Armed with only spray cans and T-shirts, Rutgers University students scrawled a strong message of support for Israel.
Amid a festive atmosphere on a warm, sunny spring day, students passing by Rutgers Hillel on College Avenue in New Brunswick were invited to paint pro-Israel messages on a large mural hung in front of the building or on white T-shirts.
At the end of the six-hour painting project, the impromptu mural featured images of the school’s Scarlet Knight mascot, Israeli flags, and hearts.
The April 24 Artists4Israel program was run in conjunction with the Jewish National Fund’s Positively Israel college advocacy program.
“We want to spread the message that Israel contributes to the rest of the world and makes the world a better place,” said Nina Woldin, JNF’s senior area director for Israel advocacy and education.
Artists4Israel, which bills itself as “the security fence against cultural terrorism,” was initially formed to sell pro-Israel street art and graffiti to raise funds for bomb shelters in Sderot during Operation Cast Lead.
That project was so successful it continued as a permanent means of advocating for Israel through theater, rock concerts, and art.
“We came to bring the beauty of Israel to Rutgers and show the beauty and energetic nature of Hillel to the campus,” said Artists4Israel’s executive director, Craig Dershowitz, one of eight founders of the group.
Similar projects were held at 35-40 college campuses. “Artists support Israel because it is the only country in the Middle East where artists have freedom of expression,” said Dershowitz, who said although he is Jewish, none of the other artists associated with his group are.
“It’s important that people know that support for Israel is not just a Jewish issue, but a world issue,” said Dershowitz. “Many of the artists have been to the country and have seen what goes on and they get into great conversations.”
One of those artists, a Chilean native called Broker, helped three African-American students spray-paint T-shirts in front of the Hillel building. He said he had been inspired by a visit to Israel, and called the country “bold.”
“They’ve had to overcome so much,” said Broker.
The program was organized by Lihi Rothschild, Hillel’s Jewish Agency for Israel fellow, as her final program before returning to Israel after a two-year stint.
“I love art,” she said. “Art is so much a part of Israel, and this is a way to show its positive aspects. People view Israel as being all about politics and conflict. This is a way to show off its culture.”
Danielle Schlisser, a junior from Teaneck, said she is often asked about Israel in classes.
“There are people from small towns in south Jersey who have never met an Israeli or a Jew,” she said. “They just don’t really know much about Israel.”
Hannah Johnson, president of Christians United for Israel at Rutgers, said her group was always looking to collaborate with Hillel on projects in support of Israel.
“I think it’s been a really big hit,” she said. “We’ve had hundreds and hundreds of people stop by and a lot of good conversations. A lot of people really relate to the art.”
Jinny Le of Closter echoed a lot of other students when she said that the bright images “caught my eye.”
“I just thought it was really cool,” she said. “Art brings people together.”