On Sunday, November 14, the Hillel International Student Cabinet had the privilege of meeting with the Israeli Minister of Diaspora Affairs, Nachman Shai. Our conversation with Minister Shai was a unique opportunity to both discuss the needs of the Hillel student movement with him and to learn how we can help each other in building bridges between Israel and the Jewish student community in the diaspora. Not only did this meeting prove to the Student Cabinet that we have strong allies in our work, but it also exemplified the strength of our Hillel movement and the influence that we have when we speak with a unified voice.
When Jade Gordon and I entered this year as Student Cabinet Co-Chairs, we decided that everything we do would be centered around the goal of unifying the Hillel International student movement. The role of the Hillel International Student Cabinet is extremely unique as we are tasked with representing Hillel students to the international organization. Yet our meeting with Minister Shai showed that the Student Cabinet can represent students well beyond the Hillel International staff when we do our job right.
Our work to unify the student movement currently includes working on opportunities to bring students from across campuses together, establishing several student cohorts, and creating the first ever movement wide Slack workspace. All this work has allowed us at the Student Cabinet to keep our ear to the ground about issues facing Jewish students today. When meeting with Minister Shai, we took the opportunity to discuss what his department can do to address the issues students have surfaced – including the difficulties many Jewish students faced following the May war between Israel and Hamas and the rising tide of antisemitism and anti-Zionism. We also passed along the excitement students have as they start traveling to Israel in large numbers for the first time since the pandemic started.
Not only was Minister Shai excited to be a resource to the Hillel International student movement, but he also shared his vision as he settles into his new role. He is eager to see us evolve from traditional, one-directional Israel education. Today, it is not enough for diaspora Jews to simply learn about their Israeli counterparts and stop there. In his new role, Minister Shai hopes to find opportunities to teach Israelis more about the diaspora. Not only will Minister Shai’s initiative build a better understanding between Jewish Israelis and diaspora Jewry, but it also uniquely positions the Hillel International Student Cabinet to showcase our diverse student community.
Last year, over 140,000 students interacted with Hillels across the world. Jade and I know that truly unifying any group that large is no small task. Yet we also know that mutual understanding is at the core of any strong community. By developing a way to teach Israelis about the diversity and complexity of diaspora Jewry with Minister Shai, we also see an opportunity to have a series of internal learning opportunities throughout the Hillel movement.
All the incredible opportunities that came from our conversation with Minister Shai would not have been possible without the strength of the very students we work hard to represent. As we continue to weather this pandemic, we know that Hillels across the movement have endured –and in some cases are still grappling with – extreme hardship. The strength and resilience of the Hillel movement is what allowed the Student Cabinet to engage in this productive conversation with Minister Shai. We know as we continue to grow, more opportunities will arise, and we look forward to making the most of them.