By Sam Fingerhut
Upon my arrival at The Ohio State University, like many students I was confronted with stressful choices regarding my extracurricular involvement, social life and educational achievement. College is a time of growth and discovery, and a student rarely takes the linear path they might imagine for themselves at the beginning of their journey.
Like many students, my Israel journey is deeply personal. Traveling with my family and with various programs to Israel has unlocked my deep love for the country and become a huge part of my Jewish identity. Each trip has deepened my understanding of Israel’s complex history and left me looking for more. Tapping into this history has allowed me to ground myself on campus and paint a clearer picture of my responsibility to my Jewish and pro-Israel community.
Ohio State is filled with committed Jewish and pro-Israel students, but the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted our community’s unity and communication channels. It took a successful BDS resolution in our student government for our community to refocus and understand that staying silent is not an option in the face of active and organized detractors. Today, we have a thriving pro-Israel community with friends and allies throughout our campus.
I have had the honor of previously serving as the president of BUCKiPAC, OSU’s pro-Israel political organization, where I have the privilege of empowering the next generation of pro-Israel leaders to utilize innovative strategies to connect with their campus, community and elected leaders. Through these experiences, I became aware of the transformational work the Israel on Campus Coalition engages in to provide student activists with the resources we need to protect and promote the vital alliance between the United States and Israel.
I recently had the incredible privilege of participating in the Israel on Campus Coalition’s gathering of like-minded student leaders nationwide, the National Leadership Summit (NLS). My experience there has left me more motivated than ever to go back to school and help cultivate the next generation of pro-Israel leaders.
For this year’s summit, Israel on Campus Coalition brought us face-to-face with some of today’s leading voices in this space, including Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Herzog; award-winning novelist Dara Horn; and Jason Greenblatt, former White House special representative for international negotiation and a key architect of the Abraham Accords, the groundbreaking peace agreements between Israel and several Arab neighbors, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.
This conference wasn’t my first experience with ICC. I had the honor of being part of Cohort 1 of the Geller International Fellowship, an elite six-month cohort experience for 40 talented students from across the country that culminated in a once-in-a-lifetime 10-day trip to Israel and the UAE, emphasizing culture, security, economics, climate and civil rights.
A major highlight of my experience was serving as one of four student speakers on a panel, “Many Voices, One Vision: Change Agents on Campus,” moderated by ICC’s CEO, Jacob Baime, who got his own start as a student activist. He has passed it forward to our generation, and my fellow panelists and I had a stimulating discussion about our experiences on campus, the fellowship and what brought us to this movement.
The Geller fellowship has wholly transformed our advocacy into a new phase of hope. We can return to our campuses and provide a firsthand account of the unbelievable changes happening in the Middle East due to the Abraham Accords. While the three of us come from vastly different backgrounds, the fellowship re-emphasized the importance of people-to-people interactions in the campus environment and the Middle East as a whole. While we each face immense challenges in our individual campuses and communities, the three of us are more optimistic than ever, as we have witnessed firsthand what is possible when different communities come together over a shared vision of peace and prosperity.
Through my experiences with the Israel of Campus Coalition, I have learned that no challenge is too large when done with people you love. The commitment and passion for this movement at NLS was palpable but, more importantly, personal. While we came to NLS with different stories and identities, our shared love for Israel allowed us to tap into a community greater than any one individual. The relationships developed through this exceptional programming have fostered connections, and a community that I am confident will remain strong for years to come.
While many believe my generation will abandon the U.S.-Israel relationship, the community demonstrated within the ICC unequivocally rejects this notion. My generation is more motivated than ever to carry on the incredible legacy of those before us by strengthening the U.S.-Israel relationship for our country, communities and the leaders of tomorrow. ■
Sam Fingerhut, a Washington native, is a senior at The Ohio State University and an ICC Geller International Leadership Fellow.