Love of Israel possible at American universities

In my experience, the anti-Israel students and groups were small groups of radicalized students that occupied a large megaphone. Their following wasn’t large, but their voice was.

New York University’s campus in Greenwich Village. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
New York University’s campus in Greenwich Village. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Brandon Lurie
Brandon Lurie

My time at New York University did not affect my decision to make aliyah; I was rock solid on that decision before I began orientation. However, my decision to make aliyah did affect my time at New York University. Though I moved to Israel after completing my university degree, my motivation to move was strengthened through my time at school.

Growing up in a religious Zionist home in Los Angeles, Israel and Zionism were part and parcel of my daily life. My school always put on a Yom Ha’atzmaut parade, we recited the tefillah for the the State twice weekly, and I was active in our local Bnei Akiva Snif. My aliyah story is not one of a sudden epiphany late in life; rather, it is the tale of a consistent religious Zionist education throughout my adolescence. Ultimately, my education coalesced during my post-high school year of study in Israel at Yeshivat Hakotel. Before I boarded my flight back to America after my year of study abroad, I had decided to move to Israel once I’d graduated.

When one loves something, the natural inclination is to share it with others. While at NYU, I made it my mission to spread the gospel of religious Zionism. Often, both my Jewish and gentile classmates and I would discuss our post-university plans. Friends would talk of going to law school, working in finance or entering the nonprofit sector. While I had and continue to have career ambitions today, I chose always to first assert that I was making aliyah. Admittedly, the statement was irrelevant to the topic of conversation, but in my zeal to share my love for Eretz Yisrael, I could not help but state my dream. These conversations gave a new perspective to my gentile friends and inspiration to my Jewish friends. In university, I had the opportunity to spread my love of Zionism through peer-to-peer conversations.

Those conversations also served as a bulwark against anti-Israel clamoring. Before I transferred to NYU, I was a student at McGill University in Montreal. During my two years at McGill, our undergraduate representative body, dubbed the General Assembly, voted on anti-Israel legislation every semester. Fortunately, nearly every time, the Jewish community united to impede the legislation from passing. McGill was a hostile place for Zionist Jews. NYU however, was not.

Frankly, I found that anti-Israel fervor was muted on campus. There were minor instances here and there, but I found the overall tenor on campus was placid. What I learned during my time at McGill and NYU was the power of a loud minority. In my experience, the anti-Israel students and groups were small groups of radicalized students that occupied a large megaphone. Their following wasn’t large, but their voice was. On campuses today these vociferations need to be countered, and countered both assertively and publicly. But in my peer-to-peer conversations, I discovered that most students either don’t care about Israel and Zionism, or have ambivalent opinions on the matter.

I found my interfaces with gentile friends in private settings, whether in the classroom, the cafeteria, or the library held much more convincing sway than public demonstrations. In personal conversations, my friends saw my sincerity on the subject and also gave me an opportunity to explain the eternal Jewish connection to Israel.

Though my goal of making aliyah was strong, there were moments in university when I had my doubts. In those moments, our campus couple, Rabbi Joe and Corinne Wolfson, were indispensable foundations of support. They are the OU-JLIC Torah Educators at NYU, and through OU-JLIC, they run social and holiday programming, host students for Shabbat, give Torah classes and coordinate other learning opportunities, and offer students halachic and personal guidance.

My passion for Israel found a partner in Rabbi Joe and Corinne. Unlike some other campus chaplains, they had lived in Israel years prior to coming to America. And much like my future self, they, too, moved to Israel after completing university in the Diaspora. They, too, longed to go back to Israel. They, too, missed the vivacity of Jewish life inimitable to Israel. We would often get lost in conversation talking about Israeli politics, culture and Torah. Though I can confidently say that my decision to make aliyah after university on the whole was unwavering throughout my studies, during the times it did sway just a bit, I always had Rabbi Joe and Corinne.

I found that my time in university was an opportunity to share my love and passion for Israel. Already firmly established in my desire to move to Israel once I’d graduated, I craved conversation with friends, where I could share my love for the land. In all, I found that gentile and Jewish students alike were open to discussing Israel, Zionism and religious Zionism. Though loud voices on campus often crowded out the appearance of friendly discourse, I found these people to be a minority—though a loud one at that.

My OU-JLIC couple, Rabbi Joe and Corinne, were indispensable rocks of support during university. As Israelis and former Anglos who also made aliyah, our shared experiences were consolatory in moments of doubt. My time on campus only strengthened my love for Israel.

Brandon Lurie graduated from New York University in 2017 with a degree in history and a minor in Judaic studies.

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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