Rhode Island college students Jessica Raviv and Aron Barbell are excited to begin inspiring their peers about Israel and challenging anti-Israel misinformation as the new StandWithUs (SWU) Emerson Fellows.
Founded in 2007 by Los Angeles-based philanthropists Rita and Steve Emerson, the StandWithUs Emerson Fellowship is a one-year program that selects and trains student leaders in universities across North America to run educational Israel programming and confront Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaigns.
Barbell, who will become president of Bryant University’s Hillel as a junior, attended the August training conference in Los Angeles.
Together with 90 other Emerson Fellows from 90 universities, Barbell learned leadership and debate skills, how to run effective programs and form coalitions with other groups, and how to use SWU’s various resources, including the legal department and conventional and social media. One important lesson explained when legitimate criticism of Israel crosses the line into anti-Semitism, and there were multiple sessions on understanding and countering BDS campaigns.
During the conference, SWU also displayed its experiential programs, including “Lemonade Stand,” “Gratitude Days” and “Our Voices for Peace,” which is in partnership with Israel’s Arava Institute for Environmental Studies. Students bring these displays to campuses, Israel day festivals and community events, where they engage people in learning and understanding Israel in a new and creative way.
“I joined the fellowship because I want others to know the beauty of Israel,” Barbell said. “Israel, to me, is a beacon of hope for the Jewish people.”
Barbell said he does not expect his task at Bryant to be easy. Bryant students, he said, “generally have a concrete plan of what clubs they are part of and how they will spend their time.”
“Getting their attention is the hard part, not the retention of supporters,” Barbell said.
But Barbell said he would persist, using the marketing strategies he learned from SWU.
“I understand it’ll be difficult, but that is the beauty of StandWithUs. They have given me a lot of resources and are around if I need any help.”
Sophomore Jessica Raviv, who is on the executive board of Brown University Students for Israel (BSI), said she wanted to become an Emerson Fellow because of her “respect for StandWithUs as a pro-Israel education organization and my involvement with it as a high schooler, while helping start a pro-Israel education group for New York City high school students.”
Raviv’s older sister, Micaela, Brown University’s 2017-18 Emerson Fellow, founded NYCTeens4Israel. Jessica helped recruit students, program events and schedule speakers.
“With SWU’s help, we were able to reach more students and hold larger and more frequent events,” she said.
“The Emerson Fellowship seemed like the perfect way to stay involved with SWU and to help expand BSI programming and outreach,” Raviv continued. “I hope to use the skills and expertise that I will develop through the fellowship to create more engaging programs and to elevate the Israel conversation on campus.”
In addition to Rhode Island’s two Emerson Fellows, SWU will collaborate with students at Roger Williams University, the University of Rhode Island and Johnson & Wales University to present a range of educational and cultural programming on Israel.
In previous years, Emerson Fellows brought SWU’s Israeli Soldiers Tour to their campuses and synagogues, putting a “human face” on the Israel Defense Forces.
For more information about SWU, go to firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com.
ZACH SHARTIAG is the New England campus director for StandWithUs.