Boston College senior Mackenzie Cohen wanted to work to find a Jewish community in which she could have a dialogue about Israel and the religion as a whole.
“Being Jewish at BC can be pretty challenging,” Cohen said. “It feels like Jewish voices aren’t heard.”
Cohen did find ways to join a Jewish community beyond her campus. In 2019 she participated in Onward Israel Boston, where she interned with an Israeli start-up. She also went to the AIPAC conference the same year. And now, Cohen has joined the Intercampus Leadership Committee for Boston-area students.
To encourage Israel activism at Boston-area universities, Combined Jewish Philanthropies of Greater Boston and the Consulate General of Israel to New England have formed the Intercampus Leadership Committee composed of student ambassadors from 11 campuses in Massachusetts.
“It’s a really great community,” Cohen said. “The topics can be pretty sensitive, so having a safe space to discuss is nice.”
Students meet monthly over Zoom to partake in task-oriented projects and discussions.
“There’s not that many places now that bring together different voices and people of diverse backgrounds,” CJP president and CEO Rabbi Marc Baker told the students at their first meeting. “The fact that you’re even on this Zoom right now bears witness to the fact that we can bring diverse voices together and be proud of it.”
Cohen’s committee mate, Gabriella Lieberman, is using her knowledge from the Intercampus Leadership Committee to connect with other campuses and bring together a speaker series, including an event with former South Carolina Rep. Bakari Sellers.
“I find it very empowering to see all of these students come together and discuss Israel,” said Lieberman, who is a sophomore at Brandeis University. “These students are super innovative. It’s definitely broadened my network.”
The seven sessions the students will attend are queued up to encourage diversity in thought. After the original kick-off meeting, the topics include understanding the Arab Israeli conflict, student government involvement, Israel and politics, diversity and developing presentation skills.
“I always think it’s valuable to share with and learn with likeminded peers on different campuses,” Harvard University sophomore Aidan Golub said. “It equips us with really tangible skills to discuss the topics we are enthusiastic about in a more nuanced way.”
Golub, who worked with Lieberman on the Sellers event, added that he has already been able to draw on his skills and conversations from the committee to engage with students on his own campus. He is coordinating an Israeli summit for students to broaden the conversation, especially for students unaffiliated with the topic.
The students also recognize how important committees like this are during this time period.
“In recent years, there’s been a lot of antisemitism and anti-Israel activity on college campuses,” Tufts University junior Jason Smith said. “But I also feel like there’s a lot of not knowing on both sides.”
The topics the students cover, however, are in hopes to expand their understanding and encourage them to have deeper conversations. Smith said he is most excited about the Israel and politics session.
“That’s something I want to learn about,” Smith said. “There’s a lot of controversy and misunderstanding.”
And that is exactly why Baker is excited for the students to partake in the committee, he said.
“The future is in your hands,” Baker told the students. “We need you.”