Western MA Retreat: How Do We Change How Students Think About Israel?

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“If Israel were a house, what would it look like?” On Sunday, a group of Israel advocates from UMass Amherst and Smith College discussed the above question during a retreat with The David Project focused on changing how students think about Israel.

Drawn from their personal connection to Israel, the students' answers described a dynamic house: falafel strewn across the front yard; mountains in the neighborhood; solar panels on the roof; the Western Wall nearby; singing and dancing heard through the windows, and the Mediterranean lashing up against our front door.

We then compared our drawing to the Israel house described by group of randomly selected American adults in a focus group a few years ago.  The house the focus group participants envisioned was one that would not be welcoming and one that looked like a “one-story bunker” surrounded by barbed wire, high walls, gates, and cement.

The adults' answers were surprising to the student activists. But, they noted that some of the answers were similar to the perceptions of Israel they encounter on campus.

Ultimately, we found that our vision of Israel is vastly different from the way most people see Israel and that therefore we had our work cut out for us on campus.

We spent the second half of the retreat thinking about how to engage students that “don’t know” and “don’t care” enough about Israel to spend the time learning about what the country is really like. Many of the thoughts that the students had centered around thinking about how to build personal relationships or partnerships through one-on-one and face-to-face meetings. This approach was in line with The David Project's recently published list of 10 Habits of Highly Effective Personal Advocacy.

By the end of the day, I think we got to a point where both the students and The David Project staff on hand felt like one of the best ways to show students on campus our vision of Israel as a vibrant and welcoming house was by having one-on-one interactions with students and sharing the Israel we know and love.

Stay tuned to hear more  about the great work that the students in Western Mass will be doing this year.