“No Fear!..We're Going to Israel!”

New U.F. IACT Coordinator calls on Students to ”Step Up!”

You'd think it'd be a tough gig to launch an Israel engagement initiative hot on the heels of one of the hardest summers in Israeli history but think again. First year IACT coordinator Gia Campana at the University of Florida hit the ground running with a string of creative initiatives countering security fears and placing Israel and the upcoming Winter Birthright season in the spotlight as students started out a new academic year.

Gia, 23, a recent University of Florida graduate who fell in love with Israel on her first visit aged 16 was appointed to the new role in May keen to share everything the country has to offer with FU students “Our whole motto, since day 1 has been "Step Up" she says. “With U.F. being a very pro-Israel campus we were able to challenge students and by doing so helping other feel safe to go to Israel.” Starting in July, during Operation Protective Edge, Gia and her team empowered students to Step up and create their own programs leading by example with their own 'Israel Crisis Awareness Week', educating about the situation and channelling the energy on campus towards activism support for Israel. Countering Specific security concerns about the upcoming Winter Birthright trip, Gia Arnstein, Director of Taglit-Birthright's Israel Experts held a special information session while Israeli tour guide Elaun Rave, visited the campus registering a nice number of students in one night! The start of term also saw tension increased on the Florida campus with a spate of attacks on female students. Enlisting the help of two Israeli combat specialists visiting Florida at the time, Gia organised a special Krav Maga self defense training evening which attracted 150 coeds and helped to calm fears!

The Taglit-Birthright Israel recruitment campaign at U.F. has also been very upbeat with an over arching theme of STEP UP, encouraging students to increase their activism and sign up to claim their free trip to Israel. A table was set up on campus with a 'Free ice cream - Free Trip' give-away in return for students registering interest in a trip. Posters and flyers encouraged students to 'Spend New Years in Israel,' and at Greek events around the campus Freshmen were invited to “Start the New Year with 40 new friends!” “My sales team has become the birthright face on campus,” Gia explains. “They have all taken the role very seriously, and have each become the Taglit-Birthright Israel representative in their individual sorority and fraternity chapters. We have meetings every Sunday and come up with strategies to be ready for the upcoming week. We also use this time to call every individual we met the past week and connect once again with them. I also created a countdown for each of my team members that they can rip off as soon as one their participants pays their deposit! My team has not only helped me recruit but also has become a little family.”

With registration in full swing, Gia offers three tips to recruitment success. #1“Empowering students to talk to their friends and other students was the best thing. Hearing from someone your age that they are not afraid to go to Israel is a powerful strategy that I was able to utilize. # 2 Knowing when to rest your case is important. Respecting that sometimes the best thing for a student is not to register at that moment is very important, it helps you create a bond with that student. # 3 Keeping a positive attitude and never giving up on the possibility of new participants has helped me and my team.

This positivity, commitment and eye for an opportunity paid off most recently during Rosh Hashanah at U.F. where Gia took the initiative making a speech during services encouraging students to overcome their anxieties and sign up for the trip of a lifetime. “I had 3 students that shared my message with their parents and are now going this winter.” She explained, adding, “Students have not only stepped up, they are also proud to say that they will be going to Israel this winter and that they will not let fear stop them from experiencing Taglit-Birthright Israel.”

Way to go!

Registration is still open for this winter's Taglit-Birthright trip!

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