Nearly six years ago, on March 2012, the first Students Supporting Israel group was registered at the University of Minnesota, following large protests on campus against the State of Israel that was fighting a defensive War in Gaza. Until today, it is hard to understand the fact that a country that serves as the only functioning democracy in the Middle East faces bias, hate and discrimination within our educational institutions across the country. On the one hand, the places that supposed to engage students in conversations, make students think outside the box, and encourage them to hear opinions that are different than theirs, became hostile not only towards the State of Israel but towards Jewish students alike. On the other hand, that situation gave the birth to the Students Supporting Israel movement that changed the narrative on campus and the conversation about Israel over the years.
Students Supporting Israel’s mission is to be a clear and confident pro-Israel voice on campus and to support students in grassroots advocacy. To break it down, SSI wants that students who love, respect or support Israel Will not feel ashamed in doing so on campus. In addition, the goal of SSI is to be the group that every student on campus knows and is aware of. It does not mean that every student on campus needs to be part of SSI, but everyone needs to know what SSI is and that SSI is here to stay.
The beginning was not easy, challenges were raising from every corner and the obstacles that we faced made us rethink time and again if we need to continue what we do, or if we should stop where many others stopped before. Nearly six years later, looking back at our road to the top, as the founder of the organization I realized that Students Supporting Israel was able not only to encourage students to represent Israel on campus, but it has also built a community and a generation of student activists and Zionists who are proud in their work. Many of our students who graduated continued working and leading organizations in the Israel or Jewish world across the country. Nearly two dozen of our student graduates went to Israel and joined the Israeli Defense Forces, and many others moved to Israel to start a new page in their life in the Jewish State. SSI both sparked the fire in students who always supported Israel even more, and motivated students who cared about the issue but were not voicing it to show their passion and love outside their comfort zone.
In the spring of 2014, a second chapter joined Students Supporting Israel, and now before the new spring 2018 semester Students Supporting Israel is operating on over forty campuses across the country. Friends brought friends, relatives who were involved told their brothers and sisters to start SSI on their campus, and the movement spread across the country by word of mouth, which is the most grassroots method we could possibly imagine. However, the establishment of Students Supporting Israel was not a miracle, but a matter of nonstop work days and nights, missed classes and sacrificed grades, multiple trials and errors and getting ourselves back up, all in order to promote the place we love so much and never giving up or giving in.
Right before New Year, SSI hosted our third national conference in San Diego, California. Our student leaders from all across the country came to meet each other and learn how to be even more proactive and a better representative of the Jewish State. Our own background or which campus or city we came from did not matter as we all gathered around the factor that unites us, the care and passion for Israel. As one student wrote in her reaction to the conference, “prior to the conference I always cared about Israel, but now I am a proud Zionist”.
What started as an idea of a few students in Minnesota, is today the largest pro-Israel grassroots student movement that was built from the campus grounds and up. Just like in the past years Students Supporting Israel was an organization that changed the way pro-Israel students on campus operate, in the years to come Students Supporting Israel will be the organization to raise the next generation of Zionist, community and political leaders.
We hope that future students will have the ability to step into their college campuses knowing that we are the ones who control the conversation, and that this future generation of leaders will not remember a time when Israel was losing its image in the academia due to the lack of grassroots work. The new generation of activists created by SSI will continue to inspire their communities by nonstop work, creative minds, unlimited passion, freedom of expression and no fear.