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August 15, 2018 7:29 am

Israel and Judaism Are Alive and Well at Northeastern University Hillel

avatar by Gilad Skolnick / JNS.org

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Northeastern University. Photo: Wiki Commons.

JNS.org The online non-profit site “The Conversation” ran an article by Northeastern University Professor Dov Waxman titled, “As Israel turns 70, many young American Jews turn away.” In it, he argues that young Jews are less connected to Israel than ever before, and that they are no longer interested or comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state.

Waxman’s body of work suggests that he wishes this to be the case, but there are many reasons to doubt his conclusion. For starters, he should leave his office and walk across the street to my Hillel to see the reality on the ground.

Over the past few years, Northeastern University Hillel has experienced the opposite of young Jews “distancing” themselves from Israel. We sent more than 120 students to Israel this year — more than 10 percent of the total Jewish student body at the university. Student engagement in the trip was high, despite security threats such as Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza (and more recently, Iranian missiles from Syria). In fact, we are witnessing an increased desire over recent years by Jewish students to explore their Jewish homeland.

When we brought “Artists for Israel” to Northeastern, hundreds of students participated, and our Israel-themed Shabbats typically exceed room capacity, with well over 100 students in attendance. At Northeastern, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) launched four BDS campaigns over the past three years, yet student senators overwhelmingly defeated divestment resolutions each time. If you take a walk through campus on an average day, you will see Hillel’s pro-Israel coordinator and student leaders “tabling” in support of Israel.

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Waxman’s work seems intent on politicizing Israel — exploiting a lack of support for the current Israeli government to promote a wider disdain for the State of Israel. But Northeastern University students are able to distinguish between the two, just as they can distinguish between their love of the United States and their feelings towards any particular occupant of the White House. The fact that students have proved more resilient and less malleable is fortunate, given the attempts by professors to leverage their position of influence over students in creating a following for their false narrative.

In his article, Waxman makes his case using a not particularly relevant and outdated survey from half a decade ago. He also cites a survey from San Francisco, which is perhaps not representative of the entire United States, considering its population’s long history of leaning to the left.

For decades, there have been those who warn that support for Israel is on the decline. Yet in poll after poll by Pew and Gallup, overall support for Israel is holding steady. A March 2018 Gallup poll showed that three out of four Americans have a favorable view of Israel. This is the same result as nearly 30 years ago.

It comes as no surprise that students here are excited to be involved and active with organizations such as Hasbara, CAMERA, StandWithUs, Jewish National Fund-USA, Israel on Campus Coalition, and others. And students here have met the rise of anti-Israel campus activism with their own pro-Israel campus activism.

Half of all Jews who attend Northeastern University sign up to go to Israel with us at some point during their time here. In my experience, they return with a new or renewed sense of enthusiasm about participating in Jewish life, and start attending more programs about Israel, such as the “Onward Israel” internship program, organized by Combined Jewish Philanthropies (our Jewish Federation) in Boston.

Non-Jewish students are also growing interested in Israel. For the third year in a row, 40 non-Jewish students chose to spend their spring break with Hillel volunteering on an IDF base. They too are excited to visit a country where about half of the world’s Jews live — a place fundamental to three of the world’s major religions, where there is 3,000 years of Jewish history. They are intrigued to be in the only place where a dead language (Hebrew) was brought back to life, in the home of countless ancient and modern miracles, and in a country with few natural resources that leverages the talent of its people while flourishing in a very unfriendly neighborhood.

One of my favorite things about serving as executive director of Northeastern’s Hillel is seeing the hundreds of students who are passionate about the Jewish people. We help them by fostering an environment where people can feel pride in being Jewish and in Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East. This Yom Kippur, as our people have been saying for thousands of years, students will say: “Next Year in Jerusalem!” If you’re a student at Northeastern though, there’s a good probability that it will be this year.

Gilad Skolnick is the Executive Director of Northeastern University Hillel in Boston. He can be reached at gilad@northeasternhillel.org.

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