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Students ‘Talk Israel’ at advocacy retreat
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Students ‘Talk Israel’ at advocacy retreat

Students from nine New Jersey colleges gathered this month as part of an initiative to advance pro-Israel advocacy at area campuses.

Despite a heavy snow storm, 67 students made their way to the Madison Hotel in Morristown Feb. 8-10 to discuss situations on their campuses concerning Israel.

The students learned advocacy techniques needed to boost their confidence when speaking up for Israel, and learned about resources for Israel advocacy programming.

The second Talk Israel Retreat was part of an initiative by the Community Relations Committee of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ to gear Israel advocacy programming specifically for college students.

“Whether it’s reaching out to campus media or simply knowing what to say when a peer or professor says something fabricated or misleading, students came away from the retreat feeling better prepared to confront anti-Israel bias and knowledgeable on the major issues surrounding Israel,” said David Dranikoff, the CRC’s Israel and world affairs chair.

The CRC held the retreat in partnership with the Israel Program Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater MetroWest NJ and Rutgers Hillel, a federation beneficiary agency. The retreat was made possible by a contribution from the Cooperman Family Fund for a Jewish Future.

Participants included students from Rutgers, Fairleigh Dickinson, Seton Hall, Montclair State, and Drew Universities, as well as the County College of Morris, Union County College, The College of New Jersey, and Stevens Institute of Technology.

Hasbara Fellowships facilitated the weekend’s programming.

The retreat began with an Israel 101 presentation from StandWithUs, an international organization dedicated to informing the public about Israel.

In workshops, the students learned how to respond to accusations about Israel regarding occupation, excessive force, and racism. Hands-on skill-building sessions included engaging campus media, led by CAMERA; strategic planning and coalition building; and effective messaging and response to anti-Israel propaganda.

The weekend concluded with the students creating action plans for their respective campuses.

Ava Boxer of Livingston, a senior at The College of New Jersey, said she had taken a course whose content and professor were blatantly biased against Israel, and that she felt uncomfortable and unprepared to address the hostile environment.

But, she said, the retreat gave her the tools and the self-confidence to confront future situations. “I am even considering talking to my school about what happened to ensure that a similar situation does not happen again,” she said.

Ariel Pedoeem of West Orange, a senior at Rutgers, said, “The Talk Israel Retreat has seriously enabled me to advocate for Israel more properly and effectively. The retreat has given me the tools and knowledge necessary to successfully discuss different topics affecting Israel and, most importantly, how to keep discussions on Israel in a positive light.”

Other educational opportunities included a session on Iran-centered campus activism led by a representative from Iran 180, a coalition that advocates on behalf of victims of the Iranian regime and against the country’s nuclear ambitions. The students also spoke with Moran Israel, a young politician and member of Israel’s Hatnua Party, and heard from representatives from the Consulate General of Israel in New York, who discussed the role of social media in public diplomacy on behalf of Israel.

Time was set aside for less serious pursuits, including an Israeli dance party on Saturday night and down time for the students to network socially.

Evan Angstreich of North Brunswick, a sophomore at Fairleigh Dickinson University, said the retreat “was a great experience.”

“I never really had a connection to Israel until attending this weekend,” he said. “Now I am really interested in becoming a greater advocate for our homeland.”

The CRC and IPC will continue its work with local Jewish college students through a recently created Jewish college board and an intercollegiate advocacy group.

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