Eighteen student leaders from campuses across the Midwest embarked on a student leadership mission to Israel last month led by JUF's Israel Education Center.
"The most effective way to counter the false accusations of BDS and hate-filled anti-Semitic propaganda on campus is for students to experience Israel firsthand," said IEC Executive Director Emily Briskman. "The itinerary was designed to challenge the students' assumptions and expand their knowledge of Israeli society through a variety of encounters with academics, Israeli-Jewish and Israeli-Arab students, politicians, social justice leaders and community leaders."
Participants represented diverse ethnic, religious and cultural backgrounds. They each serve in influential leadership roles ranging from student government officials to school newspaper editors to leading activists in environmental, public health, and LGBTQ groups.
"I was expecting a brief highlight of the best and most attractive parts of the country," said Spencer, a student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. "I was instead taken on an intense, detailed, and educational excursion, which, despite 16-hour days traversing the country, still barely scratched the surface of Israeli history and culture.
"The best part about this is that I arrived at this out of my own free will. All our educators presented us with facts and both sides of every issue, and let us make up our own minds."
Camille, who attends Northwestern University, said, "Over the course of the trip my preconceptions of what I thought Israel would be like were constantly challenged. The people we encountered encouraged me to think more critically about the life stories and circumstances of those who lived in these places I visited.
"With the rich history of its people and the relatively new history of the country as a whole, every day was a history lesson in and of itself," she said. "The entire trip was a beautiful combination of stories and experiences that has increased my appreciation for Israel and my desire to seek out diverse and authentic perspectives on issues -- no matter what they are."