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.