Students at The Shuk during Israel Week: Sarah Kerr of Rochester; Pelli Mechnikov of Huntington Woods; Julia Foos of Highland Park, Illinois; and Julia Diskin of Farmington Hills.
Students at The Shuk during Israel Week: Sarah Kerr of Rochester; Pelli Mechnikov of Huntington Woods; Julia Foos of Highland Park, Illinois; and Julia Diskin of Farmington Hills.

Spartans for Israel hold in-person Israel Week events.

This academic year has been one full of challenges for me, as well as for many other students. Attending “Zoom University” sounds cuter than it is — even as someone who had the privilege of living in East Lansing these past two semesters, I still felt defeated and lonely at times. 

Sitting for hours a day staring at a computer screen can take a physical and emotional toll; never did I think I’d so desperately miss being crammed into a huge lecture hall with hundreds of other students. Because of these extra challenges this year, more than ever, students needed social interaction — some wisp of normalcy to cling to. 

As president of Spartans for Israel, I spent a large portion of this year trying to think of ways to bring this normalcy back to MSU students. Many questions arose along the way — one of the biggest questions being: How do you get these students engaged with Israel programming when they are sick and tired of online interaction? 

Thankfully, our online programming far surpassed what I could have ever imagined. With the hard work of the Spartans for Israel eboard and staff members, we had a year full of vibrant Israel programming that created a community of enthusiastic and supportive students. 

This community is a large part of what helped carry me through this year of online learning. More than that, this community is the group of students who supported each other and stuck together when Israel sentiment on campus started to take a turn for the worse. It’s safe to say that it was an emotional year for everyone, especially within the MSU Jewish community, so Spartans for Israel really wanted to go out with a bang. We wanted to celebrate our wonderful students and to celebrate Israel in a completely unadulterated fashion. What better way to do that than to hold the first week of fully in-person events through the MSU Hillel? 

Israel Week took place around two weeks before the end of the semester. The theme was Friends (like the famous ’90s sitcom). Our slogan was “the one where they celebrated all week long” and celebrate we did! The weather was perfect, except for a couple of cloudy afternoons, and the student turnout was even better. Hundreds of students attended our week of events — for some students, this was even their first time seeing old friends since the start of the pandemic. I was shocked to realize that it was my first time meeting certain students on the Spartans for Israel eboard in person after speaking with them on countless Zooms. 

The in-person programming started with a drive-in movie where students gathered to watch the Adam Sandler classic Don’t Mess with the Zohan. The following day, we had student-run businesses set up stands in downtown East Lansing to emulate a shuk (Israeli marketplace). This attracted many Jewish students, as well as passersby, some who had never heard of our Spartans for Israel community. Next, we had an outdoor vigil for Yom Hazikaron (Israeli Memorial Day) where we lit candles, listened to a couple of songs and shared stories of individuals who have perished during service. The next event was the climax of Israel Week — our Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day) celebration. Around 80 students filtered through the Hillel parking lot to play carnival games, eat blue and white cupcakes and enjoy a custom-made falafel dinner from a local food truck. We finished the week on Friday with the first in-person Shabbat since September. Students sat with their “pods” under a tent in the Hillel parking lot to enjoy good food and better company! Student turnout for all the Israel Week events combined was close to 400 individuals. 

Israel Week touched my heart in a way that is hard to explain, as did the support and hard work of the Hillel staff and the Spartans for Israel team. As I stated before, it has been a deeply emotional year. This week of in-person programming felt like a preview of the year to come — a year filled with celebration and (hopefully) a year less burdened by a global pandemic. Israel Week felt like a little light at the end of this long and winding tunnel, the taste of normalcy that we had all been craving.

Pelli Mechnikov of Huntington Woods is a member of MSU’s Class of 2023. 

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