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Shavit Rootman ’20.
Courtesy | Shavit Rootman

Hillsdale College alumnus Shavit Rootman ‘20 rep­re­sented his home country of Israel in a dis­cussion about COVID-19 and the Middle East on “The Hill,” an inde­pendent political news site on Dec. 7. 

“I was con­tacted, out of the blue, by a lady from the Israeli embassy who told me that she wanted to interview me. I was inter­viewed and then asked to rep­resent Israel in this dis­cussion. I’ve done a lot of public speaking for non­profits and pro-Israeli orga­ni­za­tions, but I still don’t know how they found me,” Rootman said. 

Nom­i­nated by the Israeli embassy, Rootman joined two other college stu­dents from the United Arab Emi­rates in a his­toric, online conference. 

Rootman explained that he was asked to join this con­ver­sation because of the Abraham Accords, a joint statement between Israel, Bahrain, the United States, and the UAE. These peace treaties, passed under Trump’s admin­is­tration, nor­malizes rela­tions between the par­tic­i­pating coun­tries. Israelis were now allowed to travel, trade, and com­mu­nicate with the UAE — things that were pre­vi­ously illegal. 

“This con­ference was one of the first glimpses I, as an Israeli, ever had with people from the United Arab Emi­rates,” Rootman said. “Think about that. Before these accords, to some people in these coun­tries, it would be a crime to con­verse with someone like me. So it was the first time I had the chance to talk with people from the United Arab Emi­rates, and that’s mind boggling.”

In order to prepare for this his­toric con­ference, Rootman mas­tered sta­tistics from the Israeli Department of Labor and the Department of the Treasury to under­stand how COVID-19 affected the current job market in Israel. Rootman used that infor­mation and his own expe­rience adapting to a post-COVID economy to present the Israeli sit­u­ation and offer advice. 

“The job world for recent grads was com­pletely stagnant last May. So I had to tran­sition from asking myself what I wanted to do, to instead asking what I actually could do in this envi­ronment,” Rootman said. “I explained on the show that the Abraham Accords were a huge game changer in the Middle East because Israeli com­panies can provide so much tech­nology, and there are actually oppor­tu­nities to travel and work in other coun­tries. People really just need to be flexible and open-minded.” 

Speaking on “The Hill” and pre­senting infor­mation about the Israeli economy and foreign rela­tions was some­thing Rootman said he could never have predicted. 

“When I got to Hillsdale, I was going into the pre-med track. But the more business and pol­itics classes I took, the more I realized that my passion lay in doing some­thing for the public good in Israel,” Rootman said.

Lee Baron, a chem­istry pro­fessor at Hillsdale College, said she noticed some­thing spark in Rootman after he took his first pol­itics class. 

“He was in the Con­sti­tution course with Dr. Habib and I just saw him find his passion,” Baron said. “Shavit was a man that did it all at Hillsdale. He majored in exercise science, minored in bio­chem­istry and German, and took as many business and pol­itics classes as he could.” 

It was in these classes, Rootman said, that he learned to wrestle with deep con­cepts, explore them, research them, and even­tually master them, which helped give him the nec­essary tools to par­tic­ipate on this show. 

“It really mat­tered for me to rep­resent Hillsdale well. I wanted to show that as a con­ser­v­ative insti­tution, it does not brainwash you, but it teaches you how to make up your own mind,” Rootman said. “I was grateful for this oppor­tunity to show that Hillsdale, as an insti­tution, has great minds out there and that we strive towards the right things.”

Rootman was men­tored by Robert E. Norton II, Hillsdale College’s vice pres­ident and general counsel. Norton said he noticed how much Rootman ben­e­fitted the oppor­tu­nities at Hillsdale and how he attempted to help advance and give back to the college whenever he could. 

“I cer­tainly think he was always very appre­ciative for attending Hillsdale and was very respectful of it,” Norton said. “Shavit was a good ambas­sador of Israel at a time when the college was getting a lot more exposure to Israel, and he was a great ambas­sador for his country.”

Baron explained that this appre­ci­ation for Hillsdale actually led Rootman to his success today. 

“I mean, who would have thought that this exercise science major would be engaging in major dis­cus­sions about Middle Eastern rela­tions?” Baron said. “Who could have dreamed that his ability to under­stand and apply basic con­cepts would lead him to his work now? He con­tinues to amaze me, just as many of my stu­dents do after they graduate because they’re focused on making a difference.” 

A dif­ference is the one thing Rootman hoped to have made from his time at Hillsdale to his par­tic­i­pation on “The Hill.”

“It’s not about me. I want people to under­stand how unpar­al­leled the achieve­ments of the Abraham Accords and the last admin­is­tration were in the Middle East. It changed lives for Israelis and Arabs alike,” Rootman said. “And I want others to know how capable and unique people from Hillsdale College are, and how proud I was to be selected to such a global thinking event from this institution.”