Connecting students to Israel in a positive way is at the heart of Hillel’s mission. Through travel, education, advocacy and personal relationships, Hillel helps students forge their bond with Israel and share it on college campuses.
Because of its commitment to deepening Jewish identity in young adults, The Associated: Jewish Community Federation of Baltimore commits resources to Hillels at five local campuses: Towson University, Goucher College, University of Maryland, Baltimore County, Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland, College Park. Collectively, these campuses serve more than 11,000 students and help ignite their passion for both Judaism and Israel.
This year has been challenging for Hillel’s Israel agenda nationally. Following last summer’s Operation Protective Edge against Hamas in Gaza, there was a dramatic rise in anti-Israel activity on college campuses nationwide. According to the Anti-Defamation League, campus protests against Israel surged by 114 percent compared with 2013.
At the core of these protests is the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement that targets Israel and encourages students to use the movement to express their contempt for the Jewish state.
Hillel chapters nationwide are addressing this issue, working both with Hillel International and college administrations to educate students about Israel and dispel the myths perpetuated by the BDS movement.
Last month, Hillel International conveyed its first Global Assembly for professionals. Speaking at this gathering, Hillel President Eric Fingerhut noted that “BDS exists to do only one thing … destroy the state of Israel. It’s American-based supporters and activists . . . want to pull Hillel away from our core mission and vision to connect Jewish college students to Jewish life, Jewish learning and to the state of Israel. That will never happen because we won’t let it happen and our friends and supporters will help us.”
Throughout these challenging times, Hillel stays true to its mission and combats BDS by connecting students to Israel in tangible ways. On our local college campuses, for
instance, Israel Campus Fellows personalize a country that may seem very foreign to students who have yet to travel there. The fellows are all Israeli college graduates who served in the Israeli military. They work alongside Hillel professionals to strengthen the understanding of Israel on campus and share a perspective that students may miss in American media coverage.
While Hillel chapters cannot ignore the threat from the BDS movement, they cannot allow it to distract them from their core mission of providing meaningful Jewish experiences for college students. If we do our job well, we have the chance to connect them to Jewish life for the long term. If we don’t, it will be much harder to engage them in community later in their lives.