Sometimes you just have to let the students do it.
There have been increasing reports of the poisonous anti-Israel atmosphere on U.S. campuses over the past half dozen or more years. And with those reports there has been a growing number of pro-Israel organizations which have, some more successfully than others, pivoted to address that battlefield.
There have also been a few organizations which students themselves have begun, some with faculty or organizational support, in order to address the difficulties many pro-Israel students have encountered on their increasingly hostile campuses.
One of the student-initiated groups started out with the name Florida Loves Israel. It held its first conference three years ago and the response was so tremendous, not only within Florida, but beyond, that the organization had to change its name to Future Leaders for Israel. They kept the initials and the acronym, FLI, but the horizon expanded exponentially.
This spring the new FLI is hosting not one but two conferences just one week and 1100 miles apart.
FLI self-describes as a “student-founded, student-led and student-focused organization.” It acts as a bridge, bringing together pro-Israel students and the different organizations on different campuses, through conferences that appeals to different interests and attention spans.
FLI’s goal is to provide educational and engaging information, but also a social and positive experience. It creates conferences which include programming from lots of different pro-Israel organizations. In this way, organizations that may not otherwise work together do so, and the individual interested students get what amounts to a smorgasboard of pro-Israel programming. Not only that, but students from different campuses who share an interest in supporting Israel have a unique opportunity to join forces.
The funding comes from the different organizations which seek to participate in the FLI Conferences.
A rough sketch of how this works is the FLI leaders get together and figure out the general topics which should be included, then pro-Israel organizations are contacted and invited to lead some of those programs. The organizations which choose to participate become sponsors of the whole conference, and then the entire range of events and activities is opened up to interested students from different campuses who participate in the three day conference. The conference includes lots of exciting social and educational pro-Israel activities, along with peers from many different schools.
The Jewish Press spoke with Daniel Ackerman, one of the founders of FLI. He described how the concept began, how it developed, and what its leaders see as its future.
FLI’s first conference this year takes place at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, Florida. This conference begins Friday, March 28, and continues through Sunday, March 30. The second conference is being held in Pittsburgh, and is a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. That one takes place from Friday, April 4 through Sunday, April 6.
Both conferences begin on Friday night. There will be Reform, Conservative and Orthodox Kabbalat Shabbat services. Kosher food will be an option at every meal, and during Shabbat there will be programming that does not violate Shabbat, for Shomer observant students.
The keynote speaker at FAU will be Yishai Fleisher, “Israel’s only English language broadcast-radio talk show host.” Fleisher was a guest at FLI’s first conference, and he was such a hit FLI brought him back for this year’s Florida conference.
During the Boca Raton conference there will be sessions on “Unpacking the Jewish Narrative: Who are the Jewish People,” and “How to Talk about Israel in a Way that Brings People Together,” and “The Challenges and Rewards of Starting a Campus Organization.” There will also be sessions on “Campus AntiSemitism, Know Your Legal Rights,” and “What to Expect When You are Expecting (BDS).”
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the US correspondent for The Jewish Press. She is a recovered lawyer who previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools.
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