On Wednesday, October 10, 40 student Israel advocates and Hillel professionals gathered in Boston’s historic North End for a unique personal advocacy and improv workshop. This incredibly talented group of students and professionals came from several schools around the Boston-area, including Boston University, Northeastern, Harvard, Tufts, MIT, UMass, Amherst College, and Brandeis. The David Project started the night off by leading a personal narrative workshop, where students had the opportunity to share their connection to Israel. Students and professionals broke off into small groups and shared their narrative – the stories that say something about their values and interests. I am always amazed to hear these incredible stories, each of which is unique!
The idea behind the activity is that the most effective way to change how someone views Israel is by sharing a personal story, not a list of talking points. When we share a personal story, we have the power to help someone think differently about how they see Israel. We have the ability to show that Israel is so much more than just a distant dot on the map.
The ability to convey our connection to Israel is an incredibly important skill to have. But we also need to be able to listen closely to what others have to say. Following the personal narrative workshop, we were joined by the professionals at the Improv Asylum, who led a workshop focusing on active listening techniques. To highlight just how important this skill is, Chet Harding (one of the founders of the Improv Asylum) asked the group how many times we’ve met someone and within five seconds forgotten their name. I think we all agreed that we’ve been there many times before!
To drive this point home, we formed a circle and tried to tell a story by each adding one word at a time. You can imagine how silly and nonsensical the story became, but the exercise helped us listen closely to what everyone before us said because we had to keep the story going! These are the types of skills that we can use not only in our personal life every day, but also as Israel advocates. Other students that we work with may have a message for us, but if we’re not listening closely, we may miss it.
Another exercise was built on what the improv world calls “getting to yes.” Chet gave us an example of how this works in the real world. Many people are reluctant to try Red Bull because they think that it’s loaded with caffeine. Instead of training its employees to respond with, “no it’s not,” or launch into a debate, Red Bull’s employees might say something along the lines of, “yes, and did you know that a can of Red Bull has the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee?” When we provide affirmation and agree with what someone says, we validate their concerns and accept their ideas, a skill that is important for Israel advocates to have.