Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Beyond BDS: College activist has passionate plea for pro-Israel adults

Hayley (right) on her campus.
By Hayley Nagelberg, University of Illinois Urbana Champaign class of 2019

I have always cared about Israel, and I have spent the past four years actively advocating for Israel through political means and campus-based activism. I have learned an incredible amount about the Middle East, and I have been trained to present myself professionally and speak in front of crowds large and small. I now know more legal terminology and persuasive rhetoric than I thought possible. I can make my points eloquently and with impact. 

And yet, while I consider myself to be an effective and passionate advocate for Israel, I'm convinced something has been getting lost in translation between pro-Israel college students and the pro-Israel adult world.
Pro-Israel college students are put on pedestals when they defeat BDS or speak out against anti-Semitism. But the pro-Israel adult world also needs to recognize and actively support the other work we do -- making genuine connections with faculty and fellow students that actually move the needle in creating positive associations with Israel.

I will defend Israel with every ounce of my being, but that is just one dimension of who I am. Being responsive to anti-Israel activity is just one small part of being a Zionist.

I was recently asked to share with a congregation in Chicago a video of myself speaking in front of the University of Illinois' board of trustees about anti-Semitism on campus. I was told this congregation wanted to share the video with their high school students to prepare them for what to expect when they get to campus.

This is not the only message to teach these students. To all adults who love Israel, I have the following request:

Hayley at the Western Wall.
Teach young people to follow the lead of the students sticking up for themselves at Columbia and at the University of Michigan and on countless other campuses, and make sure to explain that these are examples of proactive, confident Jews setting the narrative.

Teach them about Netta Barzilai’s recent Eurovision victory, and the fact that an Israeli performed on a world stage, smashing stereotypes about body image and sharing a powerful message about the #MeToo movement that moved thousands of viewers.

Teach them to love Israel in their core, and teach them to fight for an Israel that aligns with their personal values. Teach them to question the status quo, but teach them not to overlook the gift we have to live in a time when the Jewish state exists for us to call home.
Israel's story has and will forever speak for itself. Let each student, and each person, find his or her own connection to this wonderful nation. Teach love and not hate, faith and not fear, progress and not pessimism.

Teach us about the world around us and how it got to where it is today, but recognize that we will be the ones to chart a new course. Teach us the skills to make that happen, but do not reprimand us for not doing things as you might do them yourself.

Israel is the foundational stone holding the Middle East together. Solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will require ingenuity and creativity and bold leadership. It will require positivity. And it will stand the best chance of success if our words and our efforts are not lost in translation. I have faith that, together with your help, my generation will envision and implement new approaches and shape a new future for our world.

To learn more about Jewish National Fund's work with Zionist education and advocacy on campuses, click here.


  1. Thank you for those powerful thoughts and strategic solutions for making the case for Israel and for connecting with our responsibilities as Jews in the 21 Century and beyond. As america celebrates individuality, unique experiences and personal background, it is THE TIMELY MONENT in America to walk proudly as we stand together as OUT AND PROUD JEWS. Our shared values as Jews need to galvanize and awaken our shared legacy of our collective jewish identity. With that comes the responsibility of ensuring the future survival of the jewish people. That, too, will require making strong connections among students the millenials and adults of all generations. In the face of potential extinction by apathy and lack of personal connection, we must make our case! We must heed the sense of urgency in this endeavor, lest those who have sought our extinction win by attrition and complacency. We must put politics aside and join hands to facilitate continued connection to Our Homeland and to accept our responsibility as legacies for our Jewish future. Whether we form small groups in our communities, it is imperative that we take up the gauntlet and enlist our youth as partners in this quest!

  2. Well said by all! We can start small in our communities, our shul associations, and such
    . Examine our spheres of ifluence and build from there. Lets not forget the importance of dinner table engagemet and holiday gatherings as fertile opportunities to spread our nessages. The on campus indoctrination of our youth has been a systemic attempt to dilute our importance in the world and has created a disconnect with our youth with the values and ideas we are strongly alignes us to israel. We need to debunk much of that on both a grassroots front as well as from the top down. As adults, we must get involved with one or more of the many jewish and /or israel support organizations such as hadassah, jnf,aipac, and so many more. Read. Visit israel with your families. Create connections to our jewishness and to our homeland. Create opportunities for discussion. Avoid political distractions. Regardless of who our leaders are or who the prime minister of israel is, our values, visions and legacy are inextricably connected. Full stop!

  3. Well said! Join hands as out and proud jews. Stand shoulder to shoulder and walk with purpose and pride. Of course,be respectful, inclusive and with enthusiasm. Celebrate our values, our ideals, our vision of Ldor Vador; from one generation to the next. Get back to basics and help eachother live and appreciate our Jewish identity. Help the next generation re examine their history and find teachable moments to share our jewish pride with them in a supportive and loving way. With intermarriage, make sure that the beauty and messages of our holidays and the intellectualism of our religion remain part of the lives of those families. Knowledge is a powerful way to engage in conversation. Judaism and our Homeland are extremely relevant in 21 century life and beyond!

  4. Come speak at AIPAC this year in March!!!! We need your voice!!