The Shield of David is a non-profit organization founded by Dr. Eli Ben Moshe, an optometrist in Ocean Beach and Brian Blacher, born and raised in South Africa, in conjunction with other members of the San Diego community who believe “we are our brothers’ keepers.” The mission and goals of the organization are to increase Jewish college students’ pride in their Jewish identity and improve their safety as cases of anti-Semitism on campus increase.
Ben Moshe reported one example of anti-Semitism he witnessed, which resulted in a student at the University of California-Berkeley having to walk 20 minutes out of his way to attend classes to avoid confrontation from BDS groups. BDS is an organization that mandates boycotting, divesting from, and sanctioning Israel (Anti-Defamation League, 2020). The presence of BDS on college campuses has contributed to the overall rise in anti-Semitism on college campuses.
Recently, both Ben Moshe and Blacher were disappointed and alarmed over disparaging remarks about Israel from four congresswomen. Their remarks went unchallenged by other members of Congress, including Jewish members. Further, recent reports of rising antisemitic incidents on U.S. college campuses contributed to their concern for their own children, which culminated in the forming of the Shield of David program.
Shield of David is the English translation for the Hebrew Magen David, also known as the Star of David. As a symbol, the Star of David communicates Jewishness and has an associated history marked by persecution of the Jewish people. The Shield of David organization’s purpose is to bolster Jewish identity and pride in Jewish college students and to instill mental and physical strength to combat anti-Semitism.
Ben Moshe and Blacher were determined to help Jewish college students be proud Jews able to stand up to bigotry and hatred. Toward that aim, they created a program that consists of six weekly educational sessions followed by Krav Maga practice. The program, free to college students, is held at a Jewish facility on or near their campus.
A style of martial arts practiced by thousands worldwide, Krav Maga is Hebrew for “close combat” and best known as an Israeli combat discipline. The practice is an important aspect of the Shield of David program because it has a pioneering role in the use of situational awareness and reflex responses to attack and is a reflection of historical and political events affecting Jewish people from the late nineteenth century.
“Reflex, unconscious reaction, and self-defense are integral to the training needed for Jewish college students to remain safe,” Ben Moshe said.
Six Weekly Sessions
All six educational modules are standardized so that content is the same at all participating campuses. Each educational session is no more that 15-20 minutes in length, interactive, and allows students to participate with questions and/or responses to specific queries by the instructor. Essential content is related to pride in being Jewish, identifying Jewish heroes, anti-Semitism from the past, contemporary anti-Semitism, and building both mental and physical confidence and strength.
The Krav Maga curriculum is also standardized and uniform across sites. Classes have all been beta tested and modified based on student input. The education and self-defense modules were first developed by Shield of David at a college in Boulder, Colo., where several anti-Semitic attacks had occurred. The course was held near the Boulder campus. A local rabbi, Rabbi Yisreol Wilhelm reported many students who came to school had a less than well-defined Jewish identity, but after taking the classes, they began socializing with other Jewish students and attended Jewish functions and activities at Chabad, the host organization at the Boulder campus. The program, in this case, served as an introduction to other Jewish students and morphed into a closer association with Jewish activities. One of the valuable aspects of the program is that participating Jewish students network and identify with each other to learn they are not alone.
Participating students have responded positively to the Shield of David program. Today, the organization has received multiple requests from Jewish organizations to provide the program at their site. More than 15 programs were scheduled to begin this Fall at colleges and universities, but the coronavirus pandemic has delayed the start of in-person classed on campus, delaying the Shield fo David program as well.
The Shield of David organization funds the program and provides the overall organization and structuring of the program, including contacting schools, Jewish organizations and synagogues who might be interested in hosting. There is no cost to the students for participation, and at the end of the program, each student receives a certificate of completion from Israel. Names of students who complete the program are listed on a permanent roster at Shield of David headquarters; this makes them eligible to participate in future programs as ambassadors or in other volunteer roles.
Ben Moshe reports there’s been a request to place the program at an additional 200 schools. Although program costs are minimal, the organization is not prepared to honor all requests made as additional funds and volunteers are needed for that to occur.
“Community support has been rewarding but additional donations are needed to continuing building this extremely worthwhile organization and to place the programs on more and more college campuses,” he said.
You can contribute to the ongoing work of Shield of David by visiting shieldofdavid18.com to make a donation. Should you wish to sponsor the program at a particular school or organization, Shield of David is available. With Shield of David, the community can work together to keep Jewish college students safe and proud of their identity.