Opinion

Israel and Judaism are alive and well at Northeastern University Hillel

The fact that students have proved more resilient and less malleable is fortunate, given attempts by professors to leverage their position of influence over them.

Northeastern University's historic Ell Hall. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Northeastern University's historic Ell Hall. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Gilad Skolnick. Credit: Courtesy.
Gilad Skolnick
Gilad Skolnick is a veteran of the Israel Defense Forces and has worked in the Jewish nonprofit field for more than a decade, including as director of campus programming at CAMERA and the executive director of Northeastern University Hillel. He can be reached at: GiladSkolnick@Gmail.com.

The online nonprofit site “The Conversation” ran an article by Northeastern University Professor Dov Waxman titled “As Israel turns 70, many young American Jews turn away.” He argues that young Jews are less connected to Israel than ever before, and that they are no longer interested or comfortable with the idea of a Jewish state.

Waxman’s body of work suggests that he wishes this to be the case, but there are many reasons to doubt his conclusion. For starters, he should leave his office and walk across the street to my Hillel to see the reality on the ground.

Over the past few years, Northeastern University Hillel has experienced the opposite of young Jews “distancing” themselves from Israel. We sent more than 120 students to Israel this year—more than 10 percent of the total Jewish student body at the university. Student engagement was high despite security threats such as Palestinian rocket attacks from Gaza (and more recently, Iranian missiles from Syria). We are witnessing an increased desire over recent years by Jewish students to explore their Jewish homeland.

When we brought “Artists for Israel” to Northeastern, hundreds of students participated, and our Israel-themed Shabbats typically exceed room capacity, with attendance well over 100 students. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) launched four BDS campaigns over the past three years, yet student senators overwhelmingly defeated divestment resolutions each time. If you take a walk through campus on an average day, you will see Hillel’s IACT Coordinator and student leaders “tabling” in support of Israel or members of our supported student group Huskies for Israel.

Waxman’s work seems intent on politicizing Israel—exploiting a lack of support for the current Israeli government to promote a wider disdain for the State of Israel. But Northeastern University students are able to distinguish between the two, just as they can distinguish between their love of the United States and their feelings towards any particular occupant of the White House. The fact that students have proved more resilient and less malleable is fortunate, given the attempts by professors to leverage their position of influence over students in creating a following for their false narrative.

In his article, Waxman makes his case using a not-particularly-relevant and outdated survey from half a decade ago. He also cites a survey from San Francisco, which is perhaps not representative of the entire United States, considering its population’s long history of leaning to the far left.

For decades, there have been those who warn that support for Israel is on the decline. Yet in poll after poll by Pew and Gallup, overall support for Israel is holding steady. A March 2018 Gallup poll showed that three out of four Americans have a favorable view of Israel. This is the same as what polls showed nearly 30 years ago.

It comes as no surprise that students here are excited to be involved and active with organizations such as Hasbara, CAMERA, StandWithUs, Jewish National Fund-USA, Israel on Campus Coalition and others. Students here have met the rise of anti-Israel campus activism with their own pro-Israel campus activism.

Half of all Jews who attend Northeastern University sign up to go to Israel with us at some point during their time here. In my experience, they return with a new or renewed sense of enthusiasm about participating in Jewish life and start attending more programs about Israel, such as the “Onward Israel” internship program, organized by Combined Jewish Philanthropies (our Jewish Federation) in Boston.

Non-Jewish students are also growing interested in Israel. For the third year in a row, 40 non-Jewish students have chosen to spend their spring break with Hillel volunteering on an Israel Defense Forces’ base. They, too, are excited to visit a country where about half of the world’s Jews live—a place fundamental to three of the world’s major religions, where there is 3,000 thousand years of Jewish history. They are intrigued to be in the only place where a dead language (Hebrew) was brought back to life, in the home of countless ancient and modern miracles, and in a country with few natural resources, which leverages the talent of their people while flourishing in a very unfriendly neighborhood. All of this is fortunately happening while anti-Semitism is growing in the United States, and when many in Europe no longer feel safe being publicly identifiable as Jews.

One of my favorite things about serving as executive director of Northeastern’s Hillel is seeing the hundreds of students who are passionate about the Jewish people. We help by fostering an environment where people can feel pride in being Jewish and in Israel, the sole democracy in the Middle East. This Yom Kippur, as our people have been saying for thousands of years, students will say: “Next Year in Jerusalem!” If you’re a student at Northeastern though, there’s a good probability that it will be this year.

Gilad Skolnick is the Executive Director of Northeastern University Hillel in Boston.  Prior to joining Hillel, he was the director of campus programming at CAMERA and served in the IDF as a Corporal in the Spokesperson’s Unit. Gilad’s articles have appeared in publications such as the Jerusalem Post, The Algemeiner, Israel21c.org and Times of Israel. He can be reached at gilad@northeasternhillel.org.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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