and find new ways to have those surrounding me do so as well.”
Growing up in San Diego, Ofri was accustom to having a strong Jewish community without any issues discussing Israel or being an Israeli. After attending college and moving away from home, where her father remains her biggest influence in her Zionist values, she realized that this wasn’t the case anymore.
The pro-Israel group on UC Riverside’s campus began as ‘Highlanders for Israel’ and approaching Ofri’s presidency of the chapter, she realized UC Riverside needed some help in improving their club.
In seeking improvements, Ofri’s main goal was to create a safe Jewish community for my students and allow them to build that strong connection to Israel without feeling scared or intimidated by other anti-Israel students.She also wanted to have a safe space for students to talk about any anti-Semitic instances either on our campus or in their hometowns.
Upon contacting students on other campuses, she came to realize a lot of them had rebranded their former pro-Israel clubs to become Students Supporting Israel chapters. After speaking with Ilan Sinelnikov, she knew SSI was something UC Riverside had to do.
With the establishment of UC Riverside’s SSI Chapter, Ofri feels that her main goal has been accomplished.
“I feel like we have successfully done so, and we’ve been able to teach our students to rely on one another and always feel protected rather than scared and intimidated from hateful events.”
Ofri is thankful to have been brought into the SSI family, as it brought her chapter closer to other SSI groups at other universities who could exchange ideas, and learn from each other on creating a stronger club as well as potential event ideas to pursue. "SSI also taught me a ton about leadership and how to lead a club successfully. It taught me how to recruit members to our club and different events as well."
She says the SSI network also served as a warning for potential hate that could occur on campus and how to fight back as a unit.
“Instead of fighting as just one club on one campus, we grew a whole team who could support us and fight with us. It taught me a lot not only on leadership but about Israel and politics that surround it.”
With activism training, Ofri feels that she knows how to approach tricky situations confidently and she is able to stand up for Israel, knowing others may have differing views. “I also learned how to support my club members and help THEM feel that confidence in those situations and allow them to feel safety and comfort in our club when those situations do occur.”
UC Riverside’s campus leans apathetic, whereas the majority of the student body aren’t too informed about Israel. While the SJP currently stands on UC Riverside’s campus, Ofri says they luckily don’t deal with too much hate on campus. Her new goal is to teach more students about the great things that come from Israel and possibly send some non-Jewish students to Israel so they can come back and spread that experience with other students to strengthen the Pro-Israel stance around campus.
Ofri’s most proud moment with SSI is the chapter’s recent Krav Maga event. She worked extra hard with her board to organize this event, and wanted to make sure enough students could attend. Her results were extremely successful! “Everything went so amazing I came home so so happy after the event was done. We had new students come in for our event who were interested in attending our clubs following that event. The event had more students attend than we ever had at our general meetings. It brought my board closer together as well after having everyone work together to get everything done.”
The largest problem facing UC Riverside’s campus today, Ofri describes as “false advertising.” With social media playing such a huge role in society, it is frustrating to see so many students who don’t know anything about Israel. Ofri says she sees many posts being shared on social media attacking Israel and showing things Israel “ has done,” where the majority of what they show simply isn’t true. This type of media bias creates a disposition for students to gain a hate for Israel based off a video or image with a false caption.
With the work Ofri is doing with her team at UC Riverside’s SSI chapter, she hopes to change these biases, and continue to spread the truth about her country!
Meet Amanda Severson: Students Supporting Israel at Benedictine University
Meet, Amanda Severson, President of Students Supporting Israel at Benedictine University. Amanda is a Senior Nutrition and Dietetics major. Her future plans post-graduation include a combined internship & masters program incorporating her Bachelor of Science degree. As President of SSI, Amanda’s duties include educating her campus about Israel and being a strong pro-Israel voice on campus — the true embodiment of Students Supporting Israel’s mission statement. In addition to her Presidency, Amanda serves as a Hasbara Fellow and ZOA Fellow.
Most recently, Amanda’s SSI chapter was instated at Benedictine University, as she had trouble with her university’s administration’s approval. Amanda’s favorite SSI memory was when a professor invited her to his office because he heard that she was trying to get her SSI chapter approved. She explains that, “He only wanted to lecture me and demonize Israel. I stood up to him and his false claims and gave him the facts. He then got quiet. My favorite thing about hearing hate, is not hearing it at all.” Many times support for Israel is thought to be due to Jewish roots. In Students Supporting Israel, students of all backgrounds and cultures are encouraged to support Israel. Amanda’s support for Israel is political. She supports Israel because she believes in being a voice for the voiceless. Israel is demonized and people do not believe that the state should exist.
"I always think about the poem “First They Came” by Martin Niemöller. I remember it being read to my history class in high school. It moved me so much that when I saw the anti-Israel issue at my school-even though I am not Israeli nor do I practice Judaism- I knew this was the right thing to do. The part that hit home for me:
‘Then they came for the Jews And I did not speak out Because I was not a Jew Then they came for me And there was no one left To speak out for me'"
Amanda says that the ways in which SJP shuts down conversation in collaboration with administrative approved hate tend to be the biggest problems facing her campus. On a hostile campus like Benedictine, where the majority of students hate Israel, dialogue is often shut down — disallowing any room for pro-Israel student voices. SJP at Benedictine has made huge demonstrations with the word Israel and Holocaust in quotation marks. Additionally, SJP members on her campus have gone on record shutting down a Holocaust survivor’s speech, as well as publicly tweeting the promotion of genocide of the Jewish people.
“I wondered how the Catholic University could approve such things and then I realized that there was a population of students that had a lack of representation on campus.”
Amanda started the club because the hate was so strong that she decided if no one was going to challenge this and make a change, she would. Amanda notes that SSI has done wonders for her personal growth.
"I grew in many ways I never could imagine. I am more confident, knowledgeable, and more passionate about world topics/events. I can defend my beliefs and stick up for myself. SSI has taught me how to support the things that I believe in with people of opposing viewpoints in a respectful manner. I no longer care what others think of me."
Amanda has received dirty looks and has had rumors spread about her based on her support for Israel and her bringing SSI to campus. "I now am able to brush it off, because hateful people will do anything in their power to diminish the truth." With the official establishment of the third chapter of SSI in the state of Illinois, Amanda believes she is capable of doing anything. One of SSI’s missions is to be a safe space for all students, in particular, Jewish and pro-Israel students. The sad reality is that the Jewish students and pro-Israel students at Benedictine University have never felt more unsafe because since SSI is now contending with SJP, thus SJP has been retaliating.
SSI has impacted Benedictine University’s campus by exposing the hate and lack of knowledge that exists there. It showed Amanda that college campuses are political and, unfortunately, corrupted by biases (exemplified by the 8-month delay tactics that Amanda was faced with). It took pressure from reporters and journalists to get Amanda’s registration moving.
SSI impacted Benedictine because its presence forces dialogue with students and creates an opportunity for students to learn and connect with the only Jewish state in the world — an opportunity that otherwise never existed before.
One goal Amanda has for her SSI chapter is to get students to develop their own personal connection with Israel. Zionism, according to Amanda, is the right for the Jewish to self-determinate on their ancestral homeland, the right to exist, and the right to protect themselves. The most influential person in Amanda’s Zionism has been SSI’s National Founder and President, Ilan Sinelnikov. Amanda believes that the fact that a movement such as Zionism, had to be made so the Jews could return home and be supported, should be a big red flag to the world that Jewish people are still so severely persecuted.
5 years from now, if Amanda asked herself where she would be today she would not have guessed President of SSI at Benedictine University. "I believe God has a plan and everything happens for a reason. I could not be happier to be where I am today, because I realize how important the work is that SSI does. Hate is in our congress (BDS), it is at our college campuses (SJP), it is on social media (false information/hate speech), and they are all the new modes of anti-semitism."
If you have an inkling desire to be involved or learn more about it, Amanda is the right person to ask!
Meet Ethan Harrison: Students Supporting Israel at Wake Forrest University
Ethan Harrison is a Sophomore Computer Science major at Wake Forest University. Being passionate about computer science, Ethan hopes to eventually go into web design or graphic design. He wants to make computers easy for everyone to use and be able to interact with. Ethan serves his chapter of Students Supporting Israel as the President. His duties in this capacity include staying in contact with SSI Nationals, hosting various events such as, film-screenings, speakers, and tabling regularly. Most importantly, his role teaches others about Israel and current events surrounding Israel. As president, SSI has given him a very valuable leadership opportunity. As a leader of the club, he explains that he has already learned so much. The club being one that supports Israel, has allowed Ethan to gain more perspective on the country, as well as express his learnings on Israel and execute this information as an educator.
“SSI has helped me express that it doesn’t have to be 100% with Israel. I don’t always agree with Israel’s actions, but I still support it.”
Because of the nature of Wake Forrest, which Ethan describes as apathetic towards Israel, Ethan tries to stay in touch with Hillel and AEPi, where he also serves as AEPi, Secretary (Scribe), and Hillel Religion/Education Chair. He explains that the biggest challenge at Wake Forrest is there are many diverse opinions at Wake Forrest, so there are many who like Israel and many who dislike Israel on his medium sized University.
He adds, “I think as our student body grows, so does the number of opinions people have. it’s important for everybody to be able to share and fight for what they believe. Sometimes two things conflict, and then it comes down to who is right and who should be allowed to say what they believe. Everyone should have a chance to stand up for what they believe in because that’s what SSI is doing.”
While there isn’t an anti-Israel group on campus, Ethan’s SSI team likes to play offense. They want to be the first to say explain Israel to the student body. There was a Palestinian Solidarity Week on campus, but one of the problems with the event was representing the Israeli side of things. The SSI chapter at Wake Forrest was standing when Ethan came to campus, and he joined because of his connection to Israel which he describes: “There’s always been for me growing up an inherent connection to the land of Israel. When I was fourteen, I traveled there (Israel) for the first time, and fell in love with it. I got more involved in the current state and what it means today based on the modern political climate and how to fight for it. Knowing it’s the land for the Jewish people has always been something I connect with.”
His rabbi, who took Ethan on his first Israel trip, taught him a lot about what it means to be a Jewish person, as well as traditions, and holidays. He explained why it’s important to support Israel as the Jewish homeland. It wasn’t until a session during his class that he learned about the geopolitical situation in Israel, where it became imperative to learn as much as he could about Israel besides his inherent support as a proud Jew. A year later, Ethan went to AIPAC, where he learned more in addition to Hebrew school, and throughout high school where he learned as much as he could about Israel. In college, he made sure to find a similar outlet — which led him to SSI.
Prior to SSI coming to campus, there was really no outreach or advocacy on behalf of Israel. There is definitely a growing jewish community, but SSI has finally given campus the tools needed to teach students who don’t know much about Israel an outlet for learning. Ethan’s biggest goal in SSI is to give as many people as much of the story as possible.“The most important thing to do in grassroots is to be as honest as possible,” Ethan says, “Teaching moments are good for sharing. If we do our jobs correctly, other people recognize Israel’s successes on their own. I like to lay it all out there and discover for themselves.”
His favorite SSI memory would be last year’s first SSI event of the school year. Before joining SSI, seeing other people throughout the event and knowing the events were being hosted and attended by students, let Ethan see that other students were Zionists as well. In his own words, Zionism, is,“the ideology that Israel is the true homeland and safe haven for the Jewish people. Zionism means being a person who truly loves and cares for Israel.”
Ethan’s passion for Israel shows success with his chapter. He attributes much of this positivity to his Vice President, Eli Allison, who has been very helpful to making Wake Forrest SSI become a strong group on campus.
Meet Gabriella Davoudpour: Students Supporting Israel at Santa Monica College
Meet Gabriella Davoudpour! President of Students Supporting Israel at Santa Monica College. She is a Sophomore Communication Disorders major, who hopes to work as a speech pathologist, helping children with speech impediments — while simultaneously continuing to support Israel in any way she can.
As president, Gabriella speaks to other clubs about potentially co-hosting events while making sure SSI’s voice is heard on campus. She also works with different pro-Israel organizations, like ZOA, where she is a fellow, to ensure that Israel activists on campus know their rights, while also working with them to bring speakers and host events on campus.
Gabriella supports Israel simply because it is her homeland. She adds, “As a Jewish Zionist, I often see people attack Israel, without knowing the truth, often spreading misconceptions about the state. I believe that knowing the facts is a key factor in understanding the conflict, and I noticed that many people were misinformed on my campus, which made me want to get involved and show them the truth.”
While there are many pro-Israel students on campus, the campus climate at Santa Monica College tends to be apathetic, as there is also a huge amount of students that are uninformed, or are anti-Zionist, including the SJP group on campus. Gabriella believes that the biggest problem facing her campus is the lack of accountability. When she sees anti-Semitism occurring on campus, nothing is done about it, which partly inspired Gabriella’s joining the SSI Movement. She wanted to advocate for Israel which was further enforced by the peak in anti-Zionism/anti-Semitism she witnessed recently.
“I wanted other people to learn about the state, and the increase in anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism I’ve seen recently only furthered my want to advocate.”
Her work with SSI has helped her learn how to be a leader, and how to deal with difficult situations with ease. “SSI has definitely had a big impact on my campus because before SSI, there was no pro-Israel voice here. We have been able to host events where people are able to come and learn about Israel, and how they themselves can advocate for the only democracy in the middle east.” She believes that as a non-religious club, everyone is welcome with ‘open arms’ to SSI, which helps draw people into their club. Gabriella’s main goal on campus is to build relationships with different clubs and spread the truth about Israel.
Her favorite memory was when SSI at Santa Monica College had an event with the Brazil club on campus and had over 50 people attend to learn more about Israel and Israel’s relationship with Brazil.
As a self-proclaimed Zionist, which Gabriella defines as believing in“the Jewish peoples right to self determination in their homeland, Israel.”
Gabriella leads her team at SSI of Santa Monica College with passion, deeming her chapter one of the best and brightest in the movement
Meet Yarden Wiesenfeld: Students Supporting Israel at University of Pennsylvania
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!
Meet Emily Kaplan: Students Supporting Israel at Arizona State University
Emily Kaplan, President of Students Supporting Israel at Arizona State University, is a Sophomore Political Science and Psychology major at Arizona State University.
Emily’s duties as president include running meetings, planning events, and interacting and connecting with other on-campus organizations.
In addition to her work with SSI, Emily serves as a StandWithUs Emerson Fellow, where Charlotte Korchak, Director of International Student Programs at StandWithUs, has been the most influential in Emily’s pro-Israel journey. While Emily is still coming up with her own definition of Zionism, she understands that Zionismis not just supporting Israel, but also being able to critique Israel when needed. She says,
“No country is perfect, and I think being able to defend Israel when necessary is key to understanding zionism. It’s acknowledging that, yes, Israel makes mistakes, but we still support it as a nation that wants to pursue peace and progress in a region where those two concepts greatly lack.”
Emily’s support for Israel is attributed to Israel being her homeland.
“At the end of the day, I feel a connection to Israel because that’s where my people are! I feel at home and safe and comfortable in Israel. I support Israel because it focuses on progress and peace, against all odds. Israel’s existence defies everything that history has showed to the Jews.”
Arizona State University’s student body tends to lean more apathetic when it comes to the topic of Israel. Emily adds, “People don’t seem to care about much, and it’s hard to engage people if it doesn’t relate to them in any capacity.” There is a Students for Justice in Palestine group, with which Emily hopes to spark dialogue and peaceful conversations with in the near future.
Emily joined SSI because she is passionate about changing the narrative of Israel. She says, “Israel means a great deal to me, and it’s upsetting to see false narratives circulate, when we know the facts.”
So far, Emily says SSI has pushed her to organize herself better and to hustle more. Taking on the role of president has helped her “get in the grind” of things, and move to finish what needs to be completed. Her favorite SSI memory was at Israel Fest. She enjoyed representing SSI and being able to interact with other students — both Jewish & non-Jewish!
With the ASU SSI chapter’s re-establishment, Emily is hopeful in seeing how SSI impacts her campus!
Meet Oren Rosenberg: Students Supporting Israel at University of Minnesota
Student’s Supporting Israel’s “Student Spotlight” this week is featuring, Oren Rosenberg, President of the original Students Supporting Israel Chapter, University of Minnesota.
Oren is a current Junior studying Biomedical Engineering, where he hopes to continue his education in medical school to study neurosurgery.
As the President of SSI at UMN, Oren coordinates all of the positions in the chapter so that everything runs smoothly. If the roles of a specific position cannot be filled, it is his responsibility to undertake those roles and make sure that they are accomplished in order to achieve the chapter’s goals. This role deems Oren the the face of the University of Minnesota chapter of SSI — meaning that any interactions with university administration, statements to the community, etc. are directed by Oren. He also takes on the position of, “Director of Strategy”; laying out the options for his chapter on campus for the year, and recommending a specific strategic approach from those options to the chapter board. In addition to his role with SSI, Oren serves as a Hasbara Fellow — giving him multiple responsibilities as a warrior on his campus.
In his own words, Oren’s connection to Israel is described as, "My mom and her entire family is from Israel, and has had a strong connection and personal history with the country since before its independence. My great-grandfather served in the Jewish Unit of the British Police during the British Mandate of Palestine. My grandmother remembers listening to the radio in Petah Tikvah in 1947 during the UN assembly vote to recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and seeing people dance in the streets during the very first Yom Ha’atzmaut. Israel has a very strong connection in my heart, both in a personal sense and in the idea that Israel is and has been the homeland of Jewish people throughout the world for thousands of years. It is my goal to help maintain Israel as the Jewish homeland for thousands of years to come."
While Oren describes his campus as apathetic, there is a strong Students for Justice in Palestine(SJP) presence on the University of Minnesota campus. Oren says, "I think the biggest problem on campus is the dissociation of Judaism from Israel." With the the coming of the National SJP conference this November 1st — 3rd, Oren and his team have their work cut out for them! Luckily, Oren believes that SSI, being the original chapter, has a huge impact on his campus. SSI passed the very first pro-Israel student government resolution on a college campus ever, and has since grown into an international network of chapters. The name SSI means something not only in Minnesota, but throughout the United States, and that means a lot to both the chapter and campus of University of Minnesota.
Oren’s involvement with SSI has inspired him in several ways. His Zionism, which he describes as,The movement to establish and develop a Jewish homeland in the land currently known as Israel, has continued to develop through his term as a student in SSI. "Being a part of SSI has helped me to grow as an individual by helping me to explore the many views and backgrounds shared by individuals on campus. It has helped me to be more patient and understanding in my day to day conversations. SSI has given me the confidence I need to voice and defend my opinion, even if I know it isn’t the popular one." His favorite memory of SSI includes a recent incident where SSI at UMN enjoyed painting the SSI panel of a bridge that student groups paint to represent their organization. "I really enjoyed painting the SSI panel and talking with representatives from other student groups at the same time.Oren’s biggest goal for SSI is to continue to build his reach on campus and create a lasting partnership with at least one other non-Israel related student group." University of Minnesota’s SSI chapter will be in the spotlight for the next month, as the National Students for Justice in Palestine initiates their conference on UMN’s campus. Oren and his team are gearing up, and ready to fight against anti-Semitism within his SSI chapter! We can’t wait to see this chapter shine!
Meet Dana Elazar: Students Supporting Israel at San Diego State University
The first Student’s Supporting Israel “Student Spotlight” features San Diego State University’s President, Dana Elazar.
Dana is a Senior at SDSU with a major in Biology, where she intends on continuing education with Medical School after graduation.
Among being the President of her Chapter, Dana formerly held the position as a StandWithUs Emerson Fellow, and now serves as the StandWithUs Southwest Campus Liaison. Dana is a clear, and confident pro-Israel voice on campus. Her connection to Israel shows her natural position with SSI’s values of pro-Israel, grassroots, work.
“I was born in Israel to Israeli parents and Lechi (the militia for independence) grandparents. The Jewish core value of determination and resilience was dinner table talk. My grandfather changed his last name in honor of Israel’s independence to Elazar, or God helped. My grandfather fought for the Jewish right to self determination and I am continuing his fight.” San Diego State University’s campus tends to lean more apathetically, according to Dana. The campus in a general sense is fairly apathetic about just about any topic — not just Israel. Those that do care, and choose to act are very fractured. The majority of students don’t have an opinion, or aren’t informed enough to form one. SDSU previously had a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter, but because of the determination of the students like Dana, BDS (Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions Movement) was defeated, and SJP was eradicated — making the SSI chapter the most well-known and recognized pro-Israel club on campus, of which Dana is most proud to have witnessed grow throughout her years. "Anti-semitism was a big problem at my high school and no one cared. My freshman year SJP brought the apartheid wall and I had to act. I rushed to Target and bought poster boards and markers and made my own signs in support of Israel and just sat in front of them. Then SSI started setting a table and I’ve been SSI ever since!"
By being involved in SSI, Dana says she has developed strong leadership skills, extreme organization habits, and great responsibility. Her biggest goal within her SSI chapter is to continue to build coalitions and relationships with other groups on campus.
Like every SSI activists, Dana is a Zionist. In her own words, Zionism is, “The Jewish right to safety and liberty in our home land.” She attributes her Zionistic values to her grandfather and father, whose stories inspire her to defend and protect Israel as best as she can.
SSI National is so proud of Dana Elazar, and we are excited to see what she and her chapter accomplish this academic year!
Meet Shanna Mattson: Students Supporting Israel at Mercer University
Mercer University is home to a thriving Students Supporting Israel chapter; one that is passionate and driven in regards to their pro-Israel advocacy and everything surrounding it. Shanna Mattson is this years president of SSI, and is studying Industrial Engineering – using her free time to play drums in multiple ensembles.
Shanna has always felt as though there should be a club where pro-Israel and Jewish students could get together and grow as a community, and that’s what sparked creating an SSI at Mercer University, “we had this little Passover seder in one of the freshman halls and couldn’t stop talking about opening an Israel club”. After meeting with Ilan, the founder of SSI, Shanna knew that there needed to be an SSI on campus.
Considering the fact that Mercer University has a small Jewish population, Shanna was determined to create a place where all pro-Israel students (Jewish or not Jewish) could come together, “There was interest from students, and I wanted there to be a platform to create a community and find people with similar interests”. Misconceptions about Israel have caused many people to form inaccurate depictions of the state, and this is something that Shanna has had close encounters with throughout her college experience, “I went to Israel after my freshman year, and I absolutely loved it. In high school, I heard a lot of bad things about Israel, so I went on my own little investigation, which ultimately made me even more passionate about it”.
Visiting Israel was a meaningful trip for Shanna, but Ein Gedi stood out unlike any other, “We hiked up the mountains and suddenly saw a beautiful oasis. We read Psalm 57, which is the one that David wrote when he was in Ein Gedi. Being there and imaging David running from his life and then coming across waterfalls and a beautiful oasis was a really meaningful image, and cool connection”.
Speakers show the audience the lived-experiences that many people have gone through, and SSI of Mercer University has taken that into account, and used it to their advantage, “We hosted Abe Haak, and before his speaking event we were able to sit and have coffee with him which was really important because it allowed us to learn more about his life and everything that he went through”.
A closed environment leaves no space for improvement, and Shanna and her team have always made a point to create an open dialogue after their speakers have said their piece, “Q+A is a very important aspect because it’s pointless to have a speaker if we don’t create a space for dialogue afterwards, so we are always working on that”.
Mercer University is an overall open and nice campus, and has students that are generally willing to have a discussion and speak their piece, instead of yelling and walking away, “So far, people are open to dialogue even if they disagree”.
When talking about the impact that pro-Israel activism has had on Shanna, she was quick to respond, “It’s taught me what it’s like to have the weight of responsibility on my back, and I’ve also been able to learn a lot of nuances on the topic [Israel] which I think that most people don’t consider”. Shanna’s Jewish identity has sparked a big interest in pro-Israel advocacy, and even learning about the state in general; “Knowing that my ancestors are from Israel has consequently made me want to learn more about it, I’ve always been fascinated in learning about where my family came from, so for me a big part of it is understanding the story of my people”.
Shanna has one piece of advice to give to the members of SSI all across the country, “Do whatever it takes to create a space for dialogue. I think that a lot of times there are things to be understood from people on both sides, so a real conversation needs to happen”.
Meet Melech Lapson: Students Supporting Israel at the University of Illinois - Urbana Champaign
The University of Illinois is a school bustling with energy and spirit, and much of that passion comes from the Students Supporting Israel chapter on campus; one that is driven and informed about their cause.
Melech Lapson, this years president of SSI on his campus has always had a connection to Israel, regardless of the fact that he was born and raised in Chicago; “I went to Israel for the first time with my family over the summer, and after that I spent 2 years in Yeshiva. Since then, I’ve gone back every winter break to visit”.
Every campus has its difficulties and unease, and that is exactly what inclined Melech, a student studying electrical engineering, to join SSI in the beginning, “I went to one of the SSI events, and I saw SJP there. I saw the hate and lies they were trying to spread about Israel, which made me realize what the situation was. I felt that I needed to help out in spreading the truth about Israel, and educating people on campus.” He initially joined SSI’s board freshman year, and after attending his first event, he made a conscious effort to get more involved.
The climate on Illinois’ campus has been calm overall, “SJP here doesn’t have too strong of a following, and in terms of the university in and of itself, they are very pro-Israel, and they don’t support BDS.” Melech brought up the policies that have been implemented in the administration, which is what led to the prevention of a BDS resolution being pushed for the first time in three years!
“One event that we do every semester is a seminar led by our board called, “Illini Students Discussing Israel”. SSI members get groups of students willing to learn that show up every semester, and go over all things that led to the conflict in addition to talking about the conflict itself. “We are getting new members every semester, meeting new people willing to get involved, and building new connections”. People have given them good feedback, and thanked them for the knowledge that they have spread.
When asked about what Melech would like to see his campus turn into, he was very adamant about his answer, “I would like to see a campus which is ideally informed about the conflict. We don’t have to agree about who is right or wrong, but we do have to be knowledgeable. I was at AIPAC, and someone said that the ‘opposite to love is not hate, the opposite of love is indifference’. I would like to see people realize that it’s not a black and white conflict, and that it is more nuanced and complex”. Melech has seen many positives from his decision to become an activist for Israel, “Its helped me become more knowledgeable about Israel and its history, and gave me a more nuanced understanding. It’s also helped me learn to become a better leader, and run events that only get better and better”.
Ten years from now, Melech plans to be working with others, and he hopes to be able to spread knowledge and educate those around him, even when his university days are over. To all the members of SSI across North America, Melech stated, “it’s important to do coalition building. The way to figure out how to get more people involved is by finding people from different student organizations and build relationships with them. Building those coalitions is a big way to grow stronger and ensure that our voices are heard”.
Meet Scott Eisenberg: Students Supporting Israel at the University of Georgia
Scott Eisenberg is the Students Supporting Israel (SSI) president at the University of Georgia. As a senior in college, Eisenberg is studying as a psychology major and a global health minor, hoping to later work in the medical field. Growing up in Atlanta, Georgia, Eisenberg attended Jewish day school at Davis Academy where he was first exposed to Israel when the school took him there for an eighth grade trip. It was at that trip where Eisenberg found a deeper meaning in Israel.
During his first year at University of Georgia, Eisenberg found SSI because he was looking for a way to be active on campus. When his friend was the previous president of SSI, Eisenberg began going to more events and thought that SSI’s mission had a good cause, which ultimately led him to become more involved. Eisenberg says that “as a Jewish student, I felt the need to learn more about Israel because I did not know a lot.” He also adds “that it is also important to represent Israel on campus, because if we don’t, nobody else will.”
As a whole, Eisenberg expresses that he would like to see his campus turn into one where students care more about the current events in Israel. Furthermore, Eisenberg states that “most of the campus is apathetic to the situation and many people do not know or care about what is going on [in Israel].” All in all, he wants more people to become informed about informed about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and all the good Israel does. In addition to this, “it has been difficult to get people to come to our events because so many students do not care and are indifferent to the situation.” A lot of people do not think that learning about Israel will affect their lives so they do not care to attend events so for SSI at University of Georgia, it is very difficult to get people to understand what Israel does for the world.
Events that have worked well on Eisenberg’s campus are those that represent Israel as well as other aspects of life. For example, SSI at University of Georgia had an Israeli health care event that adhered to both health majors and people who like Israel. Eisenberg addresses that “you need to cater to all interests on campus that connect other hobbies and Israel so that more people come to events.”
Overall being a part of SSI has made Eisenberg feel more confident in his opinions about Israel, allowed him to speak his own voice and feels that he can preach it. He mentions that not everyone will agree with his words but you can not force an opinion on someone else, so he’s learned to work with that. In other words, “you need to respect everyone’s opinion.” In the future, Eisenberg hopes to be a practicing physician and still be involved in the pro-Israel community. To the rest of the SSI’ers, Eisenberg states that “you should adhere with other people and groups so that they come – because you put out events for them and if people aren’t coming to you to learn more about Israel, go to them to teach them about it to improve their knowledge.”
Meet Ezra Faks: Students Supporting Israel at Yeshiva of Flatbush
Gabriella Davoudpour: Tell us about yourself – where are you from, what are you studying, what do you do on your free time? Ezra Faks: I’m from Brooklyn, New York and am currently at a yeshiva, dual curriculum, high school. I study the regular english classes, hebrew classes, and we also have an Israel and World Relations class in our school. Being that it’s my senior year, I’m involved in a lot of extra-curricular activities, maybe even more than I am in actual classes. I’m president of Students Supporting Israel, I’m captain of Model UN, Varsity Debate, I’m in an entrepreneurship club, real estate club, and I’m the captain of the track team. I finish school at 4:30 now, so I go straight from class to work, where I work with my father at his office.
GD: How did you get involved with SSI? EF: I’ve always felt that I had some kind of connection to Israel, and I’m a very political and opinionated person. If I believe in something, I will advocate for it to its fullest extent, no matter what. Coming to high school, SSI was a very cool club to get involved with, and it was something that was highlighted a lot. It wasn’t a difficult decision for me to make, and I became friends with the commissioner – getting me very involved. I’m very dedicated when I put my mind to something, and it was unofficially known by my junior year that I would be the president next year. I started speaking to my faculty advisor immediately, and started brainstorming more and more events than we previously did, making sure we spread the word.
GD: What would you like to see your campus turn into? EF: In general, we are a pretty informed high school. Sophomore year, the whole second semester we were taught Zionistic history. In junior and senior year, we learned all about Jewish history. For Yom Ha’atzmaut, we don’t even have school, we come for two hours, celebrate, and then leave. We are a very Zionistic school, and I would like to see more advocacy taking place outside of the school. I want everyone to become more educated so that we can be able to understand what Israel means to the Jewish people, and advocate for it to its fullest extent.
GD: What kind of impact has SSI and pro-activism in general had on you throughout your life? EF: Going though the college admissions process, it was definitely an important thing for me to acknowledge. It gave me the ability to go to the AIPAC conferences, hear many speakers, and meet new people over the years. It’s one thing to know that you love Israel, but it’s another thing to articulate and argue for the state. Up until high school, I didn’t know much about how to take that information and use it to educate other people. SSI gave me that knowledge, and lets me know that I’m a part of a bigger movement; that we are making a real change.
GD: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? EF: In terms of Israel activism, I do plan to go to Israel next year to learn at Yeshiva. Hopefully I can go with my kids to Israel and instill in them Zionism and a love and passion for Israel.
GD: If you could say one thing to the rest of the SSI members across the country, what would it be? EF: We focus a lot on people talking against Israel, and we focus on big movements, and while these are big issues that we should not be belittling at all, we should take advantage of the fact that there is a support structure, at least in America, towards Israel and the right that the Jewish people have to a nation. Yes, there is BDS, but there’s also AIPAC, there’s also ZOA, there are organizations that are able to go out onto college campuses and spread the world. Just know that behind you, there is so much more, and so many gears constantly turning to help the machine, ensuring that Israel is protected.
*interview has been condensed.
Meet Shirel Benji: Students Supporting Israel at the University of California, Santa Barbara
Shirel Benji, who is the Students Supporting Israel (SSI) president at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), is originally from Los Angeles, California. At UCSB, Benji is a third year student where she is majoring in communications. Benji has been to Israel a total of eight times, including going on a birthright trip as well as doing a marketing internship with Onward Israel for two months in Tel Aviv. While being in Israel so many times, Benji has fallen more in love with it – which is one reason she ended up joining SSI.
Being enrolled in private Jewish schools her entire life, Benji always grew up around a Zionist community and was instilled with Zionist values. At her high school, Shalhevet, she even had a leadership position in the Israel club. In addition to this, she was, and still is, very involved with StandWithUs and she attended AIPAC three times. Once she arrived to UCSB, Benji experienced what she says is a culture shock. “I never went to public school so when I went to college and could not find any Israel clubs, it was very shocking to me.” Benji also highlighted that she had to look very hard to find SSI– especially on a campus where not every student is a Zionist.
As a whole, Benji states that she would like to see the people on the UCSB campus be less hostile towards the topic of Israel. “I want to see people engage in dialogue without being scared of protestors.” Benji also mentions that she really wants to see people who genuinely want to learn about Israel in a non-violent manner come to more events and learn about Israel in a different light.
An area the SSI group is working hard on is the fact that UCSB has not passed BDS, and they would like to keep it that way. In the BDS movement website, they state that “Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) is a Palestinian-led movement for freedom, justice and equality. BDS upholds the simple principle that Palestinians are entitled to the same rights as the rest of humanity.” Whenever the topic of BDS comes up, it stresses out Benji and her fellow board members. The anti-Israel club at UCSB brings up the topic in an untimely manner and “tries to make BDS seem as though it is something else, when it is actually a movement dedicated to end Israel’s occupation of Arab lands.”
Benji says that the tabling events have really worked well at UCSB because they get to show other students the positivity about Israel. For example, Benji says that on the Jewish holiday, Tu B’shvat, they had a tabling event where they gave students seeds to plant a tree Another tabling event they had was in honor of International Women’s Day where they gave people chocolates and roses as well as fact cards that portray the women in Israel and what they have done. With events like these, more people are interested in what SSI is doing and their cause.
Overall, Benji says that “being a part of SSI has made me have tougher skin on a campus towards those who are not pro-Israel.” She also states that she has learned more about Israel from being in SSI and hearing the other side. “I will not back down due to criticism from the other side and I want to stay true to what I am fighting and advocating for.”
In the future, Benji sees herself having her own marketing agency while also working in marketing and advertising. She also wants to be a part of Israel advocacy whether it is with SSI, StandWithUs, or any other pro-Israel organizations. To the rest of the SSI’ers, Benji says to have a strong united front and show up to every SSI event. Show a strong peaceful presence on campus to show people that you are having fun while at events and engage with others. Lastly, Benji also strongly states that “it is normal to question what your beliefs are when many people are criticizing you and telling you that you are wrong, but if you are passionate about it, then do not back down.”
Meet Phillip Yurchenko & Gabe Benzecry: Students Supporting Israel at Wake Forest University
Gabriella Davoudpour: Tell us a little bit about yourself- where are you from, what are you studying? Phillip Yurchenko: I’m originally from the Bay Area, California, and my family is originally from Belarus. I’m a junior at Wake Forest University, and my major is Business and Enterprise Management (BEM). I’m the president of SSI, and I’m also Israel Chair for Hillel this year.
Gabe Benzecry: I’m originally from Brazil, and my family is from Morocco. This is my second year at Wake Forest as an economics major. I was the president of Hillel last semester, and I’m the co-founder of SSI.
GD: What led you to bring SSI to Wake Forest? GB: We were both involved in Hillel’s board in freshman year. Hillel had a huge resistance in regards to promoting Israeli culture and events. They weren’t very open in talking about Israel, which caused a lot of clashes with the board. We decided after everything that we needed to create an SSI for our campus, which we did in Fall of 2017. We started promoting cultural events, food related events, had Tu-Bishvat events, and were able to bring IDF soldiers come and talk about their experience in the army.
GD: What motivated you to get involved with SSI and advocacy for Israel? PY: There wasn’t any anti-Israel movements when we came to campus; no one was talking about Israel. Even in Hillel, when Israel was brought up in a non-political way, we were told not to talk about it because it was too controversial. Israel is a very big part of my Jewish identity, and I didn’t feel like it was right that we couldn’t talk about it. That’s why we started SSI, to create a forum where we could talk about Israel and have those conversations.
GD: Tell us about the resolutions that you recently passed. PY: Yeah, we passed one a while ago but it was really watered down. This past December, we passed another student government resolution that talked about anti-semitism, including the 3D’s (Natan Sharansky’s 3Ds distinguishes legitimate criticism of Israel from anti-semitism. Composed of demonization of Israel, double standards in regards to Israel, and delegitimization of Israel). We got a lot of push back from the community at Wake Forest; there were a few loud voices. The way that I see it, anti-semites already exist on campus, but are dormant. There are professors that openly support BDS, but no one talks about it. There were instances where people were anti-Israel, but nothing was done about it. Now that they saw that we were actively supporting the Jewish people and their right to self-determination, their true colors came out.
GD: Can you explain what’s been happening in the past week at Wake Forest? PY: There was a Palestine Solidarity Week on campus, and as soon as we heard about it, we (SSI) reached out to the organizers of the event and said that we are a cultural club that would love to collaborate and help raise awareness about the Palestinian cause. Through so many emails, they said that they didn’t want us to be a part of it, and that they already had a Jew on the panel, so our concerns should be satisfied. When we asked them who was on the panel, which was a panel on anti-semitism, we were ignored. It became less about Israel and more about genuine anti-semitism. The Jewish community was very blatantly excluded from a conversation about anti-semitism. When we raised our concerns to the organizers about the week long events, they assured us that it was only a cultural event that wouldn’t be talking about the conflict. However, when it came around, there were posters all over campus saying that its an Israeli policy to murder children, and that Israel is an apartheid-ethnic cleansing state. They lied to us, and completely excluded us from the conversation.
GD: What has SSI done in response to their actions? PY: We have gone to all of their events, and when they had their ‘wall’ outside, we tabled next to it with a sign saying, “Jews are indigenous to Israel, change my mind”. They told us that we had to leave because they had the space reserved; we moved but we didn’t leave. They had a movie screening of “Five Broken Cameras”, which is a very biased and anti-Israel film. We made half-page leaflets that we handed out to people as they were walking to the film, which gave them additional information. At the panel that we were excluded from, we got the Jewish community together, and told them that we needed to show our voices in events that we are being silenced from. I think we had 50+ people present that were wearing SSI or white T-shirts, and probably had more people present than they did. They were saying the most disgusting things, so we taped our mouths to show that we are being silenced. During the Q+A when we asked questions, they tried twisting our words, and wouldn’t really answer our questions. We were treated horribly, and afterwards, someone even asked me if I was a white supremacist.
GD: Aside from this week, how would you say the overall climate is at your university? PY: I would say that it’s just like every other university that’s apathetic to everything. That being said, because there wasn’t any anti-Israel movement on campus, when we were tabling and did events for Tu-Bishvat, or Save a Child’s Hearts, people were really interested about what we had to say. I would say the hostility is a minority, but we are worried about the university not condemning anti-semitism when it happens.
GD: What do you think your biggest accomplishment has been so far as a club? GB: I think the biggest win here has been how together and strong our Jewish community is. When we started SSI, one of the biggest complaints that we got was that we are creating controversy and dividing the community. We were very adamant about creating a platform for the Jewish community to stand for what is right, and that is exactly what we have done.
GD: How would you like to see your campus change and grow? PY: We would like to see the campus recognize anti-semitism and acknowledge it. People will say that what they are doing is wrong, but it wasn’t anti semitism. The fact is that it was. They had an entire week dedicated to Palestinian rights, and it was obsessed with Israel. It didn’t talk about how Hamas mistreats Palestinians. It didn’t talk about how Egypt mistreats Palestinians. It didn’t talk about how Jordanians mistreat Palestinians. It just talked about Israel, and that is a clear double standard, so we are hoping that the university will be able to recognize anti-semitism. Aside from that, I think that the general public sees that something messed up happened, and most of them are on our side. There is a minority that is anti-semitic and anti-Israel, but I think that most people see that we are trying to have a conversation with them, and are being shut down.
GD: What is your next goal as a club? PY: I think we’re going to keep reaching out to those who have concerns. We hope to be able to continue the conversation in a productive manner. A lot of people woke up in the past week, and were able to see that the issue is relevant.
GD: If you could give one piece of advice to the rest of the SSI members across the country, what would that be? GB: I would say to stick to your values and stand up for what is right. PY: Absolutely; don’t be afraid, and stand up for what you believe in. Sometimes you might feel like you’re alone, but you’re not alone, and you’re definitely doing the right thing.
*this interview has been condensed.
Meet Deena Kopyto: Students Supporting Israel at the University of Pennsylvania
Born in Canada and raised in Long Island, New York, Deena Kopyto is a second year student at the University of Pennsylvania where she is double majoring in philosophy and cognitive neuroscience. She is the president of the Students Supporting Israel (SSI) chapter at University of Pennsylvania. Kopyto has been to Israel quite a few times, including going with “Hasbara” and becoming a fellow on her campus with them – even spending a gap year in Israel with Midreshet Lindenbaum. In fact, after attending Midreshet Lindenbaum, Kopyto’s love for Israel only grew more.
Growing up in an Orthodox community, Kopyto has always had a love for Israel from a religious perspective for the land of the Jewish people. However, Kopyto highlights that “as I got older, I realized how Israel was important for cultural and historical reasons as well.” When she joined Hasbara in Israel during her freshman year of college, Kopyto learned more about the Israeli-Palestine conflict and decided to join SSI in order to continue her pro-Israel activism on the university campus. With seven pro-Israel clubs on the University of Pennsylvania campus, Kopyto says that “I want to see more unity between the clubs and see all the pro-Israel students become more involved.” With a lack of presence from Students for Justice of Palestine (SJP) and other anti-Israel voices, pro-Israel students do not feel the need to become involved because SJP has not been an issue. Kopyto feels that “if the different Israel groups work together, we could attract a lot more students.”
A type of event that has been most successful for SSI at the University of Pennsylvania are their tabling events. These events allow the leaders of SSI to be more engaging with students, and vice versa. Kopyto states that being a part of SSI has allowed her to learn more about Israel, and also made her realize why she loves Israel from a non-religious perspective. She also gets asked a lot of questions about Israel from not only pro-Israel students – but also many non-Jewish students. “I enjoy talking to people about how Israel is important along with all the benefits Israel has to anyone who has questions.”
For the rest of the SSI’ers out there, Kopyto says “do not be discouraged by people who are not interested. Keep fighting for Israel, and own your narrative!” Within five to ten years from now, Kopyto sees herself going into the public health field or attending law school, still advocating for Israel – hopefully even living there one day.
Meet Dalia Zargari: Students Supporting Israel City College, NY
March 27, 2019
Gabriella Davoudpour: Tell us about yourself — where are you from, what are you studying, what do you like to do on your free time? Dalia Zargari: I’m from Brooklyn, NY, and I am studying chemical engineering. In my free time, I like to do anything not involving school work. I’ve been on Hasbara, ZOA, and Birthright trips, so I like to visit Israel as much as I can. GD: How did you get involved with SSI? DZ: A couple of years ago, I was at a Chabad meeting, and heard that there was an Israel club, so I went over to hear more about it, and was invited to their meeting. I went to the meeting, and even since then, I’ve been a part of SSI, and I love it. GD: What inspired you to be part of SSI?
DZ: I’ve always been to Zionist schools, and always grew up with Zionism in the house. My father is Israeli, so it’s always been something that was instilled in me from a young age. It was weird not having that community, so when I found SSI, I knew that I had to become a part of it because Israel is a part of me. It creates a community, and allows me to connect with people that I relate to, people who share the same love for Israel that I do, and that is truly an amazing thing! GD: How would you say the climate is at your college?
DZ: There definitely are a lot of people who don’t really care about anything related to Israel, but there is an active SJP, and their president is very hateful towards Israel. They come and protest our events, and also have an apartheid week, so it’s not the best. It’s been loud and noisy at moments, but we also have our calm moments as well. GD: Has your SSI chapter faced any attacks?
DZ: Yes. Before I joined the club, we had a speaker and there was a lot of screaming and attempts to prevent us from speaking our piece. The second time we brought the speaker back, we did have to take measures to ensure that the same thing wouldn’t happen again.We get a lot of comments, but it really does depend on their mood. GD: What’s one event that really stood out to you in your SSI lifespan? DZ: We had Dani Dayan (Consul General of Israel in New York) come and speak last semester, and we were able to reach a lot of people. The topic was how anti-zionism and anti-semitism are the same thing, and we felt that Dani Dayan really answered the questions and said it how it is. We made sure that we had extra security so that we wouldn’t be silenced, and we advertised the event a lot, which led to a huge turnout. GD: What has influenced you throughout your life that has made you so passionate about your pro-activism? DZ: My schools were always very Zionist, and Zionism was everywhere for me from a young age. Going to Israel so often and falling in love with it helped me reach the conclusion on my own, and made me realize that I am doing the right thing. It being brought out in my school really enhanced it, and made my passion grow stronger. GD: What impact has pro-Israel activism, in general, had on you?
DZ: On campus, I have a mix of feelings. Some days when were tabling it’s a little sad because there are people that truly think were committing genocide, and they wont even let us respond. They scream at us and walk away. It is hurtful, but more importantly, we’ve had really good conversations with people. We’ve had meaningful conversations with people that are to hearing more, and have been able to make connections with people that are just as passionate as we are. I think those moments make me realize that this is important, and that there are people that do want to hear more. Those one on one conversations always remind me to keep doing what I’m doing. GD: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? DZ: Hopefully living in Israel. GD: If you could give one piece of advice to all the members of SSI across the country, what would it be?
DZ: Make sure that your faces are out there all the time. Get people to engage with you through tabling, because without it, people won’t know who we are and that we aren’t going away.
*To read this article at the Times of Israel, visit this LINK*
Meet Ilana Blyakher: Students Supporting Israel at the University of Minnesota
March 4, 2019
A table filled with candy, flyers, and snacks is the first thing that students see when they walk into the Student Union at the University of Minnesota. Students line up to see what all the commotion is about, and are able to spend a few minutes learning more about Israel, while speaking with knowledgeable members of Students Supporting Israel. When interviewing Ilana Blyakher, the current president of SSI of the University of Minnesota, she talked me through the process of their events and tablings.
One event that was a great success was bringing Artists4Israel to their campuses, “we set tables up outside and brought artists that do graffiti art on T-shirts. It’s a great opportunity to expose SSI because students walk by and see the event, and are encouraged to come and join.” When they come up to the table, students can get a custom graffiti shirt that says SSI on the back, and are able to listen to Israeli music. “While they’re waiting for their shirts to be made, we are able to engage the students in conversation, and use that time to educate them”.
Ilana, who is double majoring in computer science and math, got involved in SSI after her freshman year. She began going to board meetings, and in her sophomore year became the SSI Representative in her student government. The next year, she ran for president, and worked up to where she is today. Israel is something that Ilana has always had on her mind, and from summer camps to synagogues, she was able to learn more about what it truly means to be a Zionist. “At camp, we always had Israeli counselors that would lead activities on Israel and exposed us to the great things happening there; the research and technology that is growing at a fast pace”.
Coming from parents that immigrated from Ukraine, Ilana has had many influences in her life, and her relatives in Israel are one of them. Being able to go to Israel with Birthright and extending the trip to be with her family has shown her what it truly is like to live in Israel; “people outside of Israel think that it is a war zone, but I feel safest when I am there. The cities are just like the cities we have here, everyone coexists; you can run into Jews, Arabs, and Christians on the street and it’s normal”. Being able to experience firsthand what it’s like to be in the country she is so passionate about defending has made her more determined to get the word out, and to use SSI to expose other students to the truth, “The biggest goal for my campus would be to see more people knowledgeable on the topic, and willing to the accurate information instead of blindly accepting what is being shown on the media”.
The fact that Ilana knows that her voice is being heard is something that has always driven her. Being able to create a change on campus everyday is something that she has always been thankful for, “SSI has helped me advocate for something that I am so passionate about. I came into college knowing that I cared for Israel, and as I got more involved in SSI, I was able to learn how to share my knowledge and passion with other people”.
On campus, Ilana has been surprised by what she has seen. SSI events have always been an opportunity to educate students and create an open forum for discussion; however, “the first speaker event we held this school year, we brought in IDF soldiers, and there was a protest outside of the building, and when the doors were opened, as people were coming in, we could hear the protestors shouting things against Israel at us”.
Recognizing that there are students on campus who hold biased views that are greatly impacted by the media’s selective coverage, SSI at Minnesota makes a conscious effort to combat that reality, “we try and engage students in conversation…we encourage them to become informed, and are always open to answering any difficult questions they may have”. When I asked Ilana what she’s learned since becoming a part of SSI, she was quick to answer, “I’ve learned that it’s important to stand up for things that matter, and that Israel can be important to me, yet I can still engage in conversation about it on a broader scale”.
A BDS referendum was put on the ballot and was passed by the students last year, “students didn’t really know about the elections, so for us, getting the word out was difficult when those who put up the referendum had many supporters in one room”. The referendum has gone to the board of regents, who is currently not acting on the referendum, however, it shows the mindset that the students have in terms of Israel and BDS, “for the most part, people are just uninformed”. When I asked Ilana where she sees herself in 10 years, she didn’t have a specific answer but knew that, “regardless of what it is, I hope to still be vocal about my passion for Israel”. She follows the simple belief that reminding oneself of why they are passionate about what they are passionate about will in turn make advocating for their beliefs simple. “If you know why you have such strong beliefs, then spreading that passion is natural”.
*To read this article in the Times of Israel, visit this LINK*
Meet Ofir Dayan: Students Supporting Israel at Columbia University
FEB 24, 2019 BY Gabriella Davoudpuor Gabriella Davoudpour: Tell us a little bit about yourself — where are you from, what are you studying? Ofir Dayan: I was born in a small community in Israel called “Maale Shomron”, and was an instructor for 13 years in the “Betar” movement; I did a year of volunteering in “Betar” before joining the army. I was then drafted into the IDF Spokesperson Unit, where I served for nearly 4 years. I was the spokesperson for Operation Protective Edge (a military operation launched by Israel on July 8, 2014 in response to rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel), after which I went through the officers course and was the spokesperson for the 80th division. In March of 2017, I decided to finish my service and came to the University of Columbia, where I started in the fall 2017 semester as a political science major.
GD: What was your position in Operation Protective Edge? OD: I was a spokesperson for the 188th Brigade and handled everything that had to do with media, both Israeli and international. I explained to journalists what was happening, and informed them accurately about what Israel was facing. GD: How did you get involved with Students Supporting Israel – SSI? OD: So, I posted on Facebook that I got into Columbia, and 2 days later I got a Facebook message from this random girl (The VP of SSI at the time) asking me if I wanted to get involved with SSI of Columbia; 2 years later, and here we are. GD: When did you get involved with SSI? OD: I joined SSI about 2 weeks before I started school because of that Facebook message. In the first semester, I was an ambassador on campus, and by the second semester, I joined the board as an external relations chair where I did everything that had to do with media and communicating with organizations. Last semester, I was the Vice President, and this is my first year as president of SSI. GD: What motivated you to get involved with SSI? OD: Firstly, I’m Israeli, so from the beginning I felt like I had a responsibility. During Operation Protective Edge, I was speaking with a U.S. journalist, and told him that no questions were allowed to be asked in the briefing room, and said that if he had any questions, now would be the time to ask. The journalist asked my commander if he had any kids, and my commander said yes. Immediately after, the journalist said, “okay how do you feel about the fact that you’re killing kids the same age as your kids?” I was shocked at how misinformed he was, and in that moment I realized that if a senior reporter has such a twisted view of what is happening in Israel, then it must be much more construed in the minds of people who don’t spend their entire lives covering Israel, and are less knowledgeable. In terms of SSI, I felt compelled to join because of the fact that it is non-partisan. I don’t think we have the privilege of dividing ourselves into right-wing or left-wing camps; we should be focusing on working together to advocate for Israel, and showing that it has the right to exist. After we reach that point, then people can start focusing on splitting into smaller organizations and becoming more political. Another thing that motivated me is the fact that SSI of Columbia is not a Jewish organization. Many of the members are not Jewish, many of my board members are not Jewish. I really believe that if we want to make this a just cause, it cannot be confined to the Jewish community. Considering the fact that Zionism managed to achieve self-determination for the Jewish people, I believe that we have an obligation to help other minorities and aide them in achieving the same thing. GD: How is the climate at Columbia University? OD: Columbia is consistently one of the worst campuses to be a Jew on. I would even say that here, being pro-Israel is worse than being Jewish. We have many tenured professors and non-tenured professors that are very anti-Israel and anti-Semitic. These are professors that get backing from the University with everything that they say. We have a professor teaching a book called “The Invention of the Jews” and the university doesn’t care. We have a professor who wrote on his Facebook page something along the lines of “behind every ugly treacherous act in the world, you can find the ugly word Israel”. BDS passed in one of Columbia’s four undergraduate colleges, with 70% of the student body voting yes. It was not implemented because the president of the college and board of trustees vetoed it, but regardless, it shows the mindset of the students on campus, and where they stand. GD: Has SSI of Columbia ever personally faced any attacks? OD: Of course; once a semester we have an event called “People Liberation Week”, and we are regularly being screamed at, being called terrorists and murderers. My first semester at Columbia we were surrounded by a group that started chanting about Israel, and how it was a terrorist state. This happened at an event that was not focused on Israel; but the event was hijacked by this group and used in an attempt to slander our club, and the state of Israel. These are things that we face on a regular basis, but don’t let affect us, because at the end of the day, we know that we are standing up for what is right. GD: What would you like to see your campus turn into? OD: I would like to see the campus become more tolerant. Columbia is known as a liberal school, but at the end of the day, they are not liberal because they only accept people with the same mindset as them. I would like to see Israel become bipartisan on this campus as well. Overall, I want Columbia to be a place where people, Jews or non-Jews, feel free to support something that is very basic; the right of the Jewish people to self determinate. I don’t think it’s that complicated or too big of a thing to ask; I want the campus to be an accepting one where we can have constructive conversations without people feeling uncomfortable. GD: What impact has SSI or pro-activism in general had on you? OD: For me personally, it gave me a platform to do what I love to do. I’ve been doing this for many years now, even before joining the IDF, and SSI allows me to advocate for what I believe in. It also gave me the opportunity to get to know some amazing people. My board is the most diverse and amazing group of people, and I am really thankful for that. GD: In your opinion, what is the greatest thing that SSI of Columbia has done in terms of changing the campus and really having your voices heard? OD: When I came to Columbia 2 years ago, the anti-Israel movements were very very strong. Their events were attended by many students and faculty. After SSI became strong on campus, the number of their events became less and less. The anti-Israel movements know that whenever they have an event, we are going to be there, asking the tough questions, and ultimately exposing to truth to those attending who aren’t fully aware of the situation. As a result, they can’t lie and misinform students and faculty as much, and that is very important. GD: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? OD: Definitely in Israel, still doing what I do today; advocating for Israel. GD: If you could give one piece of advice to all members of SSI across the country (and Canada), what would it be? OD: Be proud of who you are. Don’t apologize when asking for the most basic thing. I feel that we as a community sometimes feel uncomfortable standing up for ourselves and for justice, but we shouldn’t; we should always stand up for what is right. --
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Gabriella Davoudpour is a first year college student and board member of Students Supporting Israel at Santa Monica college. Currently, she serves as an intern for the national SSI Movement as a publisher and blogger. Gabriella is a sociology major with a background in writing and analysis.
*To read this article at the Times of Israel, visit this LINK*
Meet Justin Feldman: Students Supporting Israel UCLA
February 23, 2019 *To read this article at the Times of Israel, visit this LINK*
Justin Feldman, who was born and raised in Tarzana, California, is the Students Supporting Israel (SSI) President at UCLA, where he is double majoring in political science and middle eastern studies. Before transferring to UCLA, Feldman attended Santa Monica College (SMC). Feldman has traveled to Israel thirteen times, mainly to visit his family there, but he has also been there on trips with the Jewish National Fund (JNF), Zionist Organization of America (ZOA), and Onward Israel.
When Feldman was in his senior year of high school, he took part in the StandWithUs MZ teens internship program at Cleveland Charter High School. The summer before Feldman began college, he spent an entire summer in Israel with Onward Israel Video Activism creating short films. While advocating for Israel in the summer of 2016 with Onward, Feldman aspired to do more and learned about Students Supporting Israel at SMC. His three friends, Daniel Dayan, Isaac Dayan, and Natan Benchimol were apart of SSI of SMC and Feldman decided to join and help them create bigger events to advocate for Israel, ultimately making SSI of SMC more recognized. He joined SSI because he wanted to create more Israel advocacy on a college campus. After leaving SMC, Feldman transferred to UCLA and became the president of SSI at UCLA.
Feldman emphasized that he would “love to see UCLA turn into a space where Jews and Zionists can become equal partners for positive social change with other marginalized communities.”
One of the biggest challenges Feldman has faced on his campus is dealing with the student government and cultural groups that normalize anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism. On November 18, 2018, the National Students for Justice of Palestine (SJP) group had their conference on the UCLA campus shortly after the Pittsburgh massacre occurred. SJP has featured anti-semites who are popularized among social media as well as being financially linked with Hamas. The conference being held was a concern towards members of SSI, especially after their event, “Indigenous Peoples Unite,” was shut down by SJP on May 17, 2018. According to Feldman, “student government would not take our concerns seriously when it came to student safety and freedom of expression for our community.” Although this is Feldman’s first year at UCLA, he feels that being able to address topics with an open mind and engaging with new sounds allies around the conversation of Israel is a very effective way in making your voice heard.
Having a strong pro-Israel activism group on campus has allowed Feldman to mature intellectually and socially, while also being able to delve into his Jewish and Israeli identity. He stated that he wants to help others achieve the same for a stronger and more united Jewish future as well.
For all the SSI’ers across the country, Feldman expresses to educate yourselves beyond what you already know and be willing to take the steps that people may not agree with in order to further your peers engagement with Zionism. Lastly, Feldman says to “ use your mistakes and achievements to advance the impact of people leading after you to maximize your chances of positively changing campus dynamics.”
In addition to advocating Israel with SSI, Feldman is the youngest part-time employee at StandWithUs in North America, working in the high school department to help other teens advocate for Israel on their own campuses. He is also a Camera fellow this year at UCLA, where he writes articles debunking media bias against israel and also works in social media to educate others on facts on the ground in the arab-israeli conflict. This helps with SSI because it points other people to recognize media bias, and to give them alternative sources for information about Israel.
In the future, Feldman envisions himself doing more scholarly work for Israel activism in California, and to aid incoming college students to make brave choices in order to educate their own communities.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR Leor Saghian is a first year student at Santa Monica College majoring in Psychology and is part of the local Students Supporting Israel chapter. Currently, Leor serves as an intern for the national SSI Movement as a publisher and blogger. Leor's family is originally from Iran and following the revolution, immigrated to the United States and Israel.
Meet Emily Kalo: Students Supporting Israel University of Manitoba
February 18, 2019.
*To read this article at the Times of Israel, visit this LINK*
Starting this Spring, Students Supporting Israel will publish a series of articles and interviews that will highlight the faces of our student movement. Each week we will write about our activists, their work on campus, their challenges and their success stories. In a movement where our students are on the front lines, and in a campus-based organization - we believe that empowering the students will help us accomplish our mission on campus. In this article we will share the story of Emily Kalo, the founder of the 3rd SSI chapter in Canada, at the University of Manitoba.
Emily Kalo is the President of Students Supporting Israel (SSI) at the University of Manitoba in Winnipeg, Canada. In high school, Kalo attended Gray Academy, while also being part of the StandWithUs MZ teens program. Following her graduation from high school Kalo was introduced to the StandWithUs fellow at the university of Manitoba, Darius Hunter. Together, they decided that the University of Manitoba needs to have a strong pro Israel voice and student group on campus, therefore they established Students Supporting Israel at their university in January of 2019 making SSI Manitoba the 3rd ever Canadian chapter. Kalo decided to become involved with the SSI movement because she craved to create a space where people can start conversations about what is going on in Israel and inform others about it. Kalo would like to see her campus become one that allows individuals to have a positive experience about the middle eastern countries, mainly focusing on Israel. Since many media outlets are biased on their opinions about Israel, Kalo can educate others, along with the rest of the SSI board, about events that are not highlighted in the news. With SSI, she would like to create a comfortable space for people to state their opinions as well as have mature educational conversations about Israel. She also wants to focus on displaying information about Israel that is not portrayed in the news in order for people to have knowledge about everything that is going on. For most Canadian universities, a portion of a student’s tuition money is given to the Canadian Federation of Students (CFS) to help fund certain things that benefit the college campuses. In October of 2018, CFS decided to donate some of their money to Boycott, Divestment Sanctions (BDS). Although there is no BDS group or any other anti-Israel group on the campus of University of Manitoba, this decision has been controversial because a portion of students’ tuition money is going to BDS groups on other college campuses. For SSI of University of Manitoba, something that has worked well on campus is the “Israel 101 event”. Israel 101 is an event in which the board of SSI educates the club members about Israel. The members answer questions students may have or they give information that is prepared for them to learn. Many students have expressed interest in learning more about Israel as it boosts their education and gives them more knowledge about Israel. “When students educate other students is is powerful” Now that their is an SSI formed on Kalo’s campus, she feels more comfortable around her University, especially because she was born in Israel. SSI gives her an outlet to discuss Israel and it has also taught her how to address the topic of Israel professionally. This has also aided her in communication skills that help Kalo in her day-to-day life, such as asking more questions in class, or even talking to a peer. “My advice to SSI members across the country is to not be scared talking to people about Israel, and to tell individuals how we feel about the conflict. Be open to listen to other peoples opinions about Israel without shutting them out, universities are places where we learn how to exchange opinions and represent Israel at the same time”.
Leor Saghian is a first year student at Santa Monica College majoring in Psychology and is part of the local Students Supporting Israel chapter. Currently, Leor serves as an intern for the national SSI Movement as a publisher and blogger. Leor's family is originally from Iran and following the revolution, immigrated to the United States and Israel.
Meet Raquel Cohen: Students Supporting Israel at Hunter College.
February 18, 2019.
*To read this article at the Times of Israel, visit this LINK*
Starting this Spring, Students Supporting Israel will publish a series of articles and interviews that will highlight the faces of our student movement. Each week we will write about our activists, their work on campus, their challenges and their success stories. In a movement where our students are on the front lines, and in a campus-based organization - we believe that empowering the students will help us to accomplish our mission on campus. In this article we will share the story of Raquel Cohen the founder of the 6th and most recent SSI chapter in New York City at Hunter College.
Gabriella Davoudpour: Tell us about yourself - where you’re from, what are you studying, what you like to do on your free time? Raquel Cohen: I was born and raised in Brooklyn, New York, but have a very diverse background. My mother was born and raised in Syria, and my father is Turkish, but was born and raised in Israel. Being brought up in a home with different cultures and traditions truly allows me to have a multiplex view of the world around me. I’ve been to Israel many times, and am studying to be a nutritionist and personal trainer.
GD: What school do you represent? RC: Hunter College
GD: How did you get involved with SSI? RC: My friend, who’s now made aliyah to Israel, went to City College and was going to the annual SSI conference in San Diego 2 years ago. She invited me to come along with her, and I applied, even though I didn’t have a chapter at my school. I’ve always been involved with conferences like AIPAC and other policy conferences since high school, so I was always interested in Israel activism. After the SSI conference, I had a phone call with Ilan (President of SSI), and said that I would love to start a chapter with my school. I loved everything that the organization represented, and their approach on things, so I was inspired to start a chapter!
GD: What motivated you to get involved with SSI? RC: I felt like everyone in SSI was a family. It’s more about getting people involved and educating them about Israel, it doesn’t only have to be a political thing. It’s something that can be done on campus, which I love.
GD: How’s the climate at Hunter College? RC: SJP has a strong voice on campus, and there is no registered Israel club on campus. The Israel clubs are all under Hillel’s (an in-school organization) branch; so if the Israel clubs on campus want to book a room or get a table, we go through Hillel. SSI at Hunter College is not currently registered because we missed the registration deadline which is open only once a year in the fall. We are operating without being “official” yet.
GD: What would you like to see your campus turn into? RC: I want to be the first registered Israel club on campus. I hope that we can grow in terms of having a following from our peers. Currently, my team is only 3 people, so I would like that to expand as well. My long term goals would be to have another event with all the other SSI’s in New York because I know that is something that has been done, but not in a while.
GD: What kind of impact has SSI and pro-activism in general had on you throughout school? RC: I got to meet a lot of people that I probably wouldn’t have met otherwise. I’ve had a lot of people reach out to me, saying, “Oh, let’s grab a coffee, and just talk about your club goals, where you want this to go”, and those people have become very important in my life. I feel like it’s also opened my eyes, because in my first semester of college, I wasn’t even aware that SJP was a thing on campus. After going to the conference and learning about it, I became much more aware of the climate on my campus.
GD: Where do you see yourself 10 years from now? RC: In 10 years from now, I hope to have completed both undergraduate and graduate school. I hope to have my own nutrition practice in Manhattan, as well as a gym where I can train my clients. GD: Last question- If you have any advice for the rest of SSI’ers across the country what would it be? RC: I would say that Elan and Ilan are your best resources, in addition to the SSI family in general. If you ever come across an obstacle, just reach out and give them a call, they'll get you in touch with whoever you need to be in touch with. Even other SSI chapters in your area can help, because they have a similar campus. I’ve talked with the chapters in New York, we have a chat and have done google hangouts to figure out what our obstacles are, and how we can overcome it.
Gabriella Davoudpour is a first year college student and board member of Students Supporting Israel at Santa Monica college. She is a sociology major with a background in writing and analysis. Currently, Gabriella serves as an intern for the national SSI Movement as a publisher and blogger.