The World Jewish Congress and Israel’s Consulate in New York awarded a $10,000 grant on February 15 to Binghamton University students Talia Chasen, Gabriel Gang, and Hannah Werner, first place winners of the third annual Campus Pitch Competition aimed at encouraging students to propose creative ways to change the discourse about Israel and anti-Semitism at colleges and universities.
The winning team from Binghamton proposed organizing a campus-wide “Water Gala” to help raise funds to bring Israeli innovation to African villages to help alleviate the ongoing water crisis. The team vied against four other student groups from NYU, Baruch College, the University of Pittsburgh, and Cornell University, for a chance to win the grant, which had initially been set at $5,000. World Jewish Congress CEO and Executive Vice President surprised the students by raising the first prize to $10,000 and awarding the other four finalist groups $5,000 each to carry out their initiatives as well.
“College campuses have become one of the strongest frontlines in the fight for Israel’s legitimacy. It is a fight that we shouldn’t have to have, but it is one that we must have, as Jewish and pro-Israel students feel silenced and threatened by the dangerous initiatives of those seeking to boycott and delegitimize Israel and Jewish communities,” WJC CEO Robert Singer said. “The groups presenting today have proven their courage and determination in striving for a more balanced dialogue and a safer space. The World Jewish Congress stands fully behind their advocacy efforts. Together, we can and will change the conversation about Israel and anti-Semitism on campus.”
Israel’s Consul General Dani Dayan said, “They say we are the start-up nation, but I believe we are the innovation nation. When it comes to public diplomacy, however, it can be difficult for us to come up with new ideas. We need more innovative, out of the box thinking and we believe that students and the next generation can give us ideas that are maybe overlooked. The other reason for this competition is so important is because the battle for Israel’s legitimacy, for justice, is mainly fought on campuses, and you are our young ambassadors.
The other finalists in the 2018 Campus Pitch Competition included NYU student Rebecca Stern, who proposed a campus roundtable featuring panels of elected officials from the US and Israel with a wide variety of viewpoints; Cornell University students Adam Shapiro and Emily Klimberg, who plan to organize a mentorship program pairing Israeli mentors with non-Jewish students; Baruch College students Goldie Gross and Ben Davidov, who envision bringing students of all backgrounds together to create a mural representing Israel, the Holocaust, and other issues of the Jewish world; and University of Pittsburgh students Steven Field, Kathryn Fleisher, and Serena Mlawsky, who plan to create a four-part seminar about Israel that can’t be found in the classroom.
Cory Weiss, the WJC Special Projects Coordinator, one of the organizers of the event, was raised in Elmsford.
The Campus Pitch Initiative debuted in New York in the fall of 2015 for students in the Tri-State area, with the first competition being held in spring 2016. The project gradually expanded across the United States and to London in 2017, and is expected to launch in Europe and Latin America in the coming semesters.