13 Jun Encouraging Students to Embrace their Jewish Identities on Campus
Encouraging Students to Embrace their Jewish Identities on Campus
Throughout her time as a Campus Israel Fellow at Virginia Tech, Dana supported Jewish students facing antisemitism and encouraged them to embrace their Jewish identities.
During the coronavirus pandemic, Dana, 32, from Haifa in the north of Israel, participated in a life-changing Zoom call. After serving in the Israeli Navy for her military service, Dana completed a bachelor’s degree in the History of the Jewish People from Jordan Valley College in addition to getting certified as a tour guide. In 2017, she acted as a tour guide for a Birthright trip consisting of Virginia Tech students – and it was those students she was having a reunion with on Zoom during COVID-19, and that call inspired her to become a Jewish Agency Campus Israel Fellow.
“I really relished the chance to make an impact over a longer period of time than just a 10-day Birthright trip and I’d always thought about doing Shlichut (Israeli emissary service) so being an Israel Fellow seemed perfect,” remembered Dana. “Now these past few years, I’ve been so happy to be here at Virginia Tech, especially since the students who were freshmen on the Birthright trip were still in school, as seniors, so I got to be with them again.”
Campus Israel Fellows are Israeli young adults who have finished their Israeli army service and university and who are brought to North American college campuses every year by The Jewish Agency, in partnership with Hillel. These Fellows help substitute education for ignorance when it comes to student opinions about Israel, creating safe spaces for tolerance and diversity, and give students a chance to develop lasting connections with an Israeli.
After arriving on campus, Dana quickly realized that many students were scared to say they were Jewish or wear a Star of David. So she began wearing a Star of David necklace and made sure to assert her Jewish identity whenever possible, to allow students to witness the fact that she was Jewish and proud. Unfortunately, students at Virginia Tech during Dana’s time as an Israel Fellow did have to deal with antisemitic incidents.
“When anything antisemitic occurs, I always made sure to make myself even more available to the students. There was an incident when a student was wearing a kippah while walking home Friday evening after Shabbat dinner and was called names and after that, he told me he never wanted to wear a yarmulke again,” Dana shared. “When students are facing anti-Israel sentiment or antisemitism, it’s pivotal to have an Israel Fellow on campus to support the students and give advice. And in my years as a Fellow, it’s been a real need.”
In addition to supporting students facing antisemitism, Dana would recruit non-Jewish student leaders on campus for trips to Israel in order to show those young adults firsthand what Israel is really like. She also grabbed coffee with students, did recruitment for Onward Israel and Birthright, planned events and Shabbat dinners, tabled on campus for Hillel and Israel-related activities, and overall made efforts to get students involved, especially those who were typically less engaged.
“I know my time as an Israel Fellow really served an important purpose. I gave students opportunities to be proudly Jewish and build their self-esteem and showed them they can embrace their Jewish identity–that it’s not something they have to hide,” said Dana. “At this critical stage in their lives, educating them about Israel’s complexities and making them understand why Israel is so important to Jews everywhere and fostering those connections to Israel through a personal relationship is crucial.”