If I had not gone to Israel on Birthright, I would not be where I am today. Prior to going on the trip, I was not personally engaged about Israel and had neither positive nor negative feelings for the country. Despite growing up in a town with a healthy Jewish population and having Israeli friends, I truly doubt whether I could have even pointed out Israel on a map. I went on the trip because I felt that I, as a Jew, should have some level of knowledge about “the homeland”, and because it was free.
Starting on June 1, 2005, those 10 days set off a chain reaction that eventually led to my dream job - I send college students to Israel and I bring Israel to them. My position as Director of Israel Engagement is far more nuanced than that, but put simply: I want students to love Israel as much as I do. I do not expect them to have the same life-altering experience that I did, but I do hope that each of them will form their own special bond with the country.
My goal is to make Israel part of the conversation for everyone, and not just for those students who already “get it”. Rutgers Hillel could have very easily hired an Israeli for this position. Instead they hired me for my passion, and not for where I was born. I use my personal story of how Israel impacted my life to connect with students. Some students were, like me, totally uninvolved with Hillel for any number of reasons, but with the right support and guidance Israel can play a positive role in their lives.
I find that some students are wary of getting involved because they view Hillel as a religious organization, and a large percentage of the student population equates Israel solely with being religious. Through a diversity of programming, my students see that religion is just one part the story, and that Israel can be viewed through the lens of science, business, culture, history, women’s rights, LGBTQ issues, politics, and so much more.
The Rutgers Hillel Center for Israel Engagement has created a board of student leaders who are already involved in pro-Israel organizations, as well as opportunities for other students to come to open-invitation coffee dates at the student center and an upcoming Federation-sponsored Talk Israel retreat. Whether it is through a one-on-one meeting, group discussion, or Facebook threads, I want to empower these leaders so that they have a personal interest in how Israel is portrayed on campus. My vision is that all of our combined efforts will build an identifiable large community of Pro-Israel students, who work together to create events and programming for a wide variety of interests, and who sustain this environment for future classes.
By connecting students to Israel through a way that speaks to them, hopefully they will see that they can accomplish the exact same thing through Hillel, and that neither Hillel nor Israel is “one-size-fits all.”
Diana Diner is the Director of Israel Engagement at Rutgers Hillel. A 2005 graduate of Rutgers University, she is thrilled to be back in her New Jersey roots and working at her alma mater. Diana is looking forward to attracting all Rutgers students to take part in pro-Israel activities, and is particularly interested in those with no prior Israel experience and the Russian-Jewish community on campus.