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Students Go Beyond Solidarity

First Publish: 1/4/2004, 8:17 PM / Last Update: 1/4/2004, 10:06 PM

While thousands of students are currently visiting Israel on Hillel and Birthright trips, some trips to the Holy Land take an extra step past solidarity – with students lending a hand to the settlement movement in Yesha (Judea, Samaria and Gaza), getting their hands dirty working the land, and developing programs to encourage Aliyah (Jewish immigration to Israel) upon their return to campus.

One group of 20 Jewish college students arrived in Israel last week to undergo an intensive 10-day activist training program run by an organization called Magshimey Herut. The program, sponsored by the Hampton Synagogue and the World Zionist Organization, is being led by an Israel-based activism team called Am Segula, which literally means ‘chosen nation.’ The program was billed as an attempt to strengthen the skills and determination of young Jews in the face of increasingly anti-Semitic hostility on American and Canadian college campuses. Staffing the program are several veteran activists, including Eli Yosef, who leads the struggle for Jonathan Pollard’s freedom. The organizers say they intend to teach participants to take a non-defensive stance and to present the ideals of Zionism in a fresh and revolutionary manner.

"Our goal is not to simply teach historical facts and information," said group leader Yehuda HaKohen, currently a combat soldier in the IDF. "We want to connect them emotionally with the national-historical destiny of Israel. Only then can they have the determination and self sacrifice to properly utilize the truth in the face of adversity."

The students will tour the country, receive practical skills for campus activism, learn the history that led up to and created the current conflict, and meet with former Jewish freedom fighters, political personalities, Chief Rabbis as well as leaders of the Settlement movement.

Another group of students has been coming for the past three years to Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu in the northern Jordan Valley. The group, mostly students from the University of Maryland was organized by Jewish Agency emissary Yair Kalush and the Kibbutz’s organic date-growing guru Beni Gavrielli.

The trip, which is subsidized by the Jewish community of Rockville, Maryland, seeks to imbue participants with a love for the land through rolling up their sleeves and making it blossom, like the pre-state pioneers. “The past couple days we have been spreading compost around date trees and picking weeds from around the organic gardens,” said participant Michelle Samuels from San Antonio, Texas.

The group is spending twenty days doing agricultural work before heading to Jerusalem for a strategy session on galvanizing North American Aliyah.

“This is a completely different Land of Israel then I ever saw or felt on all the tours I’ve ever been on,” said Samuels, “this is the place to be.”