This summer marked my second visit to the State of Israel. I’m sure you already know all about my first trip–good old Birthright, they call it. But this time around, I was there for a two-month internship in Jerusalem at The Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center through the Onward Israel program, and my family literally had to beg me to return to the US.
What is it about this country that always leaves me wanting me more? I wondered. It is as though every time I go back, Israel starts to feel more like home, and home starts to feel more foreign. You see, being raised in a very Zionist family, I had always grown up with a strong passion for the State of Israel. Most of this came from my father who moved to Israel just two months after the Six-Day War in 1967 when my grandfather was on a Fulbright teaching sabbatical at Tel Aviv University. Unfortunately, my dad was only a 4-year-old during that time, so he has very few memories of what actually happened. Yet he instilled in me the love for Israel and my Jewish heritage.
To think of it, my childhood set the stage for my Zionist journey. I was always involved in Israel related events at our local JCC and synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and G.U.C.I. (Goldman Union Camp Institute), the overnight sleep away camp I attended for three summers in Zionsville, Indiana. Any time there was something Israel related, I was always there to learn as much as I could and to ask as many questions as possible.
I have always had the greatest interest in the IDF–– especially the amazing work they do to protect the state of Israel and the humanitarian aid they provide to countries in need around the world. At the summer camp I attended, we always had two or three counselors who had just finished their military service, and, of course, you could always find me asking questions and trying to hear as many stories as I could.
The one thing that I took away from every one of those counselors was this amazing sense of nationalism for the state of Israel. They all said that it came from their military service. They felt as though they had a piece of the country that they spent 3 years defending. That feeling was something that resonated with me a great deal and made me want to do something to defend the state of Israel in my hometown or on my college campus.
So… fast forward to my sophomore year of college, I had just transferred to The Ohio State University and really didn’t know anyone or what to get involved with. So, as I was walking on The Oval (campus green) during our involvement fair with 15,000+ other freshman, I stumbled across a table with an Israeli flag hanging high above all the tables. This immediately gave me a sense of comfort and I walked up to the table to find out what this student organization was about. The student organization was called Buckeyes For Israel and I knew this was something I wanted to be a part of.
Throughout the first semester, I attended a few meetings and events but really wasn’t that involved. However, toward the end of the semester, a friend from the group invited me to the organization’s big end of semester event which was three days long. The last day of the event was a brunch, which featured two speakers from the David Project and The Zionist Organization of America.
To be honest, I attended the event with no intention of paying close attention to the speakers. I was there primarily for the free food, just like any good college student would be. But after enjoying the delicious food, I thought it would be respectful to listen to the two speakers. The second of the two speakers was a man named Pandit Mami, and his story, and what his organization stood for, were things that very closely lined up with my beliefs. After his presentation, I approached him to introduce myself and to thank him for coming to speak to us that morning.
Pandit and I got into talking for quite some time, and he told me about the ZOA campus fellowship. I, of course, was extremely interested and started to look into what the fellowship entailed over the course of my winter break. Over that winter break, I also went on Birthright, my first visit to the Jewish homeland, and I knew I was home. I had the absolute time of my life; even after day two, I had called my parents saying they were going to have to beg me to come home.
After this life changing two-week trip in Israel, I came home with a burning passion to get back to Israel and to share with my friends on campus what this amazing country has to offer. Shortly after I returned to the US, I accepted the offer to become the ZOA Campus Fellow for The Ohio State University and became extremely involved with our pro-Israel group, Buckeyes For Israel. This became an awesome way for me to have a sense of Israel away from Israel.
I spent the beginning of the semester sharing the story of my trip in Israel and all the amazing sites and opportunities it had to offer. But about midway through this past spring semester, I received a notification that our CJP group on campus was on the verge of launching a BDS Referendum campaign. At that moment, I knew it was the perfect opportunity for me to preserve the peaceful atmosphere on my campus as well as standing up for Israel, a country that I have loved since I was a little kid. Fortunately, we were able to thwart this referendum at its embryonic stage. It never made it to our Student Government’s ballot box.
Our experience with BDS had made us realize that victory on campus calls for a vibrant and diverse ally network. Going forward, our pro-Israel group has made many plans to ensure that we have formidable coalitions and networks so that we can effectively replicate our success in the future.
For me, standing up for Israel on campus is my own way of defending the country I love. Through this act of Zionism, I feel a deeper connection to the Israeli people and to our Jewish homeland.