On January 27, 250 students from 17 colleges and universities across the Northeast gathered at Brandeis University for the inaugural Brandeis Visions for Israel in an Evolving World Conference (bVIEW). For, by, and of students, bVIEW is a year-long initiative that aims to create a more productive campus culture around Israel through innovative programming and meaningful dialogue. Last spring, a group of Brandeis student leaders founded bVIEW when they became disenchanted with campus dialogue around Israel. The leaders of bVIEW identified two key challenges when they examined Israel programming on campus. First, they observed that students from different Israel groups did not talk with each other because they held differing opinions and perspectives. Second, they recognized that many students altogether avoided conversations about Israel because the dialogue was so polarized.
bVIEW tackled the first issue by engaging students from different groups in conversations about how to create a more positive Israel climate on campus and by creating spaces for students to productively share their opinions. bVIEW addressed the second issue by creating innovative programming that shifted the dialogue away from polarizing issues to conversations that focused on Israel’s future, and students’ personal connection to Israel.
With a clear vision for the change they wished to see in campus dialogue, bVIEW prepared students for the conference by organizing four events throughout the fall semester. At one event, during Operation Pillar of Defense in November, students gathered to share their personal stories about Israel.
These events prepared students to engage in productive and meaningful conversations at the conference. The day began with a panel of Israel campus professionals and students offering reflections on the opportunities and challenges around Israel on campus today. Students in the audience then had the chance to discuss what they heard in small groups facilitated by student leaders.
Next, the conference shifted to a series of breakout sessions and keynote speakers focused on current issues. In one breakout, Abraham Troen, a Brandeis junior, spoke about the history of war photography and his experience as a combat medic and photographer during Operation Cast Lead. We then broke into small groups and discussed one of the key issues Abraham raised - do photographs show us the whole truth?
Students wrapped up the day-long conference in small discussions about bringing bVIEW’s lessons back to campus.
bVIEW is an amazing example of what students can accomplish when they have a vision for positively changing campus discourse around Israel. Over three semesters, bVIEW managed to bridge gaps between different Israel groups and guide the Brandeis community in more positive and forward-thinking conversations.