It’s no surprise that students in Canada would love a free, warm beverage during the long, cold winter – but how can you turn that into a way to advocate for Israel?
Students at the University of Toronto used the cold Canadian winters as a way to promote open dialogue about Israel and educate their fellow students with a campaign they called Hot Chocolate, Hot Topic.
The campaign, which ran last semester, aimed to start dialogue about Israel and educate students about different subjects regarding Israel. Once a week, members of UT’s Israel Committee distributed hot chocolate and candy with quick, interesting facts about Israel.
The committee set up their table in spots that get a lot of passing students, hoping students would learn something on their way to class. The facts range from topics like environmental sustainability and technological innovation to LGBTQ rights in Israel.
Beca Bookman, a member of UT’s Israel Committee and the student who developed the idea for Hot Chocolate, Hot Topic, sought to provide opportunities for students who have no connection or information about Israel to learn some important facts about the country and shine a light on the positives that come out of Israel that often go unmentioned.
“We tailor our information to meet the individual’s interests, and we kept the conversation open, honest and welcoming,” Bookman said.
The campaign allowed students to talk about Israel and engage in dialogue with members of the committee. Bookman said she knows some students had wanted to express their opinions on Israel or ask questions and Hot Chocolate, Hot Topic provided an open place for conversation.
Chaim Grafstein, a member of the Israel Committee, explained that the initiative did just that, and even received an unlikely visitor, the writer of the counterpoint op-ed for Israel Apartheid Week. Grafstein said that instead of any conflict, it was a very positive situation. The student had a hot chocolate and a conversation with the committee members who were tabling. “Creating a positive atmosphere is a very big goal for us on a sometimes hostile campus,” Grafstein explained.
Grafstein said most of the students they reached out to during Hot Chocolate, Hot Topic would never have stopped to talk about Israel if it wasn’t for the hot chocolate. Bookman agreed that the campaign was successful, and said that the committee built wonderful relationships with fellow students. Bookman attributed some of the success to the fact that the campus community appreciates a group that welcomes conversation and isn’t afraid of a “hot topic.”
Grafstein added that the peaceful conversation is imperative because, “Now there are a few more students out there that have had a positive experience, and they have attached it to Israel.”
Bookman, who wrote the proposal that brought funding from the Israel on Campus Coalition for this project, said the most important and successful part of the campaign was that it showed the campus community that “discussions about Israel can be positive experiences.” Grafstein also said that the tabling was good for new members of the Israel Committee because it gave them a platform to get comfortable speaking with fellow students and advocating for Israel.
Hot Topic, Hot Chocolate let the University of Toronto know about the presence of the Israel Committee and the importance of Israel. During the semester, the campaign spread to Ryerson University and York University, both in Toronto, and plans are underway to continue providing students with facts about Israel — and hot chocolate — next year.