Israel Advocacy: StandWithUs training helps bring Israel in focus for students.

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Allison Egrin and Sebastian Parra, StandWithUs Central Region campus coordinator, at Handprints4Peace at Grand Valley State University

    I became a StandWithUs Emerson Fellow because I wanted to educate my fellow students about what it means to support Israel and to tell its story like no one had related it to them before. I wanted to show that we are more than the horrible images of war portrayed in the media. 
   StandWithUs (SWU) is an international Israel education nonprofit based in Los Angeles that supports people around the world who want to educate their campuses and communities about Israel.
    Seeing students engaged and interested motivates me to continue advocating. I feel rewarded when I see non-Jewish students learning about Israel and developing an interest and affinity toward my ancient homeland. 
    I would not know how to accomplish this strategically and effectively without the training I received at the StandWithUs Emerson conference in August. They taught us, including the three other Michigan fellows, skills to outreach, educate and engage students regarding the country I love.
Founded in 2007, the Fellowship selects and trains 75 student leaders from 75 North American universities to educate about Israel on their campuses and to confront anti-Israel rhetoric. 
    I believe our work on campus would be futile if we didn’t reach out to the non-Jewish community, which is why for my first event, Handprints4Peace, I reached out to any student who passed by to show their support for coexistence and peace in the Middle East.
We created a white canvas where students could create a mural with their handprints. It was a huge success and an incredible moment for me, as I was inspired to see my peers engage with Israel in a positive outlet.
    I had low expectations and some hesitancy about student reactions going into it, but a ton of students were excited to dip their hands in some paint for peace. We saw students of all backgrounds showing their appreciation for what we were doing, and we were even able to strike some meaningful conversations about peace, Israel and the conflict. The event was co-sponsored by Hillel Campus Alliance of Michigan.
    This year, I started a new club at my university called Peace by Piece (Palestinian-Israeli Effective Change through Education). A close friend, Victor, is a Palestinian-American. Together we strive to educate students on both the Palestinian and Israeli narrative to show that education is the path for peace. Bias, hatred and silence from either side is an obstacle towards peace.
    We plan on hosting events, bringing in speakers, arranging fundraisers and encouraging dialogue while finding common ground.
    The first event that we are presenting in February is StandWithUs’ Israeli Soldiers Tour, where two reserve duty Israeli soldiers share their personal experiences in the IDF, discuss their backgrounds, life in Israel and answer questions. They put a “human face” on the IDF uniform.
   For more about Peace by Piece, visit https://www.facebook.com/PeaceByPieceGVSU/?fref=ts. @
Allison Egrin is the StandWithUs Emerson Fellow 2016-17 and Hillel Vice President at Grand Valley State University. 

By Allison Egrin/jewish@edu writer

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