Student Post: Building Relationships Through Boston University's Israel Advocacy Fellowship

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Lindsey Cohen is a first-year student at Boston University and a Posse Scholar. This spring, The David Project and BU Hillel selected Lindsey to participate in the first-ever Israel Advocacy Fellowship, designed to teach pro-Israel students critical outreach and leadership skills. Below, she writes about her experience building relationships with students from diverse campus communities. Boston University Hillel is no stranger to conversation. Ideas and opinions are heard within the walls of the building as much as prayers are. Thoughts are more often voiced than not and there is a general atmosphere of acceptance, coupled with interest and discussion. The topic of Israel is easily debated on, but this positive phenomenon is usually limited to within the walls of this remarkable Jewish center.

The David Project, working within these walls, noticed this conversation. What they also noticed, however, was the lack of this conversation outside of the building. In an effort to broaden the Israel conversation on campus, The David Project and Hillel invited seven promising students to participate in an outreach fellowship that would move the conversation from inside the Boston University Hillel and on to the rest of campus.

The seven Fellows are leaders of the Israel conversation, but, up until now, their conversation was limited to their campus Hillel. The Fellowship sought to hone the skills that the participants already possessed and to develop leaders that would bring the conversation into outlets that had not been reached yet.

One of the most important skills exercised was the ability to discover your network. Through various activities, the students who had once only considered the Hillel community as possible connections found that their social network expanded beyond the Jewish community and into realms that were untouched by the Israel conversation.

With this new knowledge, the Fellows set out on a campus quest to reach those uncharted students and bring them into the conversation. I set out to speak to an Ethiopian friend and found that she was fascinated by the Ethiopian community in Israel. After a long discussion on Operation Moses (in which 8,000 Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel in 1984), she could not wait to hear more about Israel.

The culmination of this relationship-building process ended in a Campus Conversation dinner in which the Fellows invited their new connections to discuss the topic of Israel. At the dinner, the Fellows shared their profound love for Israel and connected with previously disconnected students over food and good conversation.

The dinner ended eventually, but the conversation did not. Following the Campus Conversation, every single guest came to their Fellowship connection for more information on Israel. The dinner clearly sparked something in the attendees.

Whether they desired to learn more, to travel to Israel, or become more involved in Israel groups on campus, each one of the students had been inspired by the conversation at the table. Not only did the dinner impact the guests by introducing them to the topic of Israel, but it also changed the comfort level of the Fellows as they realized that it was absolutely possible to extend the Israel conversation beyond the walls of Hillel.

The Fellowship accomplished something miraculous.

In a few short weeks, the Fellowship had transformed a group of leaders into a group of networkers and a Hillel conversation into a topic that has the potential to travel throughout the entire Boston University campus. With this experience, all of the Fellows plan on hosting more Campus Conversations, talking to more students, and finding ways to connect to others about Israel that they never could have thought of before.