Let's Trust Our Younger Generation
Updated: Aug 27
By Michal Hartman, Israel Fellow, Hillel at Emory
I will begin my story Before Coronavirus (BC).
The year is 2017 — I was in my last year of university in Israel and wondering what my next step would be.
At the time, all I cared about was Birthright. I recently finished staffing my sixth trip, and I was completely in love with connecting Jews to Israel. I wanted to find a job that allowed me to continue my passion of helping to unite Jews and strengthen their Jewish identity.
When I found the Jewish Agency Israel Fellows program, it felt like a natural next step for me.
I was accepted to the delegation after five long months of tests and interviews and soon would begin my work with Hillels of Georgia. Little did I know how much of an impact this job would have on me.
Fast forward to now — April 2020.
Who would have thought that this is how my Shlichut would go? I was in the peak of the school year and a week out from Israel Fest at Emory University, planned by “Eagles For Israel” — our Israel culture club at Emory, where I serve as advisor.
The students met with me weekly for months to plan Israel Fest, spending hours of their own free time organizing the logistics and combing over details. Suddenly, as shelter-in-place mandates were placed and universities across the nation closed, we made the decision to cancel.
I was devastated. Not for me, but for the students. This was planned to be the highlight of their year, an opportunity to unite over our love for Israel in the most positive and pure way. To be honest, this was supposed to be the highlight of my year as well.
But then, something amazing started happening that forced me to stay inspired and hopeful.
One by one, students began adding me to newly formed Facebook groups and online communities.
First, they added me to “Memes for Self-Quarantined,” where students were dealing with the new situation through humor — a great way to cope, in my opinion.
Two days later, it was “Zoom University Hillel,” which now consists of almost 14,000 Jewish and non-Jewish students who are involved with Hillel across the country. Students from a variety of colleges can connect through geographical connections (“Any Jews from Philly?”) and even reunite with old camp friends (“Where my camp Ramah people at?”).
Then, students started sharing Zoom lectures from their local Hillels and Hillel international, such as panels, Torah lessons, Amari Studmire, Kabbalat Shabbat, Havdalah’s, cooking classes, game nights, Idan Reichel, book clubs and much more.
A week later, student leaders still craving a connection with Israel, despite the inability to travel, formed a group called ZUFI, which stands for Zoom University for Israel. Every week, they share virtual Israel events.
That’s when I knew my Shlichut was far from over — there is still plenty of work and learning to do.
I teach a weekly class, “Israel Learning Fellowship (ILF),” where we discuss in-depth topics surrounding Israel, from Zionism to the Israeli population, Israeli elections, the conflict, peace plans and more. I was incredibly inspired by how many students reached out to me to make sure we continue our classes online. In fact, since we moved the course online, not one student has dropped from our weekly class.
I also serve as advisor for the AIPAC chapter at Emory (EIPAC), led by Jackie Weiss and Ben Lefkowitz. We recently began online programming, hosting a video Q&A with the Israel Consulate General to the Southeast. Through an open conversation, she discussed ways to deal with the anti-Israel arena and offered an inspirational experience to all listeners.
I have always derived my motivation from students. Whenever my schedule would get busy, or my workday stretched to 12 hours, I never felt it because the students were so inspiring to me.
The situation has not changed.
Students aren’t letting the situation bring them down — they continue to crave community connection. Yet again, the students continue to be the source of my motivation.
It is truly an honor to be a part of this community of dedicated Jewish students, and I am sure that when we come back to campus, we will be bound together even stronger. So, I’m putting all my money on our future generation. And trust me, a great future is ahead of us, United.