For many college students, deciding how to spend their free time is just as important as their class schedules. With Israel on everyone’s mind after this summer’s Operation Protective Edge, I thought now would be the perfect time to chat with Phillip Brodsky, the new executive director of The David Project, a national Israel advocacy organization.
Tell me about The David Project. What’s your vision for your first six months as executive director?
I’m so excited to be stepping into this new opportunity at The David Project. I’ve been with the organization for the past four years as our campus director, and I’ve seen our impact on campus grow during this time. What I love most about The David Project is that we approach Israel advocacy from a relationship-building standpoint. This means that rather than entering into a conversation about Israel that will be divisive or debate-oriented, we seek out partners on campus inside and beyond the Jewish community that we can engage with in a way that’s enriching. Our methodology has taken off, and we’re now active on more than 50 campuses across the country. Our Israel advocates are connecting with thousands of campus leaders from previously untapped communities. In the next six months, my job is to continue to strengthen the movement we have inspired on campus and continue to make Israel something that brings people together on campus, rather than pushes them apart.
This must be an interesting time to come into this role with the recent military operations in Gaza. What’s The David Project’s take on it, and how is your message being received?
To me, this is the best time and a truly challenging time to be an Israel advocate. The challenges are great—just take a look at some of the anti-Israel things happening on campuses. As students are now returning to campus, they find themselves in a charged environment in which the conversation on Israel is more divisive than it has been in recent years. Many of their peers would rather avoid discussing Israel altogether for fear of appearing uninformed or taking sides against their friends. But—and I really believe this—it’s never been a better time to be an Israel advocate. For one thing, because of successes such as Birthright Israel, this generation has been to Israel at a higher rate than any other Jewish generation. This means that on campus more people know someone who has direct experience in Israel. Also, students on campus today are the most plugged in and engaged generation of leaders ever, mainly because they know they have to be. There are a lot of problems in the world, and this is the generation that has to solve them.
We at The David Project see the recent military operation in Gaza as the perfect reason for students to be talking about Israel and sharing their personal connection to her. And our students are doing just that. As advocates and people who care about Israel and her future, we don’t have to defend every single action of the Israel Defense Forces and the Israeli government. But we do need to speak up and offer our perspective on what’s happening, talk about why Israel is important to us, and be willing to engage with those around us so we can enrich their worldview and understanding of Israel. And because it’s in the news and on everyone’s mind, this is the perfect time to be talking about Israel with our friends, families and communities.
Are you still planning trips to Israel this winter? Have you had any pushback from concerned parents?
We are absolutely running Israel Uncovered, our campus leadership mission to Israel, this winter break. In fact, we have expanded the trip to a third bus, bringing 100 Jewish and non-Jewish campus leaders to Israel together, up from 67 students last year. On the trip, students learn about Israel’s dynamic and complex society while building connections for joint action upon their return to campus.
There’s always going to be some anxiety among parents about sending their children abroad, and we take great care to ensure that our trip participants stay safe. But even Jewish parents worry about their sons and daughters traveling to Israel. That’s a big reason we even take this trip to Israel—we want to go beyond the headlines and offer an immersive experience into the realities of Israeli society.
You’ve traveled to many college campuses as part of your work with The David Project and Alpha Epsilon Pi, a Jewish fraternity. What’s your favorite campus to visit?
In my time with both The David Project and AEPi, I’ve visited more than 100 colleges in the United States. While my favorite will always be my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I love the schools The David Project works with in this area, including MIT, Boston University, Clark University and Northeastern University, among others.
Students today definitely know how to have a good time, but what amazes me the most is how smart, committed, interested, entrepreneurial and kind-hearted today’s college students are. I know that Israel advocacy is not the easiest way to spend your free time, but I feel blessed that we get to work with students who are so committed to making Israel something that’s cool on campus and an issue that brings communities together across the campus spectrum.
Four Questions is a weekly interview column featuring interesting people connected with the Greater Boston Jewish community. Find past columns here. Have an idea of someone we should interview? Email Molly!
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