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April 20, 2014 / 20 Nisan, 5774
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Posts Tagged ‘Florida Loves Israel’

‘Future Leaders for Israel’ Hold Conferences on Campuses

Friday, March 28th, 2014

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.

FLI FLORIDA

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).”

Guess What: 2013 Was a Great Pro-Israel Year on US Campuses!

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

For years those engaged on the pro-Israel side of the battle for hearts and minds of American college students have watched in horror as anti-Israel forces – whether they call themselves “pro-Israel” or not – metastasized on campuses.

The Israel-demonization events, the infiltration by Israel vilifiers into what were formerly at least moderately pro-Israel institutions, and the disruptions of Israeli or pro-Israel events, were met almost always with either complicity or a hands-off response from the academic administrations, faculty, and often eventhe organized Jewish leadership on campuses.

Things were so bad that Arab Israeli journalist Khaled abu Toameh famously wrote that on his speaking tours of U.S. campuses, he found more sympathy for Hamas than he does in Ramallah.

This is how abu Toameh analyzed the ugliness spread across American academia:

What is happening on these campuses is not in the frame of freedom of speech. Instead, it is the freedom to disseminate hatred and violence. As such, we should not be surprised if the next generation of jihadists comes not from the Gaza Strip or the mountains and mosques of Pakistan and Afghanistan, but from university campuses across the U.S.

But things were beginning to look quite different in 2013.

There has been a sea change on U.S. campuses this year, carried out by those who refused to back down when false claims of Palestinian Arab victimhood or Israeli brutality were raised.

Hallelujah. So we are fortunate to be able to write a list of Top Twelve Pro-Israel Bright Lights on U.S. campuses. What follows is the first installment. Part II will run later this week.

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1. Far and away the most significant example of this refusal to accept the tired meme of Israel As The-Worst-Human-Rights-Abuser -And-Biggest-Enemy-of-Peace is The Backlash to the American Studies Association’s vote to boycott Israeli Academic Institutions.  We now know that 95 universities across the United States have rejected and publicly condemned the ASA boycott of Israel.

That includes the most prestigious private schools, state schools, schools at which anti-Israel activity had been flourishing, and almost every other kind of American academic institutions. Condemnations poured in from the likes of Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Cornell, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Yale, University of Chicago, Penn State, Northwestern, Goucher, as well as industry-wide associations of professors and of universities. Several schools, such as Brandeis, Penn State, Kenyon and Indiana University summarily withdrew their membership in the ASA because the boycott so clearly reflected a loss of the association’s mission, an affront to academic freedom and a discriminatory singling out of a single nation for condemnation.

2. and 3. A tie for second place goes to two relatively new leaders of at least nominally Jewish institutions, each of whom staked new ground, rejecting their predecessors’ policies for tolerating abusive positions towards Israel.

Eric Fingerhut became president and CEO of Hillel International this past summer.  For years, many Hillels across the United States have chosen an aggressively passive response to anti-Israel events on campuses, choosing to have their own quiet events instead of confronting viciously anti-Israel events filled with misinformation and lies about the Jewish State. Hillels have even welcomed some of the worst offenders into their buildings or even their own events, in the hopes of showing the enemy that they are really good people. It’s been a disaster.

This past fall the Hillel group at suburban Philadelphia’s Swarthmore College decided it would publicly challenge the pro-Israel guidelines set by Hillel International.  Students bridled against being forbidden the “right” to invite speakers who engage in “demonization, delegitimization or applying double standards to Israel,” or support the economic and legal warfare movement known as the Boycott of, Divestment from and Sanctions against Israel.  Swarthmore Hillel students voted unanimously to reject the guidelines and declare theirs an “Open Hillel.” And then they received a surprise.

Florida Loves Israel – A Student Conference in Tallahassee

Sunday, February 12th, 2012

It was no coincidence that the Florida Loves Israel conference – a conference of over 100 Florida university students and community members, and the first of its kind – fell in the month of February. Though cold and sometimes dreary, in the United States February comes with a special message from a special man in our history – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For me, his “I have a dream” speech not only speaks to my personal American patriotism, but reminds me of another man who spoke of dreams, another man whose beliefs and struggles speak passionately to my heart – Theodore Herzl. Herzl, in reference to the seeming impossibility of the creation of a Jewish state, once said “Im tirtzu, ein zo agada” – “If you will it, it is no dream.”

Florida State University began developing our dream of the Florida Loves Israel conference back in June after a meeting with the Miami Consulate and the Jewish Federations of Florida, when students realized that in a state the size of Florida, with over 15 major universities, it was a shame not to have the chance to express our love, our passion, and our dedication to the State of Israel. With no budget, no resources, and little guidance, students of Noles for Israel – FSU’s Israel advocacy group – and Hillel at FSU joined forced to fulfill a dream: to create a unified voice in support of Israel from one of her closest friends, the state of Florida.

Eight months and endless hours of planning later students arrived in Tallahassee, Florida ready to learn together, grow together, and remind one another that though they have strong opposition in their own communities, “if you will it, it is no dream.” These students are passionate, fearless, and love their homeland Israel.

Florida Loves Israel gave us the opportunity to openly discuss Israel both politically and culturally. Friday, we walked to Florida’s capitol to advocate for Israel. We asked our representatives to continue supporting Israel because her values are our values. We were met with overwhelming support. Breakout sessions included such topics as “Advanced Advocacy on Campus” by StandWithUS, “Combating Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movements” by the Zionist Organization of America, and community service opportunities in Israel from the Jewish National Fund. Our speakers discussed an array of topics as well. Mr. Yishai Fleisher spoke very passionately about “How to Achieve a Lasting Peace in the Middle East,” and Raanan Gissin, former Senior Adviser to Ariel Sharon, spoke with great insight about Israel’s existing threats. We were given the opportunity to experience some Israeli cultural exports as well. We were blessed with beautiful weather during our retreat to the FSU Reservation- a park with beautiful Florida mangroves, a sparkling lake, and sandy lake-side beaches. In Florida’s beautiful outdoors we learned Krav Maga, got acquainted with some IDF training moves, learned Israeli dancing, and built new, strategic relationships with other Floridians- an opportunity never provided before. The David Project, Hasbara Fellowships, CAMERA and the Jewish Federations of North America also provided fantastic workshops and sessions. For many of these organizations, this was the first time coming together. Regardless of political affiliation, whether left or right, center or unaffiliated, Florida Loves Israel brought together individuals of all kinds in support of one common goal and one common dream – Israel.

On sunday morning I had the opportunity to lead a discussion called “Israel at Heart: My Connection to Israel.” The purpose of this conversation was to provoke a range of diverse thoughts and feelings about Israel through storytelling. I shared thought-provoking pictures of Israel with the group: Jerusalem at dusk, soldiers at the Kotel, Yad Vashem, Israel painted within a human heart, and played Matisyahu’s “Jerusalem If I forget You.” Giving them each time to write their sentiments on paper, I had the opportunity to watch each of their expressions, each of their heartfelt emotions as they transcribed what Israel truly means to them. As the conversation proceeded, we shared intimidate details, intimate memories, and uniquely intimate experiences. One student saw snow for the first time in Jerusalem. Another found G-d at the Kotel. Another, for the first time, felt in her heart what it means to be a Jew and finally grasped what she had always longed for most of her life – to return home to Israel.

These students are inspiring, passionate, and bring both Dr. King and Herzl’s dreams to reality. One may start with little more than a dream, but with hard work, dedication and love anything can be achieved. This is the narrative of FLI, and this is the narrative of Israel.

I want each member of Noles for Israel and Hillel at FSU who worked diligently to know how unbelievably proud of you I am. I have watched each of you work incredibly hard toward a goal that many believed to be unattainable. You have proven them wrong. Your hard work, your dedication, and your unsurpassed passion is truly incredible, and I commend you for it.

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/news/us-news/florida-loves-israel-an-open-letter/2012/02/12/

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