MSU student advocates for Israel by focusing on the positive.
By Kyle Zaback
Late in my sophomore year, members of the Michigan State University Hillel staff reached out to me, believing I would be a perfect fit for the Ryan Rosman (z’l) Jewish Business Association (JBA) internship for the university’s Jewish Student Union (JSU). With this internship came the responsibility of immersing Jews on campus in the world of business and the opportunity to be active in the pro-Israel movement on campus.
Although wary of voicing my pro-Israel stance as college campuses are full of conflicting opinions, I chose to apply for the role and was selected. After my first semester as the JBA intern, I can definitively say I made the right decision.
It was through my involvement in JSU that I had my first contact with Hasbara Fellowships, a pro-Israel campus activism organization that brings hundreds of students to Israel every summer and winter to give them the information and tools to return to their campuses as educators about Israel.
Hasbara Fellowships approached Hillel and JBA about bringing the Start-Up Nation Technology Fair, an expo showcasing on-the-rise Israeli start-ups, to MSU. I was thrilled to be the on-campus coordinator of this event, which allowed me to accomplish my business-aligned goals in JBA while also advocating for Israel.
During the fair, I connected with the Hasbara Midwest regional adviser who told me of the organization’s Israel Training Program and suggested I apply. The program is an exclusive 16-day Israel advocacy training trip focused on offering pro-Israel student leaders the opportunity to gain leadership skills, network with their peers, meet Israelis and Palestinians from all sides of the political spectrum, and travel to strategic locations throughout the Jewish state. Soon after applying, I was interviewed and accepted. I attended one of this past winter’s trips before beginning a two-semester fellowship as a Hasbara Fellow.
In addition to becoming a Hasbara Fellow, I’ve benefited in several other ways from my involvement with the Jewish community. My presence in the JSU, coupled with taking a course on modern Jewish thought, assisted me in redefining my Jewish identity and relationship with Israel. I continued these internal transformations as a participant in the Israel Training Program, discovering new ways to combat anti-Semitism and advocate for Israel.
Just as 18-year-olds in Israel have the responsibility to fight the threat of anti-Semitism physically, it is my responsibility to fight this battle on my college campus. For that reason, I was excited to learn how to open dialogues with those who are anti-Israel or anti-Semitic or who are unsure about their feelings toward Israel. Now that I’m back at school, I’m looking forward to employing the tools I’ve learned to educate my peers on the subject — to go beyond “preaching to the choir.”
Since returning from Israel, I feel empowered with the necessary tools to succeed in promoting Israel on campus. The experiences I had far exceeded my expectations, from standing next to the Gaza border to traveling through “Area A” in the West Bank.
A concern I had before attending the program was only receiving pro-Israel information and not having the opportunity to listen to the Arab-Israeli or Palestinian point of view. Within the first 48 hours of being in Israel, however, this worry completely dissipated as I had an enormous amount of exposure to different perspectives. These experiences allowed me to look inward and decide how I personally felt about current issues and controversial topics. This proved to be the most beneficial aspect of the trip; understanding various arguments for and against Israel has significantly improved the quality of my pro-Israel advocacy.
Rather than focusing on controversies about the state of Israel, the aspects I am choosing for my advocacy campaigns are positive ones. My first initiative is with Save a Child’s Heart, a humanitarian organization that helps Israeli volunteers provide free life-saving heart surgeries for children in developing countries who don’t have access to the healthcare they need. The organization has helped children around the world in places such as Rwanda and Gaza, saving more than 5,000 lives to date. By focusing on positive aspects about Israel and Israelis, I can educate others while diffusing the anti-Israel stigma on campus.
Kyle Zaback of Farmington Hills is a junior at Michigan State University.