Israel Advocacy is a Lot Like Dating

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Published in Israel Campus BeatApril 3, 2013

In my role as a campus coordinator for The David Project, I encourage student Israel advocates to build relationships with diverse campus communities in order to help positively shape campus opinion on Israel. Many of the students I work with ask me how to get started building meaningful and lasting relationships. To answer them, I compare relationship building to dating.

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, I do believe 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 and we search for commonalities. Our goal is to find out what the person cares about, what interests them and what they value. 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 should 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 collaborate on a program or initiative. The key is finding a meaningful connection – the same thing we look for in dating.

We 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 join us on the date. Let’s say, hypothetically, that you book a table at a new Italian restaurant. What if you discover your date doesn’t like Italian food?

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 they like).

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 they may even attract a large crowd, they rarely 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 sides up front, that connection often fizzles.

Student Leaders Understand the Dating Analogy

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. While these conversations may not always seem to have a big impact right away, over time they create strong partnerships that result in great programs, like the upcoming Jewish-Latino Seder at University of Texas, Austin.

Just like dating, relationship-building succeeds when we invest in getting to know someone and finding the best ways we can work together. And I’m confident that this is the path to lasting support for Israel on campus and beyond.

The author is a campus coordinator at The David Project.