Three Rhode Island university students have been selected to educate their campus communities about Israel and to combat anti-Israel rhetoric as part of the StandWithUs Emerson Fellowship program.
Andre Wolff, a sophomore at Roger Williams University, Micaela Raviv, a sophomore at Brown University, and Gal Benarush, a senior at Bryant University, are the 2017-18 Emerson Fellows in Rhode Island.
Wolff, of Port St. Lucie, Florida, says he did not have a large network of pro-Israel friends when he was growing up.
“The main reason I applied to be a SWU Emerson Fellow was to make those connections and use their resources to help educate about Israel,” he said.
Wolff is also the treasurer of Roger Williams’ Hillel.
Raviv grew up on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and has a special, personal connection to Israel: Her father is Israeli, and she has visited Israel nearly every year of her life.
“Whenever the plane touches down in Tel Aviv, I am overwhelmed. I love that when I go to Israel, I am truly returning home. It is the most beautiful, accepting and united country. There is nowhere else where I feel so safe to be a Jew,” said Raviv.
“I am the vice president of Brown Students for Israel and I am proud of our club that works daily to fight anti-Israel bias on campus and promote pro-Israel activity.”
Along with being an Emerson Fellow, Benarush, of Long Island, New York, is also co-president of Byrant’s Hillel. She said that as an SWU Emerson Fellow, she will work closely with the Hillel organization to create events that promote positive, truthful messaging about Israel.
“The most productive way we can stand up against anti-Semitism is by taking pride in our Judaism and not letting people step on that to any degree,” Benarush said. “As Jewish people, we have strength and determination in our blood, and we need to utilize every drop of it.”
StandWithUs Rhode Island is proud to be partnering with the Emerson Fellows program again this year. Founded in 2007 by philanthropists Steve and Rita Emerson, the program selects and trains student leaders from universities across the U.S. and Canada to educate others about Israel.
After one decade, the program has grown to 82 students from 82 North American universities.
The new SWU Emerson Fellows recently attended a training conference in Los Angeles At the conference, emphasis was placed on countering campus Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaigns and “Israel Apartheid Weeks.” Students practiced their debate skills and learned to connect with and build coalitions with different campus audiences.
They also learned about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how to differentiate between legitimate criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism.
Zach Shartiag, the SWU Northeast campus coordinator, oversees all SWU Emerson Fellows’ activities. Shartiag, who lives in Boston, said he became involved with SWU “to help change the conversation around Israel on college campuses.”
“Every day is a new challenge, and I enjoy being able to help students fight anti-Israel rhetoric and anti-Semitism on college campuses,” he said.
Shartiag said he encourages all SWU Emerson Fellows to “always be open to thinking outside of the box and approaching all challenges with an open mind.” He adds, “We often fall into the trap of repeating the same old ideas without challenging ourselves to do better.”
“I think it starts with education and having difficult conversations, with an end-goal focused on mutual understanding,” Shartiag said. “College is a time of exploring and thinking about the position one holds. More important than focusing on the haters is focusing on the majority [of students], who have no interest [in matters relating to Israel], and educating them through unique programs that allow them to connect to Israel.”
StandWithUs’ mission is to support Israel around the world through education and fighting anti-Semitism.
SAM SERBY is a freelance writer who lives in East Greenwich. He previously worked at the Peres Center for Peace, in Tel Aviv.