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Thursday, April 24, 2014

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Group fights Israel apathy at Touro College in NY

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Part of Touro College [Wikimedia Commons photo]

What would you do if your campus had no anti-Israel activity? What if it had little or no pro-Israel activity either? Would that be enough of a reason to do nothing regarding Israel during your college years?

That’s the question facing students at Touro College for Women in New York City. The Orthodox women who comprise the student body have strong religious ties to Israel but are generally apathetic – they support Israel but do little to educate themselves about it.

“Because we operate in a religious school, we often have to fight more against apathy and lethargy from the students rather than the outright antagonism that is likely present in more diverse colleges,” said Touro senior Adina Schechtman, who is head of the Lander College for Women Israel Advocacy Project (LCWIAP).

To fight this apathy, a small group of Touro students joined together to change the lacklustre attitude toward Israel, and formed the advocacy project, an offshoot of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of New York.

The Israel advocacy project runs regular programs, hosts speakers and puts out a bimonthly newsletter aimed at keeping faculty and students abreast of relevant current events and advocacy opportunities.

“Many Touro students took a year off to study in Israel [prior to starting their studies at the school], but aren’t particularly informed about the state or passionate about the country or its often tenuous political environment,” Schechtman said.

Speakers brought to Touro by the advocacy project include representatives of Faces of Israel, a program that explores different aspects of Israel; and Shlomi Kaufman, Israel’s deputy consul general in New York. Events have included a screening of the movie Israel Inside and a gala party for the college to celebrate Yom Ha’azmaut.

“Our programs are generally aimed at creating a positive perception and good associations with the country that is so often associated with war and terror,” Schechtman said.

“Our primary activities are directed toward educating the students about Israel and the variety of opinions and discussions (both historical and current) revolving around the state,” said Raphaela Abramson, former LCWIAP president and current member.

In addition to the events it organizes on the Touro campus, the advocacy project is interested in expanding and reaching out to Israel clubs on other local campuses to offer assistance.

“The amount of antisemitism disguised as criticism of the state on most college campuses, not to mention the basic lack of awareness regarding the state, demands Israel advocacy, regardless of which college or ethnicity one belongs to,” Abramson, a senior, told Israel Campus Beat.

“Touro girls can present a viewpoint not often heard on secular campuses,” she said. “They can discuss the state in both religious and secular terms, and often have first-hand knowledge of the state.”

Because more than 75 per cent of Touro’s student body have been to Israel, including many who spent an academic year studying there, Abramson said they can speak about their personal Israel experiences, enhancing the conversations on other campuses.

“Many students know Jewish students and can discuss Israel within a secular context, but actually discussing the state with a religious Jew and hearing her perspective, both in religious and secular contexts, is a rare opportunity,” Abramson concluded.

Israel Campus Beat is a student-written online publication that covers campus Israel trends and events.

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