Yakir Daniel’s dream, as a Jewish Agency Israel Fellow at George Mason University Hillel, is “to build a bridge between students and Israel” and not only enhance their connection with the Jewish state, “but also the connection between Jewish values and Jewish life.”
Daniel, age 29, from a kibbutz near Haifa, arrived at Mason as the Fall semester began and will spend one to two years working with Ross Diamond, Mason Hillel executive director.
“I feel at home already and appreciate the welcoming atmosphere created by the Northern Virginia Jewish community,” Daniel says. Since his arrival, students say, he seems to be everywhere at once: handing out humus and cooking Shakshuka for students, building the sukkah, becoming a fixture at Israel Student Association meetings.
Aside from being everyone’s favorite Kiddush leader at Shabbat dinners, Yakir brings a passion and experience to campus that has been instrumental in supporting a change of culture on our campus,” says Mason senior Nathan Smuckler from Yorktown, Va.
Jewish Agency Fellows are young Israelis who have served in the Israel Defense Forces, who become a campus resource, sharing their experiences, and in doing so reflect Israel’s values and accomplishments.
According to the Jewish Agency, “they often become the face of Israel for students, offering them a unique and authentic relationship with Israel and Israelis.”
“I will try to engage with Jewish students, including those who sit on fence and don’t want to be involved,” says Daniel. “Our goal is to cause them to be more involved. I believe that I can touch every Jewish student and hope I can be an influence.“
While in the Israel Defense Forces, Daniel rose to the rank of Captain and served as an information technology project officer, including responsibility for IT training. He holds a B.sc in Computer Science. “I just graduated myself; my Army service delayed my degree. So I have a lot in common with the Mason students, but I can also relate to them about my experience in Israel and in the army and not just about conflict, but about ordinary life in Israel. I can also be a resource, I want to share my knowledge of IT and innovation in the computer field,” he says.
Daniel’s mother, a retired teacher, was born in Egypt. His father, a retired transportation manager, is from India. They immigrated with their parents to Israel as children. So it is not surprising that when Daniel reached beyond Hillel and began to build bonds with other campus student organizations, his first stop was the Indian student club. His father is from Cuchin, in Kerala State in India, a place he visited with his father last year. He says he believes it can be a good relationship. Daniel is also a Fellow of the public diplomacy program, “Stand With Us,” which is dedicated to informing the public about Israel and to combating extremism and anti-Semitism.
Daniel says the biggest surprise he has had at George Mason came on the first day he walked into the Johnson Center, the university’s student union. He spotted a banner advertising the well-organized anti-Israel group on campus, Students Against Israeli Apartheid. He says he welcomes dialogue about Israel with non-Jewish students. “I want to be open to all students who want to talk about Israel and conflict,” he says, adding he looks forward to helping members of the Mason community know more about Israel. “I appreciate the curiosity of students and my goal is to reach out to as many as possible.”
Even prior to his arrival at George Mason, Daniel made a lasting impression on Hillel director Diamond. “My cousin was severely injured in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge. After sharing this with Yakir he sent a friend to visit him in the hospital in Beer Sheva. He sent me a picture of my entire mishpucha (family). It was incredibly moving to me. Yakir is the type of person to go above and beyond for a friend, because of his commitment to his Jewish values. This is the type of leadership I see him imparting to our students.”
The Israel Fellow at George Mason University is generously supported by the Tidewater Jewish community.
by Fred Cooper