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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

BZA fo’ life

Club examines Israel and Zionism (beyond the politics)

Published: March 11, 2011
Section: Features

Sivan Levine ’13 is so passionate about the Brandeis Zionist Alliance (BZA) that her weekly presidential e-mails to the club are littered with exclamation points and signed “BZA fo’ life.” The group, which has been on campus for decades, is a cultural club that attempts to provide a positive image of Israel through educational and cultural events.

Through campus programs that highlight cultural aspects of Israel, BZA gives students “an outlet to express their love” for the country, Levine said. These include events like a gourmet buffet to showcase Israeli culture through food and participating in the second annual Israel Peace Week, a national celebration focusing on different aspects of Israeli culture.

During Israel Peace Week, BZA passed out items like reusable water bottles, to represent Israel’s green initiatives, and Lebanese pita with Israeli hummus, to symbolize the potential for a relationship between Lebanon and Israel. “A lot of our event planning is thinking of ways to educate people on why we think Israel is awesome and deserves attention,” Levine said, adding that plans are in the works for Israeli Culture Week, which will take place some time before finals. It normally falls on Israel’s Independence Day, but this year the holiday is during exams.

There have also been Israel Shabbat celebrations co-sponsored with Hillel and Chabad. BZA is under the Hillel umbrella, a relationship that Levine hopes to strengthen and maintain.

Although Zionism, included in the club’s name, is usually associated with political views, Levine stressed that the group focuses on culture and, as far as she knows and always has. “Zionism isn’t necessary a political opinion, it’s just an ideology. It’s complex, but it works for us,” she said.

The group begins their weekly meetings with the Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee (BIPAC), a pro-Israel lobbying group. “BIPAC and BZA have always shared a special bond and a similar outlook in continuing the positive and fair outlook of Israel on our campus. Each club embraces its own identity, while still maintaining a mutually beneficial partnership with shared resources,” BIPAC Vice President Alanna Drasin ’13 said.

The two groups often discuss Israeli politics and current events, but Levine said she feels that the group “has to cater to a broad amount of things, including politics,” and that politics falls under the umbrella of Israeli culture.

“We’ve responded to things and events that we deem completely anti-Israel, but everyone here has different opinions and I can’t choose to honor some people’s opinions over others,” she said. “We’re just here to advocate for and on behalf of Israel’s reputation.”

BZA has partnered with other Israel-related clubs and groups with defined political stances. Brian Reeves ’11, president of J Street U, said that his organization and BZA have worked together, and their paths rarely conflict. BZA focuses on culture and J Street U emphasizes Israeli politics, particularly advocating for peace by way of a two-state solution. He did add, however, that BZA has run programs that “have been overtly political, and when that happens, those political messages usually differ from J Street U positions.”

Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), has also worked with BZA in events like last semester’s Jewish dialogue event, organized by J Street U. Lev Hirschhorn ’11, a co-founder of JVP, said that his organization’s mission is to “advocate for a just and lasting peace in Israel-Palestine,” which he said sometimes conflicts with BZA’s events. One example he gave was the Israel Peace Week event “Peace Process 101: All You Need is AHAVA.” At the event, BZA passed out AHAVA beauty products from the Dead Sea to represent the relationship between Jordan and Israel, both of whom border the Dead Sea. JVP boycotts AHAVA because their products are made in what JVP considers to be illegal Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories, and thus are “an obstacle to peace,” Hirschhorn said.

“I know there are groups who oppose us, and we appreciate and value discussion,” Levine said, adding again that most members of BZA have different political views, and come together to share their love for Israel.

Levine fell in love with the country when she spent a semester there before coming to Brandeis as a midyear last year. “The second the plane landed, I felt like I was home. As cheesy as that sounds, I’d never felt a connection like that before. It encouraged me to learn more when I got to Brandeis,” Levine said. She quickly became involved with several clubs, but BZA is the only one she has stayed involved with, serving as vice president under Rachel Goutman ’12, who is now abroad, and president this semester. “I got close with the people in it. I love them, and I love that they have the same beliefs as me when it comes to Israel.”