• Lior is The Jewish Agency's Israel Fellow to Hillel at Princeton University

    Lior Shahrir
Israel In Your Community

Bringing Israel to Princeton

Representing Israel at one of America’s most highly selective universities comes with special challenges and opportunities

“Lior helped me rediscover my love, passion, and excitement for Israel” says a recent graduate, talking about Lior Shahrir, The Jewish Agency’s Israel fellow at Princeton University. Representing Israel at one of America’s most highly selective universities comes with special challenges and opportunities, says Lior, who continues to make a difference at this remarkable campus community.

“Nothing can prepare you for Princeton,” says Lior, as he highlights the challenges and rewards of serving an academic community characterized by extraordinary achievement, intellectual curiosity, and motivation.

As an Israel Fellow, he continues to find that the characteristics of Princeton and its students shape his experience in ways that he hadn’t fully anticipated.

Although Lior Sharir is spending the summer in Tel Aviv, the change of scenery doesn’t mean that he’s taking a break from being an Israeli Emmisary for The Jewish Agency. As he prepares to begin his third year as an emmisary at Princeton, he’s spending this summer guiding 23 Princeton students on an experience in Israel.

Through the Princeton Start-Up Immersion Program, those students are participating in prestigious internships at some of Israel’s hottest start-ups, taking advantage of a unique opportunity to experience life within this booming high-tech scene.

And while he’s taking on a different role this summer than he does during the school year, the two positions have much in common. They both involve bridging gaps between Israelis and Americans, they both involve helping college students understand the realities of life in Israel, and they both are experiences shaped by the remarkable students he works with.

Outstanding students? Clearly. But then again, as Lior has discovered, outstanding is the norm at Princeton.


Serving on a One-of-a-Kind Campus

As Lior explains, the realities of serving as an Israel Fellow at Princeton initially came as a shock, especially since his training had been designed to prepare emissaries to serve on typical North American campuses.

By way of example, he describes an incident from his first time leading a Taglit-Birthright trip for Princeton students. Late one night, he recalls, he heard the voices of students at the hotel where the group was staying. Imagining a group of college students on vacation, he went to check whether there was a party going on. Instead, he says, “I found myself on Friday at midnight in the lobby with some students. They were not drinking – they were asking me what I thought about the Iranian deal! That was kind of my first ‘wow’ moment.”

Since then, Lior has gotten used to the reality of Israel engagement on a campus with the level of academic excellence that Princeton is known for. “Ever since, I’ve had really good conversations with students. A lot of challenges, but good challenges,” he explains. “They have a lot of background knowledge on geopolitical issues – which makes my fellowships, trips, and group conversations comprehensive and interesting. Also, there are many voices on our campus when it comes to talking about Israel, from every political perspective or ideology that concerns Israel.”

At the same time, working with students as busy as Princeton’s presents its own set of challenges. “Studying at Princeton is demanding in a way I’ve never encountered before,” he says. “Students are focusing on their studies as a top priority, and that is reflected in their schedule. Time for extra-curricular activities is a constant conflict for the students.”

But in recent years, Princeton’s pro-Israel community has faced far bigger challenges than scheduling. Most notably, shortly before Lior’s arrival on campus, a proposed BDS resolution generated controversy before being voted down. As a result, Lior’s role has included helping the pro-Israel community on campus to recover from the contentious atmosphere surrounding that proposal.


Bringing Israel to Princeton – and Princeton to Israel

Lior’s main goal is to increase engagement with Israel at Princeton, and that includes educational activities both on and off campus.

On campus, he organizes and leads events designed to foster constructive conversations related to Israel. In his view, one of his most interesting ongoing programs is the Israel 360 Fellowship. Originally started by his predecessor at Princeton, this program has been running since he arrived at Princeton.

“The Israel 360 Fellowship, which brings together students for a weekly session over the course of a semester, is meant to discuss a variety of issues in the context of Israel and the Middle East,” Lior explains. “In each hour-and-a-half session, we go over topics like the history of Zionism, minorities, the Israeli-Arab conflict, culture, and more. To tackle those issues, we incorporate guest speakers, artists, professors, movies, and field trips.”

Lior also takes a leading in role in bringing students to Israel for more hands-on learning. In addition to Princeton’s recent Taglit-Birthright trips and this summer’s Princeton Start-Up Immersion Program, Lior collaborated with Daniel Kurtzer on a trip to Israel last winter. Kurtzer, who previously served as U.S. ambassador to both Egypt and Israel and is currently a professor at Princeton, gave a strong educational focus to the Inside Israel trip.

“On this trip, we had both Jewish and non-Jewish students,” Lior recalls. “We met with Knesset members and IDF officials, toured the borders, and even visited Ramallah and Bethlehem. It was an amazing experience – both the sites and the many conversations we had.”


Making an Impact

Speaking to students who have worked with Lior over the past few years, it’s obvious that he is leaving his mark on the campus community.

“I think Lior has made a huge impact on both the Princeton Jewish Community and campus,” says Rachel Marek, a recent graduate who has known Lior since her sophomore year. “He has done an amazing job reaching out to students who come from a variety of backgrounds and bringing them together. Every time I saw Lior he was always speaking with a student and engaging them about Israel and the Jewish community on campus, as well as learning about their own background.”

Another recent graduate agrees, pointing to Lior’s role in helping the pro-Israel community on campus recover from the tension surrounding the failed BDS resolution.

“Lior's mission was to engage students with Israel, yet many of us wanted desperately to give Israel a break from the campus spotlight,” she says, recalling the exhaustion she personally felt after taking a prominent role in defeating the contentious resolution. “Lior brought joy and light back into the pro-Israel community. Lior offers students from a variety of backgrounds opportunities to engage with Israel in a unique way. On a personal level, Lior helped me rediscover my love, passion, and excitement for Israel.”

For Lior, that’s a high compliment.

But the full measure of his success? He says only time will tell.

“Numbers are nice, and we emmisaries generate many engagement opportunities with students,” he says. “But the real impact on students who after experiencing Israel with us choose to focus their thesis or their internship on Israel, learn Hebrew, or even make Aliyah? We won’t be able to measure that impact until those students start their adult life. They will carry those life-shaping experiences wherever they go.”


23 Jul 2017 / 29 Tamuz 5777 0
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