Individuality & Relational Advocacy in NYC

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By Elana Willinsky, Communications Associate

“We can each define ambition and progress for ourselves. The goal is to work toward a world where expectations are not set by the stereotypes that hold us back, but by our personal passion, talents, and interests.”

-Sheryl Sandberg

The work of The David Project is not necessarily what one would call “straight-forward”. It is nuanced, often difficult and strategic, often running on caffeine fumes, and there is only a somewhat loose course of action to follow in building lasting relationships. The reality is that each and every relationship is, to an extent, built differently. “That isn’t true!” you are probably saying indignantly to yourself, “The David Project believes in students connecting on a personal level to members of diverse organizations, sharing their personal narrative around Israel, and creating coalitions between campus communities based on mutual respect, trust, and appreciation!” Well, yes, I would answer, and well-put! That is The David Project model-and it is a good one. But hear me out. A key to our model is personal narrative and each one of us, as we all know, is a unique snowflake; what makes a narrative personal is that it is distinct to the person telling it. Each person responsible for creating and maintaining campus relationships is different and comes with their own set of strengths and weaknesses, resources and knowledge. This isn’t a bad thing. People pooling their strengths and using their individuality to create specific impact is how dynamic teams are built and progress is made.    

I was fortunate enough to travel to campuses in New York City last week. As always, the students I met blew me away with their passion, insight, intelligence, and resourcefulness. I’ve been waiting to come across a bad crop of students, but at this point I should probably accept it’s just not going to happen…Anyways, I was struck by the awareness of these students. They were aware of their own strengths and weaknesses, and of the ways that they could be most useful in building relationships for Israel on campus. I learned something new from every one of them, including details about love lives and when Slipknot is next playing a show in New Jersey. Also, I saw first-hand how these student snowflakes are bringing their own personal strengths, skills, and resources into their personal strain of Relational Advocacy.

One student recognized, with a sigh, that he is still the only one who knows how to keep the books and handle the finances for his Israel club. But, he recognized his natural skill for the work and that it is a necessary part of achieving the club's goals in putting on network programming and holding educational events. Next year, he said, he will find someone else to train in the books and he will focus on personal outreach and one-on-one relationship building, something that he admitted does not come as naturally to him. His fellow intern, a chatty and personable woman, said she was purely a relationship builder from day one with The David Project. She said her initial reaction to the work was: You mean I can just get coffee and chat with people and this is considered a job? She has been building friendships and uniting communities around Israel ever since. 

Relationships, like the people who comprise them, are continually growing and are built and maintained in different ways. What works for one student or group on one campus, may not work for another elsewhere. Part of being a relational advocate is figuring out how to use individual strengths and resources in building relationships. It also means never being scared to personally “define ambition and progress”. This semester one built relationships with other organizations, and next semester they will successfully organize an event from behind the scenes. This semester an advocate reached out to a friend, next semester they will reach out to a stranger and make friends. Seeing firsthand, in a New York minute, what dedicated groups of students on campus are capable of emphasized, to me, the importance of playing to strengths, while never being afraid to push oneself.