TORONTO — When we are faced with adversity, we can wait out the problem or we can take action. Rebecca Katz chose the latter course and became involved with pro-Israel advocacy.
She recently attended The David Project Campus Fellows Seminar, a four-day Israel education and leadership program.
Now in its fifth year, The David Project Center for Jewish Leadership is a non-profit organization that promotes pro-Israel advocacy and activism among North American college students, teaching them the skills necessary to combat misinformation regarding Israel and bring Israel-related campus initiatives and events to their schools.
Katz, 21, is a law student going into her third year at McGill University in Montreal. She said she had not paid much attention to the situation in Israel during her first year of university, but by her second, what was happening on campus in regard to the conflict had become undeniable and deeply troubling.
“It was such a disproportionate reaction to the conflict in the Middle East,” she says of the anti-Israel sentiment on campus. “I can understand it’s problematic – I have sympathy for Palestinian people, too. But from what I observed, the kinds of campaigns being waged and the things they said about Israel, this was completely hateful and irrational.”
She decided to get involved in pro-Israel advocacy, and last year, started interning for the Canadian Institute for Jewish Research (CIJR), where she was responsible for administrative work such as fact-checking and media monitoring.
It was during her time at the CIJR that she learned of The David Project and, wanting to further her work in the field of Jewish activism, she applied for the fellowship program.
More than 100 students attended the seminar, which was held at Boston University in August. The program was fairly intensive, with an emphasis on lectures and class discussions, and was structured to allow the students to immerse themselves in their studies without unnecessary distraction, which meant there was little free time to explore Boston.
“We actually didn’t do much travelling. We did a lot of sitting around in the Hillel house, we had our meals together, we sat around in our classes together… After dinner, we would go to the dormitory [where] there was a lounge, and in the evenings, we would watch a film and continue our discussions there,” she says.
“We were together extensively and that was a very good way to meet people, as well.”
Katz knew one other student on her program, someone she took a class with at McGill and who, coincidentally, also interned at CIJR. Although they hadn’t had much communication before the trip, The David Project gave them time to interact and find common bonds that extended into the outside world.
Katz was appreciative of this opportunity and says it’s important to “always try to meet other like-minded people so that you don’t feel alone, and hopefully you don’t have to try and organize or do anything alone.”
The David Project is not geared solely towards Jewish youth, Katz says. In fact, several non-Jews have participated in the program. She says she is very much in favour of this all-inclusive approach to Jewish activism.
“One of our staff members was a young American Christian woman who’s very concerned about Israel – that’s not atypical for The David Project to do. As well, I think it was just amazing meeting all these people who have some similar concerns, even though we’re coming from tremendously different backgrounds.”
Katz now refers to The David Project as “a second home,” not just in the way it educates and accommodates its participants, but also in the way the organization keeps in touch with them long after the initial program has ended, providing them with invaluable resources and support for years to come.
“It is vitally necessary to have these kinds of resources to draw upon and these kinds of relationships to keep up… The David Project is there to help students on an ongoing basis – it’s not just a one-time thing and you’re gone, “ she says.
“When you have an opportunity to re-brand Israel, I think that’s important. To show people that there are other things to the Israel ‘brand’ than just conflict and problems and Jews and Arabs fighting each other.
“I am hoping that I’ll have the time and the energy to take a more active role to counter the accusations… [and] to show people a much broader picture of all the positive things Israel has contributed to the world.”