The CAMERA Fellowship supports student leaders in developing and strengthening their pro-Israel activism on campus. With the school year underway, InFocus is giving you an inside look into the lives of the 2016-17 CAMERA Fellows who are working hard to promote the facts about Israel on campus.
Meet Orly Margulis.
Orly Margulis was born and raised in Venezuela. Growing up, she was an active member of the Jewish Community of Caracas, Venezuela where she learned all about Zionism, Jewish history, and Judaism.
Now a rising junior at Drexel University, Orly is studying Public Relations with a double minor in writing and marketing. When she became a Drexel Dragon, Orly yearned to once again be involved in Israel and Jewish activism as she was growing up. She soon joined CAMERA-supported group Dragons for Israel and participated in Chabad and Hillel. Orly volunteered to update Drexel Hillel’s social media pages and helps to organize pro-Israel events. In addition, Orly has written blogs in the Times of Israel about her college experience as a Jew and about the importance of Israel.
In the following quick question-answer session, Orly shares some of her experiences, on and off campus, regarding anti-Semitism and thoughts about this year’s Student Leadership and Advocacy Training Conference:
In Venezuela, did you face anti-Zionism or anti-Semitism? How did you react at the time?
I have never experienced anti-Semitism myself, but my community has faced it a lot. In 2009, some people broke in into one of the synagogues in Caracas, and defaced the entire place. The Torah books were stepped on and left on the floor, swastikas were drawn all over the walls and a lot of documents were stolen. President Chavez was extremely anti-Semitic, and he constantly targeted the Jewish community of Venezuela. More than once he cursed Israel and the Jewish people.
What kind of anti-Semitic and/or anti-Israel issues have you faced on campus?
One time, I met another student at a party and we were just talking while other people were playing some drinking games. He saw my Magen David (Star of David) necklace and immediately called me a “baby killer” and an “effing Jew.” Then, a few months later, one of my friends walked into his room, and saw a swastika painted beside his Israeli flag.
What prompted you to become involved in Israel advocacy?
I grew up going to a Jewish school and being part of the Jewish community of Venezuela, so I was always learning about Israel and the great things that Israel does. For me, being Zionist was never a question, but something innate. I was extremely involved with Jewish memorial ceremonies, Israel activism and the Jewish youth movement in Venezuela. I felt that I needed to continue this path once I started my college career. I also wanted to make my grandmother proud. She was such a Zionist—a pro-Israel activist who spoke about the Holocaust—that I wanted to give her nachas, or joy, in how I follow her example. I know she is looking down at me from heaven and is proud of my Israel advocacy work.
What do you think you gained at the conference? Do you feel more prepared now to respond to anti-Zionism? And if so, how exactly are you more prepared now?
I learned a lot during this conference! I met incredible people who gave me ideas for events and tables on campus. I became part of the greater CAMERA network—it is a support system in which I can request advice from expert Israel advocates on how to reply to an anti-Semitic comment on social media or just talk to when I am having a bad day. I am more prepared to react to anti-Zionism not only because I have a booklet full of strategies and information, but because I can depend on CAMERA’s support system. I am more confident now about how to set up a successful Israel advocacy table on our campus, how to speak up for Israel in front of a big crowd and how to be an advocate without fear.
What surprised you or what did you find particularly interesting at the conference?
The amount of questions anti-Israel activists ask! We had mock sessions in order to practice reacting to questions or statements against Israel. The same ridiculous questions kept coming up. The arguments against Israel are so far from the truth, yet anti-Israel activists hide behind them and refuse to listen to the whole story about Israel. Thankfully, Drexel is a university where that does not often happen so I had never been exposed to these kinds of outrageous questions before.
Most of the attendees at the conference were American-born. What do you think you contributed to the conference from your non-American perspective?
Because I go to college in United States, I don’t consider my non-American perspective as relevant to the conference. I am still a proud Venezuelan, but the strategies and ideas I learned at the conference are geared to help me advocate better at my university in America.
Since I now live in America, I did not feel very different from the mostly American group of advocates at the conference. But, of course, I have a great accent, which makes me a bit different from the American-born students.
As a Venezuelan, do you feel you bring an interesting perspective as an Israel advocate on campus? If so, how does this influence other students?
Venezuela, as many other Latin American countries, faces a lot of anti-Semitism. I went to a Jewish school my whole life, so I never encountered the misfortune of someone screaming anti-Semitic things at me in a school hallway. I feel that rather than bringing a different perspective, I bring my energy and eagerness to do more for Israel.
Do you think there are any Israel or advocacy-related issues that were not covered and discussed at the conference but that are still very important and should be taken note of?
Not really. The CAMERA conference was a great opportunity for me to learn a lot and be part of something bigger. I learned immensely from each session, the CAMERA staff, and my fellow students.