Rewind 2 years…
The Florida Loves Israel Conference sprang from the minds of two young men during the summer of 2011. Daniel Ackerman and Terry Rydz, then-current President and Vice President of Noles for Israel at Florida State University respectively, were on their way to the Jewish Symposium hosted by the Consulate General. Jewish Federation leaders and Student leaders from every major university and city in the state were represented. As the students discussed what they had done and anti-Israel opposition they had met, the conversation quickly turned from friendly to sour. The representatives all began to try and outdo one another’s campus triumphs and tribulations, all in the unsaid goal of getting the praise and attention of the rest of the conference attendees.
At the time the world saw massive anti-Israel conferences taking place. While Israel’s detractors were making progress with rapidity, Israel advocates were trailing behind, constantly being forced into reactive and defensive positions.
Surrounded by fellow students, Daniel and Terry were struck by the growing need to strengthen the nearly non-existent relationship between the college pro-Israel activists in Florida. With this realization, the beginnings of FLI began to form.
On their drive home from the symposium, with miles stretching out before them, the white lines of the road blurring into the rest of the pavement, Daniel and Terry found themselves engrossed in a concept: a statewide conference for pro-Israel students, which would unite and educate all those who attended.
With this idea came a concrete goal: to give Floridian students a platform to unite in support of the State of Israel. Not only would this conference collect pro-Israel students from universities across the state, but it would also propel these students into the proactive and offensive positions necessary to fully combat and overpower the hate and falsities spewing from the anti-Israel forces.
Even before Daniel and Terry returned to FSU’s campus, they were reaching out to the pro-Israel community at large. The young men found skeptical resistance, however, with a great deal of endurance and a large helping of ingenuity, the conference began to gain traction.
Another determining factor of the conference was the unearthing of scattered student leaders from all across FSU’s campus. Ron Krudo, a junior undergraduate student at the time, approached Daniel while he was tabling for Noles for Israel on the first day of classes.
Having just returned from volunteering in Israel for the summer, Ron was eager to get involved, despite having never been involved with Noles for Israel before. Daniel and Terry brought him on board, and introduced him to the idea of Florida Loves Israel.
Ron went on to be the Director of the inaugural Florida Loves Israel conference.
This is a perfect example of the magnetism that FLI both holds and exudes. As the word spread, more students from across campus rose up to join the FLI team. These students gave their time, devotion, and personal vision to the conference. Without the contributions of the individual student leaders, the incredible Israel community, and the whole-hearted support of FSU’s Hillel, FLI would have simply stayed an idea; with their help, FLI became a concrete plan.
Not only were the students attracted to the mission of the conference, but also planning the conference as students for other students was fun. The first FLI team knew their target audience because they were among their target audience. What could possibly entice college students to drive hundreds of miles round trip in the middle of the school semester for a weekend program? The key, they found, is relevancy. People rally around events, more specifically, events that embody a belief or ideal they hold. The magnetic nature of student run conferences is a defining reason why the Florida Loves Israel conference is a solution to many issues that plague the Israel advocacy realm.
Apathy can at times seem like an impenetrable wall. The FLI team set out to defeat apathy by swallowing it whole and opening up the space for something much stronger: passion-driven responsibility.
Here’s FLI’s solution, in the words of co-founder Daniel Ackerman:
Why our model works is because FLI creates a healthy competition amongst students to lead the initiatives that everybody else looks up too. When you create competition- this leads to commitment, which leads to a sense of ownership and responsibility. When you have ownership over something it drives you to create real change.
These words have now been proven true twice over. Florida Loves Israel’s inaugural conference saw the attendance of 130 students from all different backgrounds across 7 major universities. In its second year, hosted by the University of Florida and directed by sophomore Alyssa Baron and senior Rick Rosenbluth, FLI brought together a critical mass of 150 diverse students from 9 major universities. In the two years since its inception, FLI has attracted and woven together the support of 39 regional, national and international co-sponsoring organizations. FLI is a program that not only rallies your current leaders, but it builds future ones as well as gets people’s foot in the door who otherwise would not be engaged with Israel.
The conference is designed to operate on a yearly rotating basis. This allows a different university to host FLI each year with new students developing key leadership skills not found anywhere else through the experience of planning and executing such a massive program. By handing it off each year, we share in a renewable process of responsibility and excitement in creating fresh and engaging conferences that build off of the success’s and failure’s of the previous year.
A statewide sense of unity has been on the rise in the nationwide pro-Israel community since the first FLI breakout session on February 2nd, 2012. This growing unity, this shared and solemn belief in the importance of speaking and acting on behalf of the nation we all love so much is what will strengthen the youth in the pro-Israel community as activists, and will solidify them as lifelong representatives of the State of Israel.
One of the keynote speakers of the inaugural conference, Yishai Fliesher, put into words the resounding spirit of Future Leaders for Israel: “[it is] not just advocacy for Israel, not [just] supporting Israel, but being Israel.”