Aaron Karas for Atlanta Jewish Times

Aaron Karas says camp provides positive reinforcement for Zionism and Israel engagement.

By David R. Cohen | david@atljewishtimes.com

Emory University junior Aaron Karas is one of the two national winners of the inaugural Goodman Prize for Israel Engagement on Campus.

The national award honors students who have created dynamic Israel experiences at their college campuses and summer camps. Rebecca Starr, a freshman at Concordia University in Montreal  who works at Camp Kinneret, was the second recipient of the 2015 award.

Karas is a staff member at Camp Judaea in Hendersonville, N.C., and the president of Emory Students for Israel.

“It’s really exciting to get this award,” he said. “It encourages me to know that people actually care. Sometimes it’s hard to tell if what you’re doing on campus really matters.”

As the president of Emory Students for Israel, Karas works to improve perceptions of and engagement with Israel through positive Israeli cultural experiences. He attended Alexander Muss High School in Israel and the Young Judaea year course in Israel and is staffing a Birthright trip in the coming weeks.

At Emory, Karas helped found Tamid, which connects business-minded students with the Israeli economy through education, consulting and an eight-week summer internship.

During the summer Karas is the sports director at Camp Judaea. He said the camp is where he learned how to approach Israel in a fun, positive way.

“I’ve had a lot of engagement with Israel and Zionism throughout my life,” he said. “But camp was always kind of the fun way of reinforcing all that. You learn about it at school, but at camp it’s really reinforced in a positive way and in a way that makes you want to learn about it.”

The selection criteria for the Goodman Prize include success at adapting camp experiences to the college campus. That’s an area where Karas excels, said the assistant director of Camp Judaea, David Berlin.

“Aaron has taken so much of what he’s learned at Camp Judaea, and many of the Israel experiences we learned about through the Goodman Camping Initiative, and brought them to school,” Berlin said. “He never misses an opportunity to make Israel a part of the experience.”

As part of the award, Karas will receive $360 for on- and off-campus Israel engagement.

Karas is a premed student at Emory but said he is thinking of moving to Israel upon graduation to join the Israel Defense Forces.

“I want some sort of time in Israel after I graduate,” he said.