Starting this fall, the State of Israel will have a new ally on local college campuses – and she’s a Fellow. What Michal Makov-Peled will be doing as the Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s first Israel Campus Fellow is very specific; how she will do it is yet to be determined.
According to the job description: “The Fellow will work to combat the assault on Israel’s legitimacy, much of which is centered on campus, by offering programs, developing strategic relationships and coalitions, and by helping students become effective ambassadors for the Jewish state in an embattled environment.”
Firsts are becoming a theme for Makov-Peled, who came to Milwaukee in 2011 with her husband Ro’ee as the female half of the community’s first husband and wife shlichut team. She is looking forward to her new role, and emphasized that connecting programming with student interests and input would top her priority list.
“It’s very important to me to be really connected to what the students want and what they want to see that is related to Israel,” she said. Possibilities include an Israeli movie series, a Hebrew café for Hebrew-speakers, and programs that connect to Israeli culture such as cooking and holiday celebrations.
Makov-Peled’s previous job experience includes working at a rape crisis center in Jerusalem and the director of College for All, a program that helps bright children from low-income families to excel in school. Working with college-age students is another first, and it’s the top reason she said she’s excited to be a Campus Fellow.
“They have great potential to be part of this community and to be the next generation that will build this community,” she said. “Second, campuses all across the United States are places that are not very fond of Israel and we have a great opportunity here to show more sides of Israel and more faces of Israel. And research and surveys have shown that Israel is a very important component of a Jewish identity.”
Elana Kahn-Oren, director of Community Relations and Israel & Overseas Engagement, said Makov-Peled is not the only one excited. A hallmark of campus-based Israel bashing, she said, has been to reduce the Israeli-Palestinian situation to a false choice between aggressor-victim or right-versus-wrong.
“Everything becomes simple,” she said, “when in real life it is a very complex conflict with competing narratives.”
“We know that Israel Campus Fellows have been effective at campuses around the country to promote and defend Israel, to help deepen students’ ties to Israel and to help students develop their Jewish identities,” Kahn-Oren explained.
She said Makov-Peled’s simply being herself will be a crucial component of the job.
“Part of the purpose of this program is to get an Israeli in there who is a real, complex human being, who served in the army, who has all sorts of experiences and isn’t a caricature and can help restore some complexity to the conversation about Israel and about the conflict.”
With a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in conflict resolution, both from Hebrew University, Makov-Peled has the skills to deal effectively with anti-Israel sentiment. She also had a ready answer when asked how she would tackle the issue of anti-Israel bias on campus.
“By helping students to become knowledgeable,” she said, “and comfortable with constructively addressing anti-Israel sentiments on campus from an informed perspective.”
The national Israel Campus Fellow program is a joint effort of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and Hillel International, started with six fellows in 2003. This past year, there were 50. Kahn-Oren said the Federation is still looking for additional funding for the half-time position, which is primarily funded by local donors who are enthusiastic about it, with help from JAFI. In August, Makov-Peled is attending a JAFI conference in St. Louis, where she will meet and the other Israel Campus Fellows.
Makov-Peled’s office will be in the Federation’s Helfaer Community Service Building. She will work closely with Hillel Milwaukee Inc., and other organizations that work on programs related to Israel and Jewish identity, such as Chabad, Jewish Experience of Milwaukee and the campus Israel Club.
She will spend most of her campus time at UW-Milwaukee and Marquette, but Kahn-Oren said Makov-Peled would work with all area campuses.
Amy Waldman is a Milwaukee-based freelance writer and coordinator of the ACCESS Program for Displaced Homemakers at Milwaukee Area Technical College.