There’s always an element of the unexpected when ISRAEL21c’s Digital Ambassadors get together for a retreat. You’re never entirely sure what ideas will emerge, but one thing you can count on is that they will be wildly creative.

This August, 27 students from colleges across the United States flew to Chicago for the second ISRAEL21c Ambassadors Retreat, “Telling Israel’s Story,” a three-day event that included talks, mini competitions and a hackathon.

The students, from colleges such as UCLA, Arizona State University, Indiana University, Pepperdine University and UC Berkeley, developed memes, quizzes, Instagram posts and a variety of other imaginative and collaborative ideas for new digital content.

From left to right, Frankie Alchanati, Marcella Bluth, Julia Woolf, Jocelyn Gordon and Emily Flyer. Photo by Nicky Blackburn

Also at the event were key members of ISRAEL21c’s staff including myself – the Editor and Israel Director; Amy Friedkin, President of ISRAEL21c’s Board of Directors; Organizational Consultant Pearl Kane; Communications Strategist Nathan Miller; and Rachel Poulin, ISRAEL21c’s new Outreach & Engagement Coordinator.

Staff from the iCenter for Israel Education, which provided logistics and planning for the event, also took part in the retreat, including Ayal Weiner-Kaplow, Arielle Rosenberg, Lynnley Miller and Dan Tatar.

“The ISRAEL21c Ambassadors Retreat is a unique gathering of students from around the country, coming together to learn strategic communications and social-media tools that they’ll use throughout the year to share ISRAEL21c’s original, fascinating stories about meaningful, diverse, innovative things happening in Israel,” said Friedkin.

“I was so proud of our program as I watched these students create community, share their Israel story, and learn the power of social-media skills,” she added.

From left to right, Joey Kirsch, Kaitlyn Sheinhartz, Jeremy Rosenberg, Sasha Sherman and Erica Lester. Photo by Nicky Blackburn

ISRAEL21c founded its Digital Ambassador program in the US four years ago. The program has been a resounding success, with student ambassadors placing ISRAEL21c content in diverse publications worldwide, and at the same time developing and enhancing their own relationship with Israel.

The first ISRAEL21c Ambassadors Retreat was held in January this year, also in Chicago, and brought together 25 students from the program.

From left to right, student ambassadors Daniel Lebovitz, Matt Kotler, Rachel Mitchell and Sharon Burke. Photo by Nicky Blackburn

This August, the students developed new and exciting ideas such as news cards condensing stories from ISRAEL21c to be distributed at campus events; social-media pages with insider travel tips to Israel targeted at Generation Z; Tech21cIL – a new tech sub-brand of ISRAEL21c on social-media accounts; an interactive map called “Peace of the Puzzle,” which focuses on humanitarian aid from Israel; and a new initiative to promote ISRAEL21c’s ambassador program.

An evolving program

“The thing I love most about this program is that it’s causing us to evolve,” said Jeremy Rosenberg from Wayne State University, who has been a Digital Ambassador for three years.

“By holding this event at the beginning of the school year, and starting us off together, it lets us incorporate what we learn. The students continue to get better. It’s really clear we are here together, working together and building relationships.”

“It was so beautiful to see so many people give up their time for a country they love so much,” agreed Marcella Bluth, also a student at Wayne State University. “To work with an organization that is so positive, like ISRAEL21c, is something I really care about, and wanted to find.”

“I never realized how much thought goes into social media,” admitted Joey Kirsch, from SUNY Binghamton. “All the good you can do with it just blew me away.”

From left to right, Zach Gluzman, Rose Ritch, Paul Zilberman, Camden Alchanati, Parker Alchanati and Luke Whartnaby. Photo by Nicky Blackburn

“The wonderful thing about this program is that all of our ambassadors have the same deep-rooted passion for Israel, but they’re all able to express it in their own ways,” said Poulin.

“Whether it’s by spreading an article on Israel’s latest humanitarian efforts in India or by distributing a story on Israeli microbreweries, we all come together knowing that we’re making a difference in the way that people understand and perceive Israel,” she said.

ISRAEL21c Digital Ambassadors enjoy a boat trip on Chicago’s famous waterway. Photo by Nicky Blackburn

This year there are 36 ISRAEL21c Digital Ambassadors taking part in the annual program.

Financial support for the retreat was provided by Susan and Moses Libitzky, the Koret Foundation and the Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation.

“Chicago was the perfect central location for us to gather as a group, share our passions about Israel, learn from each other, and kick off a great year of spreading positive stories about Israel,” said Friedkin.

If you’d like to apply to become a Digital Ambassador for the August 2019-May 2020 cohort, please click here.

Kaitlyn Sheinhartz models the t-shirt from the ISRAEL21c Digital Ambassadors retreat. Photo by Nicky Blackburn