I was an old hand at Israel advocacy before ever stepping onto a college campus. In high school I attended AIPAC gatherings in Washington and organized student rallies outside the UN. During my gap years in Israel I got involved in several advocacy training seminars, attending one run by the Foreign Ministry and staffing another organized by a religious student organization. When college finally came, my freshman year was as much about pursuing Israel advocacy on one of the least politicized campuses in America as commencing my education into all things China.
So when Avi Schaefer’s twin brother told me the organization his family established to perpetuate his brother’s legacy was holding an inaugural activity entitled “Reimagining Israel on the North American Campus” I was not thrilled to attend an advocacy event. Been there, done that.
I was excited, however, to attend the event together with my parents. Not only did I want them to see the world of campus advocacy that had briefly been my own for several years, I wanted them to learn something of Avi’s story as an insight of sorts into their own soldier son.
Avi was a twenty-one year old student at Brown University whose life was cut short by a drunk driver a year ago this month. During his brief college career, Avi poured his passion for Israel into a host of activities—fundraisers for Israeli rescue efforts in Haiti, dialogue with Palestinian students, etc— that demonstrated advocacy and empathy are not at odds. He pursued his passion for Israel as a former volunteer Israeli combat soldier, having made aliyah and enlisted through the same Garin Tzabar program I am now a part of. It takes a young man with sincere humility and rare humanity to understand that his Israeli military background need not prevent him (and in fact is even a source of added credibility) from successfully reaching out to Palestinian students on campus.
Avi’s passion for Israel, a pride that combined empathy and deep humanity, is a legacy that his twin brother and family hope to perpetuate through the foundation they have established in his name. While the event in Jerusalem struck me as no different than the advocacy seminars I attended six years ago, there is a message in Avi’s legacy that can speak to the disaffected mass of American Jewish college students that have tuned out the Jewish state. A proud and humanistic message that knows and loves a liberal Israel and is not afraid to spread this call to young Jews across America.
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