Published in The Jewish Advocate August 3, 2012 By Sarah Smith
As a college student two years ago, Courtney Kravitz attended a conference for fraternity and sorority members who wanted to learn about Israel. She came away so overwhelmed that she wasn’t sure how to get involved in promoting the Jewish state.
Now, Kravitz is in a position to help make sure others don’t have the same experience. As The David Project’s new campus coordinator for the Southwest Region, she is organizing and improving that conference, Israel Amplified, along with several others.
Kravitz, 21, started work last month at the Boston-based Israel advocacy organization after graduating from the University of California at Irvine.
UC-Irvine drew national attention when a speech by Israel’s ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, was repeatedly disrupted by members of the Muslim Student Union.
“That really sparked my interest in Israel,” said Kravitz, who at the time was president of her Jewish sorority, Alpha Epsilon Phi.
Working with the seven other members of The David Project’s campus team, Kravitz is approaching conference planning from the point of view of students.
“Now we’re making it more relevant to Greeks,” she said, referring to fraternities and sororities. “And [saying] there’s a way to incorporate Israel into what you already do.”
Phil Brodsky, manager of the campus team, said that Kravitz’s sorority experience was good training for her new job. “The great thing about Greek life is you learn how to recruit,” Brodsky said. “Israel organizations on campus especially need that.”
While Kravitz has seen firsthand the need to recruit more Israel advocates, she says the media has overplayed Irvine as “an anti-Semitic campus.”
“I think that for all the Jewish students at UCI it’s really frustrating to live with this perception,” she said, adding that the negative portrayal had had an effect on prospective students. “You can see there’s been a drop of Jewish students on campus, at least Jewish students [actively] involved.”
Kravitz faces the challenge of raising the profile of The David Project in her region, which includes southern California, Nevada, Arizona, Colorado and Texas.
“I think The David Project has been more of an East Coast organization,” she said. She will be encouraging students to engage in what Brodsky calls “personal advocacy.”
“Personal advocacy means a lot of one-on-one conversations,” he said. “Effective Israel advocacy is not necessarily holding up signs on the quad, and it is not necessarily protesting every anti-Israel protest.”
One approach is the Latte Initiative, through which advocates have coffee with campus leaders and students who “haven’t made up their minds” about Israel, Kravitz said.
The advocates tailor the conversations to the individual. “If [the person] is interested in the environment, we’ll bring up the Jewish National Fund and how they raise money to plant trees in Israel,” she said. “I think it’s important to … not dictate how the students or other people should feel.”
The advocates don’t come armed with a particular set of talking points. “We want [students] to think about their own connection to Israel,” Brodsky said. He added that The David Project stresses the message that supporting Israel does not necessarily mean backing all of its policies, such as the settlement program. Indeed, he said, students in “the gray area” turn out to be “more authentic and stronger advocates for Israel.”
The David Project is providing resources and guidance on more than 150 colleges and universities, which starting in fall will include Boston University.