North American students studying in Israel will grapple with difficult questions
about what it means to be Zionist and about Israel’s purpose for world Jewry at
the second annual Avi Schaefer Symposium in Jerusalem on Sunday.
symposium, named after an American who served in the IDF and was killed by a
drunk driver during his first semester at Brown University, aims to help
students become better advocates for Israel when they return to their college
“Avi’s Zionism was focused on making Israel better,” said
23-year-old Yoav Schaefer, Avi’s identical twin brother, who helped organize the
“He saw it as his duty to improve and make Israel better, and
not just to support Israel.”
At least 300 students on study-abroad
programs, gap years, or post-college programs are expected to take part in the
Natan Sharansky and MK Einat Wilf will both address the
symposium, whose theme is “The Z-Word: Reimagining Zionism.”
we have discussion about Israel, it’s about Israeli policies or various themes
within Israeli society,” explained Schaefer.
“But it’s not often in a
Jewish setting that we take a step back and really ask questions. What does it
mean to be a Zionist today? What does it mean to be a Jewish state? If Zionism
is only about the establishment of a Jewish state, it’s no longer relevant,” he
The symposium – co-sponsored by 15 organizations including
StandWithUS, the Jewish Agency’s Makom group, the Reut Institute, Hillel Israel,
the World Zionist Organization and Hebrew Union College – will feature a variety
of lectures asking hard questions about Israel’s role in Judaism and Judaism’s
role in Israel. The aim is to encourage the students to examine their own
opinion so they can confidently discuss Israel on college campuses, where
arguments about the conflict can often quickly become tense and
Before Avi Schaefer was killed, he was involved with peace
initiatives and Israel- Palestinian dialogue at Brown. The Avi Schaefer Fund
also sponsors a yearly conference in America for leaders of pro-Israel and
pro-Palestinian student groups to examine ways to create a more civil debate
about the conflict.
“When I ask people on campus, ‘What is Zionism?,’
they say, ‘To support Israel,’” said Schaefer.
“But for Avi, Zionism was
more than that. It wasn’t the present reality of Israel, it was about making
Israel stronger and better and a more perfect country.”
Avi Schaefer was
raised in Santa Barbara, California, one of four brothers. He made aliya at the
age of 18 with Yoav, and the two served in special-combat units. At age 21, he
returned to America to study at Brown University.
On February 12, 2010,
Schaefer was walking home with a friend at Brown when he was struck and killed
by a drunk driver.
Yoav Schaefer said the symposium in Israel and the
conference in America, which will take place in two weeks, helps the family
honor his memory during a difficult time.
“It’s a way to have Avi
continue to inspire young people,” he said.