Pro-Palestinian activity at Rutgers University and elsewhere has boosted membership and activity at the Israel Advocacy Task Force of Middlesex County.
The task force is a committee of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Jewish Federation of Greater Middlesex County.
JCRC chair Philip Cantor said the task force has existed for decades, but has been stirred into action by “the urgency” of events on Rutgers’ New Brunswick campus, which included a number of programs by pro-Palestinian groups in the past 12 months.
The current push by the Palestinians in the United Nations for a unilaterally declared state has also propelled pro-Israel advocacy, as it has for groups around the country.
“We learned while this was happening at Rutgers that there were many kids and adults who didn’t really understand what was going on and an even greater number of youngsters and adults who didn’t understand Israel,” said Cantor.
“We understood there was a need for even greater Israel education.”
Cantor said the number of active members in the committee has grown from “essentially four” people to nearly 40.
“They happen to be members of almost every synagogue in the community,” he said.
The new members have suggested a number of ideas meant to educate the community about Israel, including a recent program that trained high school and college students on how to advocate for Israel on campus. The program drew 55 participants, including students from the Orthodox community and Solomon Schechter Day School of Raritan Valley.
Based on the success of the student program, advocacy training for adults was the theme of the second annual Dr. Jacob Kirshner program of the JCRC, held Sept. 19 at the federation’s South River offices. The event is named in honor of physician and federation leader and lifetime member of the federation board Jacob Kirshner, who died in February (see sidebar).
Like the earlier event, it featured Liran Kapoano of Somerset, a recent graduate of Rutgers and now a campus coordinator for the pro-Israel JerusalemOnline.
At the program, Kapoano outlined his experiences as founder of Scarlet, Blue and White: The Rutgers Pro-Israel Alliance.
“It was clear from those present that there was a heightened sense of awareness about this issue and all the other issues surrounding Israel and world Jewry given the recent events in the Middle East,” said JCRC cochair Marc Herman of Highland Park. “Our community is redoubling its efforts to educate people, from children in grade school to high school and college students and adults.
“By knowing about the events surrounding the Middle East, we are better able to explain having a pro-Israel position as we all work to preserve the security of Israel and enhance the prospects for a stable and peaceful future.”
Cantor said to help “stimulate conversation” the task force had placemats with topics about Israel made for use at family holiday gatherings.
“We are beginning to see a real grassroots effort in the community,” he said. “It reminds me of the Talmud, which says that every blade of grass has an angel watching over it urging it to grow.
“I feel the angels have come back to teach our community about the importance of Israel.”