Morgan Siegel, a senior at New York University’s Silver School of Social Work, hosted a seder this past Tu Bishvat that attracted 125 students. “It was a huge success and I was so happy to see the Jewish National Fund’s message passed on through an amazing community service,” Siegel told The Jerusalem Post.
Hilary Miller, a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin majoring in political science and history, organized a similar seder on her campus for 75 students, who included guests from Israel’s Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. “Overall, the event was a fabulous educational Tu Bishvat program and those who attended genuinely learned about a positive facet of Israeli society that is too often overshadowed by the conflict and other contentious issues,” said Miller.
Both Siegel and Miller are part of the JNF Campus Fellows program, which has just launched its online recruitment campaign for the coming year, 2017-18. It aims to “promote Israel as a country working to make the world a better place through Positively Israel and Tu Bishvat programming,” according to Nelson France, the new JNF-USA director of Campus and High School Affairs.
“The JNF Campus Fellows program trains, mentors and supports pro-Israel students from across the country to facilitate JNF programs in their campus communities,” the Washington-based France said. “Our fellows play a crucial role in recruiting friends to participate in other JNF programs such Alternative Winter Break, Caravan for Democracy and JNF College Summit.”
France said a dozen campus fellows are selected annually through a competitive application and interview process, and are then required to attend a two-day Campus Fellows Leadership Seminar in New York City in August as well as the JNF National Conference and College Summit in Hollywood, Florida from November 10-12. (JNF covers transportation accommodations, meals and registration for both of these events.) Applicants must be full-time undergraduate students for the 2017-18 academic year and will receive a $1,000 stipend upon completion of their work on campus, he added.
“All Campus fellows are supervised by regional staff from JNF’s Israel Advocacy & Education Department,” France said. “Each Campus fellow is required to plan and execute at least one Positively Israel program each semester and one Tu Bishvat program in the spring. Leadership positions within pro-Israel campus groups, Greek Life, student government and Jewish life are encouraged. Fellows also learn the important skill of fundraising for JNF projects that benefit the land and people of Israel.”
After fires raged across Israel in November 2016, burning some 10,000 acres of forests, fellows “were needed more than ever to fundraise and program for Tu Bishvat,” he said.
“Campus fellows celebrated the holiday by hosting Tu Bishvat seders at the University of Minnesota, University of Arizona, University of Pennsylvania, University of Massachusetts, Amherst and New York University with materials from JNF and the World Zionist Organization,” France said.
At the University of Wisconsin, Miller hosted alumni from the Arava Institute, a leading environmental research organization located in southern Israel.
“With a student body comprised of Jordanians, Palestinians, Israelis, and students from around the world, the Arava Institute offers students an exceptional opportunity to learn from leading professionals while forming friendships and developing skills that enable them to lead the region and the world in solving today’s most pressing environmental challenges,” France said.
Miller said she worked hard with her organization, the Student Alliance for Israel, to promote the Tu Bishvat event through social media and by reaching out to other student organizations.
“We partnered with UW's largest environmental sustainability group (F.H. King Students for Sustainable Agriculture), one of UW's largest policy education student organizations (The Alexander Hamilton Society), and Badgers for Israel (Wisconsin's AIPAC cadre),” she said. “Students who attended, coming from all different interests and backgrounds, were able to appreciate the narratives of the fellows, Zohar, an Israeli, and Muhanad, a Palestinian. They were incredibly relatable, approachable and charismatic and everyone who attended learned about the Arava Institute’s collaborative environmental research and promotion of multiculturalism and coexistence.”
Siegel said a highlight of her year was hosting Titi Aynaw, who made aliya with her grandparents from Ethiopia when she was 12 after her parents died, and went on to serve as a lieutenant in the IDF and became a model who won the Miss Israel title in 2013. “Her story is so heartwarming and it is just so incredible where she has ended up,” Siegel said. “I was fortunate enough to have her on campus for an entire day and I was able to take her to different classes on race and the African Diaspora as well as host a student leadership dinner in which students from both Jewish organizations and students from organizations such as the African Student Union and the Ethiopian Eritrean Student Association were able to join together and find connection through Titi’s story. It was really such an amazing day!” She later hosted a screening of Jerusalem U’s new film, Mekonen, which tells the story of an IDF officer who returns to his native Ethiopia after his father’s death.
“There were so many students from schools all around New York City that came to NYU to watch. I believe over 500 students registered for the screening,” Siegel said. “The film was fantastic and it was amazing that we were able to also bring Cafe Shahor Hazak [an Ethiopian Israeli hip-hop duo] to perform following the screening. It was so great to see so many communities come together and find connection with one another through Mekonnen’s incredible life journey.”
Both events were huge successes, according to France. “JNF and Media Watch International will be bringing Titi’s Positively Israel message to campus again this spring with visits being coordinated by Campus Fellows at University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Tufts University and Binghamton University,” he said. “In addition, Fellows are hosting screenings on campus this year of Mekonen.”
France noted that JNF on Campus is also working to engage college students that are alumni of Alexander Muss High School in Israel (AMHSI), which is a pluralistic study-abroad program for students from North America, Europe and Australia and is partnered with JNF-USA.
“We make a focused effort to recruit AMHSI alums for Alternative Winter Break, College Summit and Campus Fellows,” he said. “Our hope is that a good high school student from AMHSI will grow to become a great JNF campus activist. That same great JNF campus activist will be supported and nurtured so that when they graduate they will become a grand leader with JNFuture. We truly believe in developing the fundraising, recruitment and programming skills of students on campus so they will remain active with JNF as a young professional with one of the 18 JNFuture chapters around the country. The transition from high school to campus is as important as the transition from campus to community. At the end of the day, our goal is to keep members of the JNF family in the JNF family.”
On a personal note, France said that after three months on the job, he is “overwhelmed with the passion and energy of both staff and lay leaders to elevate our presence in both the high school and campus space.”
“This place is going to grow and I want to see it grow. JNF has many wonderful professionals and good people working with us, hard-working and very dedicated. I have every intention of working hard and showing my dedication to the land and people of Israel in the years ahead,” he said.
Asked if she had anything to add, Miller said: “Overall, I am so happy to have done the JNF fellowship this year. I would encourage pro-Israel students on any campus to apply for the JNF fellowship. It gave me an outlet to find students on campus who otherwise would not relate to Israel, or at least see Israel only for how it is portrayed in the media.”
Siegel echoed this sentiment: “I was so grateful to have an opportunity to go on the Alternative Winter Break as a Fellow last month. Being able to not only attend, but help guide the learning and bonding of the group was truly such an enriching experience. This experience has been so great. I can sincerely say that I would recommend this program to anyone interested in applying!” Applications for the JNF Campus Fellows program may be made online at www.jnf.org/get-involved/campus-fellowship.
This article was written in cooperation with JNF-USA.