Israel’s positivity, diversity get royal treatment
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Israel’s positivity, diversity get royal treatment

Student leaders at Hillel-JUC are busy planning activities on campus showcasing Israel's culture and diversity. (Photo provided by Hillel-JUC)

The Hillel-Jewish University Center of Pittsburgh is amping up its Israel programming this semester, sponsoring a host of activities designed to offer a diverse perspective of the Jewish state for the benefit of both Jews and non-Jews on the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University campuses, according to Dan Marcus, Hillel-JUC’s executive director and CEO.

The amount of Israel programming to be offered in the coming weeks is greater than usual, Marcus acknowledged.

“Over the last several months, Israel has been misrepresented, and our focus is on showing Israel’s positivity and diversity,” he said. “We think now it is even more important to present a content-rich breadth of Israel programming to the students on our campuses.”

Activities range from a Hasbara program designed to train student leaders how to showcase Israel in a positive light on social media to opportunities to practice speaking Hebrew to a Hummus Hangout featuring Israeli food and culture.

“There is a range of opportunities developed by student leadership and staff that will support and encourage students to find their passions and the community of networks that they find meaningful,” Marcus said.

Hillel-JUC also will continue to partner with other university organizations and departments to offer programs relating to Israel. Last week, a program on environmental sustainability, featuring Alon Tal, an environmental policy expert from Israel, was co-sponsored by Hillel-JUC and the Pitt School of Social Work.

Another programming partnership will see Pitt’s Panthers for Israel teaming up with both the College Democrats and the College Republicans to host David Makovsky, the Ziegler distinguished fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process, on Feb. 19.

“This will be a unique cross-collaboration,” Marcus said. “The program will have a broad reach of consideration regarding Israel that goes beyond the partisan.”

Marcus noted that Hillel-JUC will be taking its largest contingent yet to the AIPAC conference, March 1 to 3, in Washington, D.C.

“We will take over 20 students to AIPAC to give them other perspectives on the political situation in Israel and the opportunity to hear high-level political, academic and social speakers and to learn from that experience,” Marcus said.

Hillel-JUC also is aiming to double its number of Taglit-Birthright participants this summer.

“We are trying to send 60 students to Israel this summer from CMU and Pitt,” Marcus said.

Students who participated in internships in Israel through Onward Israel last summer are able to share those experiences with their campus communities when they return through various projects related to their work. One such project —which took place earlier this week — was a culinary demonstration of Koofsa, an artisanal food subscription service in Israel, at which student Alexis Miller interned last summer.

Israel’s social and cultural diversity will continue to be highlighted throughout the semester through CoExistence Kitchen, a joint project between pro-Israel students at Pitt and CMU, developed last November as response to what the students felt was a one-sided portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by a project launched last fall in Schenley Plaza called Conflict Kitchen.

CoExistence Kitchen, a pop-up food stand, also provides a broad range of information about Israel. Its intent is “to make sure everyone has a voice,” said Pitt senior Elayna Tell, a member of Panthers For Israel as well as the Israel Education Committee, a coalition of pro-Israel student leaders from Pitt and CMU.

“We are in the planning stages to create an even more meaningful CoExistence Kitchen on each campus,” Marcus said. “We will have more material, and more food. We will increase the opportunity for students to learn even more about the diversity and realities of Israeli society.”

Other Hillel-JUC activities focusing on Israel have included a tabling event at both Pitt and CMU called “Israel Loves You,” exhibiting ways love is expressed in Israeli society through art and culture, and a weekly Café Ivrit, where students can learn and practice the Hebrew language.

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.

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