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Daniel Kuhn is the new fellow on campus when it comes to advocating for Israel at Michigan State University. And he's a great choice.
Los Angeles-based StandWithUs - a nonprofit, international Israel education organization - has designated the senior from West Bloomfield an Emerson Fellow for the 2008-2009 school year.
Embarking on its second year, the fellowship program selects and trains students from U.S. and Canadian campuses to run events that teach about Israel - and to collectively carve their niche as the next generation of campus leadership.
I learned about the intriguing program through a formal press release. But I learned a lot more about it through an e-mail conversation with Kuhn, 21, a graduate of Hillel Day School of Metropolitan Detroit and West Bloomfield High School.
Fellows share a common goal: deploy their energy to drive and inspire their peers, friends and colleagues to run effective pro-Israel events on campus. They form a network of pro-Israel student leaders across America and Canada.
The Emerson 38 passed intensive screening; StandWithUs is known for doing its legwork. Fellows were chosen from among 100 applicants. Selection criteria included knack for leadership and passion for the work as well as regional and campus climate.
Fellows receive a stipend through funding from California-based philanthropists Rita and Steve Emerson.
No Personal Gain
Kuhn applied to become a fellow because he cares about our ancestral homeland. He has been to Israel at least five times, including this summer when he wrote for the Jerusalem Post. Last summer, he volunteered in Sderot fixing homes ravaged by Palestinian missiles. He spent his freshman year in Israel as part of Young Judaea's Year Course study. He was regional president of Central States Young Judaea during his last two years of high school.
"Teaching about Israel - about its people, its culture and its beauty - is a way of expressing myself because it is such a big part of who I am," Kuhn told the JN last week. "I am an Israel advocate in everything I do."
Kuhn teaches about Israel in his Arabic class by wearing shirts with Hebrew slogans, inviting classmates over for Israeli pastries and showing pictures from his travels to the Jewish state.
"Some days," he said, "I'm a walking 'Did You Know' poster, telling people all kinds of cool things in casual conversation."
Kuhn's major is international relations. He has served on the boards of Hillel and Student Government during his years in East Lansing. He vows to use the contacts he has made through those experiences to advantage in his new role.
"I plan to ensure that Israel-related activities on campus are the most visible and dynamic they have been," he declared.
MSU's fourth annual Israel Fest is coming up Sept. 17 at the MSU Union. But Kuhn intends to ramp up advocacy by enhancing the takeaway from all Israel events on campus.
"MSU has always been a place where a Jew and a Zionist can feel very comfortable," he said. "And every year, more and more Jews are attending MSU from around the country, helping to make our community here stronger."
Priming The Pump
The Emerson 38 settled in at an August orientation held in L.A. They absorbed skills and facts to help present Israel's image and combat anti-Israel rhetoric.
Back on campus, Fellows also will pass out Campus Post, a new, monthly pro-Israel newspaper produced by StandWithUs and the Jerusalem Post. The content will include anti-Israel diatribes on campus and how students respond to it.
The Emerson Fellows seek traction at an opportune time. Anti-Zionism continues to reverberate on campus. Pro-Palestinian forces too often seem better prepared and aggressive than Zionist brigades. MSU has more than 2,000 Jewish students, including the largest Jewish student base from Oakland County in the state.
Israel supporters at MSU include non-Jews. This Zionist legion is among the most engaged on U.S. campuses.
"We chose campuses with particular anti-Israel sentiment and the Fellows are our eyes and ears on the ground," said Ron Kutas, Emerson Fellowship director. "They can best articulate their needs and work with StandWithUs to formulate an optimal response."
Kuhn has done his homework.
"It is college when young people are challenged to find out who they are and what they believe in," he said. "It seems a cliche, but the people sitting next to you in class will be running the country soon, and if we are able to teach them about Israel, to give them a better understanding of why so many are so passionate about it, it will only bring good things in the future."
MSU is not a hotbed of political tension. But it is a hotbed of political debate. That's fine so long as Israel proponents are as adept as the other side. In his capacity as an Emerson Fellow, Kuhn will help assure that.
As he put it, "We're able to have a healthy cultural exchange, an exchange of ideas, to both learn about others and teach about who we are. It's important for students to understand what Israel is all about and what it contributes to the world every day."
It sure is.
Just last week, the Jerusalem-based Palestinian Media Watch reported that Palestinians kids watching a children's quiz broadcast on Fatah-controlled Palestinian Authority television were taught to see a world in which the state of "Palestine" existed in place of Israel.
It's hard to believe the Palestinians really want peace.