Shagririm: Israeli-American Ambassadors, on Campus (JEWISH PRESS) By: Lauren Schmidt05/02/12)
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Imagine an elite network of pro-Israel students in the region where
you attend school. They host meetings, enjoy access to events both in
their city and nationally, and ultimately work together to increase
support of Israel.
In Southern California, this dream is a reality, through a rapidly
growing initiative called Shagrirm, meaning “ambassadors” in Hebrew.
The program binds together activists and advocates in Los Angeles and
Orange County to build support for Israel.
Shagririm caters to the large population of Israeli–Americans in
Southern California and their American born children. The program
connects these individuals in order to effectively generate pro-
Israel programs and initiatives.
Although its goals are similar to many pro-Israel initiatives
centered on young adults, Shagririm is the only program of its kind
that currently functions solely on a local, multi-campus level,
rather than nationwide.
“Shagririm is different in that its purpose isn’t to go out when anti-
Israel activities go on. Its goal is to form relationships with other
clubs who can become pro-Israel,” UCLA senior Barbara Efraim
said. “It’s a more grassroots approach because the connections we
create are original.”
Brett Cohen, the national program director of StandWithUs, agrees
that the program is one of a kind.
“Shagririm is a different sort of fellowship from your average Israel
advocacy internship,” he said. “While they are responsible for many
of the same things as StandWithUs Emerson Fellows [many of] the
Shagririm are Israeli-Americans empowered to speak up for their
country. It makes it very personal, whereas for most American
supporters of Israel the connection isn’t the same. We are always
excited to have the Shagririm at our Israel In Focus conference
because they bring a unique perspective that I feel helps American
supporters of Israel understand a deeper connection that can only
come from being Israeli.”
The Shagririm program, which began in 2010 with 12 students from
UCLA, USC, and California State University, Northridge (CSUN), has
expanded to include 54 students from USC, UCLA, Santa Monica College,
Cal Poly Pomona, Chapman University, UC Irvine and CSUN.
Run through the Israeli Leadership Council (ILC), an organization
that works to build an active and giving Israeli-American community
in Los Angeles, Shagririm seeks to secure the next generation in
Israel advocacy, preserve Israel as the Jewish state, gather Israeli-
Americans throughout the country, strengthen community ties through
program development, and target young Jewish Americans.
“Shagririm has given students the resources and the chances to form
relationships with other clubs, further spreading the pro-Israel
message,” Efraim said. “It gives us the liberty to do whatever we
wish, so all options are on the table and we can use our imagination
to create the best event possible.”
The student leaders are trained to build coalitions with non-Jewish
campus groups by synthesizing Israeli contributions in culture, art,
science, technology and more, with initiatives created by non-Jewish
groups on campus; this is a skill whose power was demonstrated during
the recent Israel Apartheid Week on Southern California campuses.
“Bringing all the organizations together means that we can pool a
greater number of resources,” Efraim noted.
UCLA senior Tomer Schwartz is president of Bruins for Israel and a
Shagririm intern. He stressed that collaboration with other groups is
the best way to bring a taste of Israel to non-Jewish groups and show
Israel beyond the conflict.
“We try to show them that we’re big supporters of Israel or Israelis
and show them a different side to what being Israeli is all about,”
He hopes that after Shagririm participants develop connections with
other campus groups, the groups’ members will want to support Israel
based on the positive interactions and new information they learned
about the country through their coalition-building event.
Eran Hoch and Neri Johsnon are Israel Fellows in Southern California
and both play a key role in Shagririm. Hoch said that the program’s
main goal is to help participants grow and become leaders in their
“We want to see these leaders go back to their campuses and have
other people following them and learning from them,” he said.
Beyond planning events, participants can take part in a wide range of
education and training opportunities, including StandWithUs’ Israel
in Focus conference, AIPAC events and hearing from speakers such as
Myra Clark-Siegel of Project Interchange, Israeli Consul General
David Siegel, AIPAC’s Elliot Brandt and commentator Dennis Prager.
“StandWithUs is very proud to host the Shagririm at our Israel in
Focus conference, because as Israeli-Americans they bring a unique
perspective,” Cohen said. “Our mission is to help them articulate
their own powerful personal stories to help educate others about
“StandWithUs works with lots of diverse groups of people to connect
them with what interests them about Israel,” he continued. “With the
Shagririm, it is a very natural collaboration, because as American-
Israelis they can bring their personal connection to Israel into
their outside interests, and share that with their peers.”
Efraim added that the program has made her better understand how to
target her pro-Israel message to a certain group.
“It’s important to find a common starting point with an organization
and then build a relationship from there,” she said.
This would not be able to occur without donors who support this
program. Adam Milstein is an Israeli and major donor to the program;
his family’s organization helped found the Israeli Leadership
Council, the organization through which this program is run.
“I’ve seen a big campaign against Jewish people and Israel on campus.
It made sense to train our students so they can stand against and
educate and debate negative elements on campus,” Milstein said. “The
[amount of Jewish students on campus] might be five, ten, sometimes
even zero percent. We do need more organizations on campus to help us
survive against the anti-Semitism on campus.”
Milstein is particularly proud of the wide-ranging influence that
Shagririm has on students; the program’s effects continue even after
participants finish college and he loves seeing students excited and
motivated to do more.
”Inspiring and impacting the lives of young people is very
rewarding,” he said.
Milstein hopes that the program will continue to evolve and
eventually span across the nation. (© 2012 JewishPress. 05/02/12)
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