By Harrison Goldstein
Lunch Bunch Israel, a new program that meets weekly to eat lunch and discuss individual experiences with Israel, held its first full meeting in the Hillel dining room Monday afternoon.
The group, which held a small pilot meeting last week, is designed to be a casual setting in which students can learn about other people’s experiences in Israel, and converse on topics relevant to Israel and Jews in general.
Junior economics and public policy major Mia Carmel, one of the organizers of Lunch Bunch, further explained the purpose of the group.
“We want to have more of a space for people to talk about Israel on campus, to share ideas and talk about experiences and talk about things that we might not be able to share with others,” Carmel said. “We know this can be a challenging, sensitive and emotional topic, so that’s why we want to open up this space. We want people with a connection to Israel, whether it was gap year or Birthright or anything else, to remark on those experiences.”
One activity Carmel and other organizers of the group facilitated was “six word memoirs:” each participant was instructed to write six words that encompass his or her experience with Israel.
Sophomore public policy major Mia Stein’s six words were “My community, my family, my home.”
“I’ve always found that Israel is something that I’m able to bond with people over,” said Stein, who has been going to Israel since she was six months old. “Everyone is warm, friendly and welcoming like family. I really feel that [Israel is my second home].”
One aspect of the meeting that Hillel’s Israel Fellow Shira Gabay noticed was the overwhelmingly positive nature of the statements made about Israel by those who spoke first.
Gabay insisted that it is important to discuss everything when talking about Israel, not just the first positive thing that comes to mind.
“What is the next story you tell when you’re engaging in that conversation about Israel?” Gabay asked the group.
In response, freshman biology major Veronica Leifer discussed a worrying event that she witnessed last year while in Israel.
“Women of the Wall is an organization that, on Rosh Chodesh [the first day of each month in the Hebrew calendar] goes and prays at the Kotel, reads Torah, wears tallit and tefillin, and it’s all sort of illegal,” Leifer said, referring to the gender segregation and limitations on religious clothing worn by women at the Kotel. “Basically, we went to the wall and all these Jewish leaders were there and religious men were ripping Torahs out of women’s arms. It was beautiful and scary.”
Junior psychology major Pamela Kekst commended Leifer for describing the worrying situation.
“One of the things about Lunch Bunch is that it takes the most amount of effort to talk about things that are difficult,” Kekst said.
So where did the idea for Lunch Bunch come from?
“[Pamela and I] went to this workshop, and the intention was for us, as student leaders, to bring back methods to bring Israel conversation to campus,” Carmel said. “It was a compilation of ideas. We got inspired by the workshop in general, but I did come up with the name ‘Lunch Bunch.’”
Despite the success of the meeting, Carmel believes that there are still ways that the young group can improve itself moving forward.
“In an ideal situation, people would be bringing up questions themselves,” Carmel said. “Right now, we’re forcing it a little bit because we want people to talk about things that they don’t normally talk about. [Next semester], we want this to become a fellowship where you commit to doing three or four weeks in a row, which could lead to what we want, which is a deeper level of engagement.”