A couple months ago, I was having a burger at an airport hotel the night before my flight back to New York. Two flight attendants sat next to me at the bar and began talking about work and, surprisingly, Israel. Their airline had begun daily flights to Israel, and they were discussing whether or not they would sign up to work those flights. I was especially interested when I overhead one of the attendants say, "I don't know if I want to go; I hear it is dangerous." The other responded, "I hear it is not a great place to visit, everyone is so religious." As I teach college students how to talk about Israel with their friends and peers, I figured this would be an opportune time for me to practice the skills that I advocate. I therefore turned toward the two airline professionals and mentioned how I could not help but hear that they were talking about Israel. I added that I had just returned from Israel a few weeks prior and even lived there for two years. Immediately they began peppering me with questions about Israel and Israelis. I tried answering all of their inquiries, stressing that Israel is really an amazing country that unfortunately is misunderstood by many people. We talked about my experiences in Israel, and I brought up the incredible number of remarkable achievements in such a small country. Then when the two flight attendants ordered vegetarian dishes, I knew I found the perfect closer: the amazing hummus, falafel and sabich in Israel.
Of course they knew about hummus and falafel, but they stared at me when I mentioned sabich. I tried my best to describe the delicious dish made up of fried eggplant stuffed in a pita with different salads, picked vegetables, hummus, tahini and a hot sauce called charif. I knew after my description that I had won them over.
While describing floating in the Dead Sea, experiencing the night life of Tel Aviv or walking through the old city of Jerusalem got their attention – food was their hook.
As I paid my bill and wished them a good night, they thanked me for talking with them, and promised they would sign up for the flight. I was excited that such a simple conversation could drastically change the viewpoint of two individuals who had such narrow ideas of Israel. I am sure the two airline professionals must have enjoyed their first trip to Israel (after all, I gave them the location of my favorite sabich places). I just wonder how many of their friends and peers now have new views of Israel.
I believe we can all approach Israel advocacy this way – you do not need to be a professional or know all of the facts; you simply need to speak from your heart about your own experiences. Just as important, you need to talk to the interests of your audience. These are the type of lessons we have been teaching college students at the many amazing seminars we are offering throughout the summer.