I have recently been thinking a lot about how young people connect with and relate to Israel. We talk about it at The David Project on a regular basis. How do Jewish students on college campuses connect with Israel? How do they connect with the collective Jewish narrative? How can the students we work with share their connection with others on their campus in a relevant way? Two events have me thinking about this even more. We recently conducted a survey of first-year college students who participated in David Project programs while on their gap-year in Israel in 2011-2012. We wanted to know if they were involved in Israel-related activities on their campuses; if so, in what capacity; and if not, why not? We also wanted to know what influenced them to become involved.
What we found was very interesting but I’ll just share one significant aspect of the survey here: For the most part, students who said they were not involved in Israel advocacy on their campus said that there was not much of a need in that college students don’t want to talk about, or hear about, “the conflict.” Young people just don’t relate to the conflict. This sentiment was shared by former NYT Jerusalem bureau chief, Ethan Bonner in an op-ed last week. Young Israelis, and their pro-Israel American counterparts, are focusing on other things besides the conflict with the Palestinians.
This same concept was again reiterated at a program we ran with The Lappin Foundation for high school seniors (alumni of the Y2I program) and their parents last week. The program was meant to prepare the students for what it is like to be pro-Israel on the college campus. Jacob Levkowicz and I talked about The David Project’s approach to advocacy, the personal advocacy model, and led a discussion around case studies that highlight what some of our students have done. While the parents were much more focused on the old approach to advocacy, highlighted by Stephanie Hoffman earlier this week, the students couldn’t relate.
They have come of age in a time where Israel is relatively safe. They don’t remember the second intifada. They have all been to Israel and have only really positive experiences to share. They don’t feel the same need to ‘defend’ Israel as their parents do.
For The David Project, this is an opportunity to teach incoming college students, gap-year students, and college students ways to relate to Israel and express connections to Israel outside the framework of ‘the conflict.’ The more students understand how they can use their personal experiences with Israel to connect with others on their campuses, the more successful we will be in our efforts to improve the discourse about Israel on college campuses in general.