Meet Slav Leibin - CJL's New Israel Fellow
Meet Slav Leibin- CJL’s new Israel Fellow
This summer, Slav Leibin joined the CJL staff as Princeton Hillel’s first-ever Israel Fellow. The Israel Fellows program is a partnership between Hillel International and the Jewish Agency for Israel that began in 2003. Today, there are 59 Jewish Agency Israel Fellows to Hillel serving 67 campuses in North America. Working together with Hillel professionals at their respective colleges, Israel Fellows share personal experiences of modern Israel and offer students a unique and authentic relationship with Israel and Israelis. Slav recently shared some highlights from his first semester at Princeton University.
Tell us a little about yourself.
I was born in Belarus and made Aliyah with my family in 1991. I grew up in Netanya and moved to Jerusalem 4 years ago. I served for three years in IDF as a recruiting commander, responsible for building educational programs and training future military commanders. After the army, I worked in the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, for 2 years as a tour guide and diplomatic liaison. I also completed the Stand With Us fellowship that trains young leaders in Israel advocacy. I attended Hebrew University in Jerusalem and earned a B.A. in International Relations and Communications. In college I was a member of the Debate team and wrote for the University's newspaper. I love to travel and have been to China, New Zealand and all over Europe. At home, I volunteer in my community with a number of organizations, specializing in neighborhood environmental issues and helping the elderly.
What were your first impressions about the Jewish community at Princeton University, especially their views about Israel?
I have found Princeton to be a very open space that allows for lots of opinions about Israel. I noticed that while Israel was not necessarily “top of mind” for many students and faculty, it is a place that many care about and they want to learn more about all aspects of Israeli life. I am pleased to find that many students involved with the CJL have been to Israel and want to return. I am also happy to notice that dialogue about Israel across campus is evolving.
Your first CJL experience as an Israel Fellow was co-staffing this summer’s Birthright trip, how was that experience?
It was really cool to be on the Birthright trip less than 2 weeks after arriving in the US. I never participated in Birthright as a soldier, and I have to say that I felt like I was hosting special guests visiting my homeland during the trip. It was especially interesting to see how the students reacted to things and experiences that I see all the time and kind of take for granted; for instance, being in a place where nearly everyone is Jewish; traveling through Jerusalem and seeing the people and historical places that students have only heard about; and of course, dealing with how Israelis cut in lines all the time. Seriously, it was a really great experience and like the students, I had a chance to do things for the first that I’ve never done such as ride a camel. That was really fun!
What Israel-related programs have you run at the CJL this semester?
We had a great trip in November to the UN. Ten student leaders joined me for a tour of the UN and meetings with diplomats and consuls to Israel. The highlight of the trip was our lunch discussion about how students representing different points of view about Israel can work together and change the world, even in small ways. All the students were very engaged in the visit and discussion, and I think everyone left feeling like there are opportunities to come together around Israel. I also coordinated a very successful Israel party on campus for graduate students and post-docs. We had Israeli food and drinks, as well as Israeli music. It was very well-attended. We have a weekly table of Israeli students at the CJL Shabbat dinner, and we had a special Israeli Hanukkah celebration. Overall, I want students to think more about Israel as an important topic in their lives and for the campus community. I have had many coffee dates with students this semester, and I try to weave Israel into conversations we have about their Jewish identify. I try to use Israel and their experiences and feelings about Israel as a reference point for exploring their Jewish identity.
What are your plans for next semester?
I am excited about the new Israel internships that will be offered through the University this summer. The CJL has partnered with the Office of International Programs to offer these opportunities in Israel for the first time ever. The University will be funding up to 10 internships in Israel, providing students with experiences in areas including science, technology and economics that will surely have a major positive impact on their future careers. I have worked with Rabbi Roth and our CJL supporters to identify prospective internship providers in Israel, and we are planning to place five student interns in Israel this summer.
I am also looking forward to working with my CJL colleagues to teach an Israel fellowship in the spring. The aim of the fellowship is to engage new students by examining a wide range of Israel-related topics such as history, culture and a look at life in the Israeli army. I hope to provide not only basic factual information about Israel, but insight into my experiences and into some aspects of Israeli life that students do not necessarily know about or explore. Last but not least, I want to bring more top speakers to the CJL such as representatives from the UN and Israeli Consulate and from various Israeli arts and cultural groups to engage students in conversations about Israel.
The CJL staff and students are thrilled to have Slav at Princeton University, and look forward to continuing to work with him to build Israel’s presence on campus. Slav invites you to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more about his work at the CJL and to discuss any Israel-related topics that interest you.