My last three weeks have been a blur – I graduated from Wesleyan on May 27, assumed my post as The David Project’s resident ‘newbie’ a week later, then took part in Israel On Demand starting June 10. Every single moment in between then and now has been a learning experience. On my first day on the job, I found the office in a frenzy – last minute phone calls and forms and scheduling adjustments. But as Israel On Demand approached, everyone, including myself, could not wait to see the conference come to life and to meet the students who, until then, had only been names on paper to me. Our first activity at Israel On Demand asked students to describe what Zionism and Israel means to them in order to help them develop their own personal narrative about Israel. While this was no easy task, I listened as students found a way to put their intense connection to Israel into words. They described what it was about Israel they cared about, and I in turn learned more about who they are and what matters to them.
I had an experience this past year that closely mirrored what happened in this activity. Last fall, I had the great fortune of taking a class with a professor about whom I had heard many wonderful things. The first time I met with her, she sat me down in her office, handed me a cup of tea, and simply said, “Tell me about yourself.” We discovered that we shared much in common, and I now consider her a dear friend. That first interaction demonstrated that she was open and willing to talk about the things that matter to me; the things that I care about.
The memory of this experience with my teacher was precisely why I especially enjoyed the Tuesday-night leadership dinner at Israel On Demand. The dinner was a capstone activity on the final night of the seminar in which students had the opportunity to share a meal with leaders from different campus communities and engage in open and free-flowing conversation. I had the chance to take part in several of these discussions, and one in particular left me floored. Addie Gomez, a senior at Brandeis and an alum of the Building Latino-Jewish Bridges on Campus trip to Israel (sponsored by The David Project, American Jewish Committee, Project Interchange, and National Hispana Leadership Institute), at one point asked all of us at the table if we would ever consider living in Israel. As we went around the table and gave our answers, the discussion quickly took on a life of its own. We talked about the immigrant experience and swapped our favorite book titles. These kinds of conversations happen all the time on campus – they are how we form our friendships and relationships. It was amazing to particpate with our students in these conversations with excitement and without hesitation.
As the rest of the summer continues to blur by with our other summer seminars, I realize now I would not have had the same kind of initial experience at The David Project without Israel On Demand and the opportunity to get to know, struggle with, and learn from such amazing students – individuals who I know are going to be making a difference on campus.