I’ve always wanted to advocate for Israel. In the spring of 2011, after my experience on The March of the Living, I knew I needed to stand up for Israel, but it wasn’t until this week when I knew I could do it.
All throughout my first year at Concordia, I wanted to join a pro-Israel group. I wanted desperately for someone to give me the facts and tell me what events to organize to promote my beloved Jewish state. I never found my shepherd. I wandered around campus feeling unfulfilled and guilty that my friends all over the country were standing up for the Jewish state during Operation Pillar of Defense, and throughout the year.
The only association I had with Israel was being a dormant member of a quiet Facebook group, Concordia Students for Israel. Towards the end of my second semester, someone posted the application for CAMERA. I clicked, almost out of obligation—I had to do something.
The more I read about the CAMERA Fellowship, the more I understood it to be a lot of work, with a lot of reward. I was lucky enough to be selected but the idea of carrying out the fellowship still seemed daunting.
The day before my flight to Boston for training, I almost backed out. I was certain everyone would be smarter than me, call me out on my ignorance, and that they would question my abilities as much as I questioned them myself. I wouldn’t understand anything and I would be exposed as a fraud. It would be too intimidating; I wouldn’t be able to handle it. I worried that despite their promise for truth, this conference would promote Israel propaganda.
Nothing could have been farther from the truth.
The people I met were incredibly friendly, open and positive. Their knowledge was inspiring, not intimidating. I immediately connected with many individuals who had strong intellect and passion for Israel. It was like nothing I had ever experienced. These people had their feet planted firmly on the ground, knew their facts and had realistic goals and were passionate about attaining them. These people weren’t afraid of opposition or failure and I was in awe. Even more surprising, these leaders treated me as an equal and welcomed me to the community of activism even though it was my very first conference. I felt respected and my fear of inadequacy was quickly diminishing.
Samantha, Gilad, and Aviva organized a line-up of engaging, practical, and, of course, accurate speakers who reaffirmed my love of Israel and lit my passion to fight for her all while keeping my attention throughout a lengthy day. Of course, they were brilliant speakers themselves and I thank each of them for their passion and dedication to Israel and to each of us. Though the entire conference was fervently pro-Israel, it wasn’t propaganda in the slightest. Everything had a source, a purpose and a context. Thank you, CAMERA, for helping find the facts that will be our weapons in battle.
CAMERA should be a model for all student leadership. They trust and empower their students, they support and guide them but allow them to create and develop their own ideas. It’s unlike any experience I’ve ever had. I’m confused and overwhelmed, which is the flip-side of inspiration. I have so much to absorb and so much to do, but instead of drowning in it all, I know I will be swimming my heart out all year because CAMERA didn’t just tell me I have to, but assured me that I can.
The Maccabees did not come to a compromise, they fought. Jews have historically stood their ground and have also historically survived. This battle of knowledge on college campuses will be no different, but we must be strong and bold and accurate. There is no “pretty” or “safe” activism, you have to put yourself out there (something I don’t do too often)!
Luckily, the facts are on our side. I now have an amazing team of supporters, partners, researchers and friends fighting alongside with me. I have them to thank for melting my fears, insecurities and doubts and for finding my passion, determination and confidence.
I know everything seems possible surrounded by allies and that what I do on campus will be difficult and different, but I think I’m ready now.
I’m so glad I had this opportunity. I have not only grown as an activist, but as a person.
Thank you, CAMERA – you do more good than you know.
Contributed by 2013-14 CAMERA Fellow Michelle Soicher