When I came back from my 15-day trip to Israel with Hasbara Fellowships, learning how to advocate for Israel on campus, there was one question I dreaded being asked by friends and family: “How was Israel?” Those three words always managed to trigger a long, internal sigh, and a touch of anxiety.
How could I briefly summarize this life-changing experience?
The first moment that awakened a deep sense of inspiration in me was the day we went to the Peres Center for Peace. I couldn’t believe there existed an organization whose mission so perfectly resonated with my beliefs.
Guided by former Israeli prime minister and president Shimon Peres, the centre’s mission is to promote peace by fostering relationships between Israelis and Palestinians. As simple as that: there is no lobbying, no political jargon, no polarizing groups shouting at each other – just human connections.
For example, the centre arranges fellowships for Palestinian doctors at Israeli hospitals. A Palestinian doctor who needs to be trained as a pediatric cardiac surgeon will be matched with an Israeli hospital that needs such a doctor. The relationships that are built from these opportunities are meaningful and long lasting.
Another organization that made a deep impact on me as an Israel advocate is Save a Child’s Heart. We spent an afternoon hearing about this organization, whose mission is to provide life-saving heart surgeries to children from all around the world who cannot afford it. This mission resonates with many students, especially here in Ottawa. We are committed to building home-grown support for Save a Child’s Heart on campus, through fundraising and through raising awareness. We convey Israel’s fierce devotion to human life, and its commitment to doing its part to better the world.
This is a side of Israel that too few students see when the central dogma about Israel on campuses paints a picture of a militant, occupying country.
On the last day of the trip, a counter-terrorism agent – trained to neutralize terrorists in less than five seconds when every moment might be a matter of life and death – spoke with us.
He told us about having to run out of the house, leaving his wife and children during a Shabbat meal, and not knowing if he would even come back.
But the best thing he taught us was the importance of having relentless and determined love for Israel and the Jewish people. He looked around the room and told us that we were all his family. That he would protect us as fiercely as he would his own children.
What I got from this Hasbara Fellowships trip is more than the tools to speak up on campus, information about several Israeli humanitarian organizations, or a deeper understanding of the conflict in the region. Along with the 37 other participants, I gained something powerful and long lasting: an endless reserve of empowerment.
Although advocating for Israel on campus can sometimes be demoralizing, the Hasbara trip gave me a deep well of confidence in our cause.
Sapir Fellus is a student at the University of Ottawa.