L to R: Elan Karoll, Ahava Schachter-Zarembski, and Hayley Nagelberg.
For Jewish students at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana, the recent devastating fires that spread throughout Israel was an opportunity to share warmth – in a positive way.
Illini Hillel, Orthodox Union Jewish Learning Initiative, and the Israel Education Center joined together this week to launch an online fundraiser page for the “Illini Friends of Israel Fund” (http://www.illinihillel.org/israel-fires.html), asking students to donate $7 to help fund life saving firefighting equipment and Illini swag orange T-shirts to be hand delivered to Israel’s first responders at firehouses in Israel. In addition, funds will also be brought in person during an upcoming Birthright trip this month.
The campaign is spearheaded by sophomore students Elan Karoll and Hayley Nagelberg under the direction of Rabbanit Ahava Schachter-Zarembski, OU-JLIC Jewish Educator at the University of Illinois.
Chicago student Karoll, who is active in Hillel, related that during Thanksgiving break, news of the fires broke and videos went viral on Facebook. He spoke with family members in Israel at the time and desperately wanted to help, so when he returned to campus he reached out to fellow co-president of the Illini Public Affairs Committee (PAC), a pro-Israel group on campus that works closely with Hillel. The two students brainstormed what they can do and soon came up with a plan.
“Most the fires are out by now, but we thought about the most impactful thing to do,” explained Karoll. “Most the focus of the Israel community is on the victims who lost homes, but the firefighters are a bit neglected because often they don’t receive adequate funding, so to bring students to firehouses to meet them would help them connect them more to Israel and to show that we stand with the firefighters and we’re thinking of them.”
Reaching out to a large audience to collect funds, the bulk of the fundraising platform is through a social media campaign, which ends on Jan. 1st, as well as a table on campus by the main quad near the student union asking for contributions to the cause.
“Students began reaching out to one another asking what we could do to show our support and make contributions that would make a difference,” said Nagelberg, who is from NJ and is Vice President of Israel Affairs on the student board of Hillel. Since many students go every winter on Birthright or leadership trips to Israel, she thought it would be a good opportunity to connect students with firefighters while there and for them to have the personal experience of helping out. “There’s a lot of first immediate assistance, but a lot of reports said that firefighters didn’t have supplies they needed and were not so noticed and supplies are out of date and we wanted to tap into that,” she said. Students will deliver much needed items like new hoses, boots and helmets.
“If each student can have one tee with them it’s something tangible they can take and then forever say they had that experience,” Nagelberg enthused. “For firefighters, they’ll know the students of Illinois were thinking of them. To be able to show the people of Israel that we are watching what is going on and care about what is going on is the most important thing we can do.”