Over this past winter break, I had the opportunity to be a part of ZOA’s Student Leadership Mission to Israel. For two weeks, campus activists and student leaders from all faiths were given a comprehensive look at the situation in Israel.
From meeting with elected members of the Knesset (Israeli Parliament) to visiting Palestinian Arabs and Jews who work together in large production factories, we were able to hear stories from a wide range opinions and perspectives. This diversity also helped give us the tools with which to empower ourselves as we advocate for Israel on our respective college and university campuses.
Even though a main focal point of the mission is to present “the facts on the ground” so to speak, during a discussion session, a fellow student asserted that it was not the facts that make the strongest case for Israel, but rather the conveyance of emotions.
As a political science major and someone who considers himself a rational person, I found this quite troubling. After all, what more could one need outside of the facts? It was only later that, with a bit of added nuance, some deep and meaningful dialogue, and introspection, that I realized how true this student’s statement actually was (and by default, how wrong I was to disagree).
Increasingly, we find ourselves living in a “post-facts” society where hateful literature like The Protocols of The Elders of Zion is assigned as required reading in classrooms and Jews are consistently scapegoated for ludicrous conspiracy theories like training undercover killer sharks all the way to stealing Kim Kardashian’s jewelry (all real-world events).
Around the end of the trip, I had the chance to go to a concert in Tel Aviv with a cousin of mine. I have had plenty of experience rapping in Israel and around the world and I personally knew the rappers on stage, but as I stood on the second floor of the Barby, listening to the music playing and staring out at a multi-ethnic sea of people that represented the colorfully rich mosaic of Israeli society, all getting down to music rapped in Hebrew, it hit me.
I felt a wave of emotion breathing life into all the facts that I had learned during the trip. It was ten years to the day from my first summer spent in Israel, mostly in Tel Aviv, in which my love affair with Israel began. This was when I knew I could experience a Zionism that was entirely my own.
Today, I can say with certainty that a true advocate of Israel is not born of facts alone and neither do facts a good advocate make. It is personal experience that gives someone the passion to fight for a country, which regularly faces insurmountable odds.
To defend Israel on campus means going against the grain in such a profound way that, it is not only students who will antagonize you, but even academics and faculty members. I personally experience this on a regular basis. When I hear biased professors who have never even been to Israel distort the facts and demonize Israel to a student body who is generally more receptive (and apathetic) than not.
It was not just “the facts” that led me to challenge a particular professor at my university who teaches a class of over 500 students. This professor originally hails from Lebanon, and his brother is rumored to be involved with Hezbollah. His blatant distortion of the situation as well as the emotional tie that I felt, led me to need to defend Israel even in an academic realm, which could have cost me my grade and/or GPA.
I am proud to have fostered a Zionism that was built from equal parts personal experiences in Israel, and amongst my fellow Jews in the Diaspora, as well as through hevruta study of our sacred text, the Torah. The beauty of Zionism is its ability to serve as a platform for a wide and ever-growing range of ideas regarding Jewish peoplehood and sovereignty.
Israel is where all people can live their Zionist dream freely. I was fortunate over the years to have been able to weave my personal story, which include victories and failures with Israel’s story, and create my own personal Zionism.
Indeed, facts are excellent tools, yet it is emotion, which inspires one to act courageously. It seems that Zionism is always seen in the context of conflict, but in that smoke-filled and hazy room in south Tel Aviv looking over the pulsating crowd of Israelis of all colors, I realized that Zionism and Israel are much more than that.
At the end of the day, all the advocacy and conflict is in defense of freedom. In a corner of the world dominated by religious fundamentalists and brutal dictatorships, Israel serves as a beacon of freedom. It is a country in which its citizens are free to pursue life, liberty, and happiness regardless of their race, gender, religion, or sexual orientation. It is this freedom that drives us to advocate for Israel.
The conflict and its details are merely in defense of one thing, freedom. In Israel, a person is free to pursue his dreams in a society, which will support him in doing so, even under the threat of terror and murderous intentions by some of Israel’s surrounding neighbors.
To be an advocate for Israel is to be an advocate for freedom. Without this foundational feeling guiding us through the war of accusations, it is difficult to find meaning in all the facts. With this feeling however, the facts are illuminated and serve to stoke the flames of our passion to defend Israel and rise to the defense of the only true democracy in the Middle East. Advocating for Israel is advocating for freedom. Once a person can understand and truly feel that, it is then that the facts take life and that person realizes just how important it is that we fight for Israel.
Feel free to apply for the next ZOA Student Leadership Mission to Israel and begin creating YOUR personal Zionism! https://campus.zoa.org/student-leadership-mission-to-israel/