By Jacob Shapiro
Pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students gather together at the GW Hillel Talk Israel tent.
Jewish and Muslim students came together in an atmosphere of respect and civility at George Washington University Hillel's Talk Israel tent. The event featured lectures and discussions with world-renowned experts in Middle East affairs, information booths, videos, and, above all, courteous discussion. George Washington University freshman Ilana Levinson loved what that event stood for: "Although there will always be opposing views, education and talking is the first step in presenting a peaceful solution."
The GW Hillel event was part of Hillel's Center for Israel Engagement Talk Israel initiative which was implemented by 20 Hillels across North America and funded by the Jim Joseph Fund. Jewish Agency for Israel Fellows and other Hillel professionals worked together to plan the program and staff the tents.
George Washington University Hillel Director Rabbi Yoni Kaiser-Blueth made his rounds at the event, greeting attendees and answering questions about Israel and the peace process. "Talk Israel creates a place to bring students together to open dialogue that does not exist currently," he explained. "This is the first attempt, at least at George Washington University, to build bridges of understanding." Rabbi Kaiser-Blueth expressed hope that "relationships will hopefully be forged, and respect will be established."
The event was coordinated by Jewish Agency Israel fellow, Noam Aricha and George Washington University senior, Arielle Heffez. "It was an incredible learning process," Heffez says. "If I can right one wrong toward Israel in a positive light then I feel like I accomplished something today."
A series of prominent experts contributed to the dialogues throughout the day, beginning with a discussion between GW professors Mohammad Faghfoory, who is Muslim, and Robert Eisen, who is Jewish. Students sat around a table as the professors patiently explored the differences and similarities between the two religions. Students in pro-Palestinian t-shirts joined their pro-Israel counterparts in the conversation.
Hillel International President Wayne Firestone stopped by the event for a mid-day open dialogue session. Students asked him questions pertaining to the current climate in the Middle East.
David Jaffe, also a freshman, felt motivated by the event. "The power is in us, the students, to influence communication within the community to begin a real peace process," he said.
Co-Coordinator Arielle Heffez expressed excitement that "both sides were able to come together to express their thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict."
Jacob Shapiro is an intern with Hillel's Communications Department.