High school students offered a head start

By Sally Szuster--High school students readying for their first year of post-secondary education now have a unique opportunity to explore their personal relationship with Israel and prepare for the challenges of campus life.

Students in their final two years of high school can sign up for a six-session program that will engage them in an in-depth exploration of current issues, giving them the resources they will need to effectively deal with anti-Israeli sentiment and anti-Semitism on campus.  The program, called Campus Ahead, will be launched on Monday, January 18 at 6:30 pm at Beth Sholom Synagogue in Toronto and will include a performance by acclaimed beat poet, the Hebrew Mamita.  Other sessions will include speakers addressing the new anti-Semitism, including Jeff Robbins, a former member of the United Nations Human Rights Commission.

"Jewish students on Canadian campuses have encountered alarming incidents of anti-Semitism and hostility towards Israel which can often make them feel deeply uncomfortable," said Susan Davis, executive vice president of the Canadian Council for Israel and Jewish Advocacy (CIJA). "Our goal is to empower them before they arrive on campus, so that they are prepared to fully engage in student life with confidence."

"We often encounter students who, upon arriving on campus during their first year, feel conflicted and distressed by deliberate attempts to demonize Israel and antagonize Jewish and Zionist students," said Zac Kaye, executive director, Hillel of Greater Toronto, UJA Federation's campus organization. "This proactive approach will certainly ease students' transition onto campuses."

The initiative is part of a national collaboration between Canadian Council of Conservative Synagogues, Arza Canada -The Reform Zionist Movement, Hillel of Greater Toronto, Hillel Montreal, National Jewish Campus Life (NJCL) and the University Outreach Committee (UOC) of CIJA. Sessions will take place in both Toronto and Montreal.

University and college campuses have, over the past several years, faced growing anti-Israel campaigns such as Israel Apartheid Week, attempted boycotts of Israeli academics, and conferences designed to undermine Israel's right to exist as a Jewish state.  Jewish students, supported by the coordinated efforts of Jewish organizations, many of them affiliated with UJA Federation, have been on the frontline of countering these efforts.

Daniel Ferman, city-wide student president of Hillel of Greater Toronto, knows first hand how important it is for Jewish students to be engaged in campus life. "It's very important for students to be informed even if they don't feel strongly about becoming politically engaged," said Ferman. "Being informed means that they will feel more confident, knowing where they can turn to when they encounter anti-Semitic and anti-Israel behaviour."

"Campus Ahead is a wonderful opportunity for high school students to develop their leadership skills and discuss challenging issues in an inclusive and safe environment," said Morley Goldberg of the Canadian Council of Conservative Synagogues.

A special briefing for parents of students who are preparing for university with community leaders will also be offered on February 7 at the Wolfond Centre for Jewish Campus Life.

For more information or to sign up for the Campus Ahead program, please visit www.campusahead.ca


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