Many of the students I work with ask me what building meaningful and lasting relationships for Israel looks like in action. To answer them, I talk about my extensive experience in the dating world (note: I didn't say success - just experience). There is no one size fits all approach to relationship-building, just as there is no one size fits all approach to dating. One man’s chocolates and flowers is another man’s ticket to a Jewish Music Festival.
But, take it from me, there are a few tried and true dating methods that can help us build relationships on campus.
First You Find a Date (the Who), Then You Plan a Date (the What)
The most important step in dating is finding someone and getting to know them. We ask questions, we listen, we stalk on Facebook (come on, you know you do it, too!). Our goal is to find out what they care about, what their interests are, and what they value. Next, if we feel like we are compatible, we ask them out. Only then do we plan the perfect date.
The same principle should hold true for relationship-building on campus. When we build relationships with other students, we first spend time getting to know them, identifying shared values or interests and exploring the possibility of working together. Once we feel like we share common interests or values, we can then collaborate on a program or initiative.
The key is finding a meaningful connection – the same thing we look for in dating.
Don't Date in Reverse
In dating, the process does not work in reverse. We don't put a date on the calendar, make a reservation at a restaurant, and then find a girl or guy to go out with. That reservation you made at the swankiest sushi bar in town? Well, unfortunately for you, turns out your date is allergic to shellfish.
What we know from dating is that if you haven’t taken the time to get to know your date, you have no hope of planning something that reflects both of your interests (or knowing what kinds of food won’t kill them).
Similarly, Israel advocates sometimes struggle, because they will schedule a great event, and then at the last minute look for cosponsors.
While these programs may be organized with the best intentions and attract a large crowd, they do not often result in long-term partnerships.
Why? Because like dating, a good program creates a strong connection between two groups, and without the buy-in from both groups up front, that connection often fizzles (again, speaking from experience).
Our Student Leaders Know
I am constantly impressed by the student leaders I work with who intuitively understand this dating analogy and spend time meeting other leaders on campus for coffee, fro-yo or (occasionally) sushi. While these conversations may not always seem to have a big impact right away, over time they help us create strong partnerships that result in great programs, like the upcoming Jewish-Latino Seder at University of Texas, Austin.
Ready to get started? The David Project offers the Latte Initiative Grant to support relationship-building on campus.
Photo credit: www.nicejewishguys.net