By Jacqueline Chase
To kick off Israel Week, Hillel partnered with Resetting the Table to give students a space to discuss their relationship with Israel Thursday night.
Students gathered in Van Munching Hall for “Your Israel Story,” where they shared their experiences and thoughts on their connection to Israel and Israel’s conflict with Palestine.
Several students shared personal stories with the attendees, including Elysa Zebersky, a senior English major who discussed her time in Israel where she found safety alongside Israelis in a bomb shelter, the same shelter she would later attend a party in. She said she was impressed by their ability to make a scary situation feel safe.share
Junior psychology and economics major Yahel Elimelech talked about being an Israeli in the U.S. and her experience with the question of whether she would return to Israel.
“I wanted to share as an Israeli,” Elimelech said. “This is my time to share and be a part of Israel week. I thought it was an important platform for me and a community to be a part of. And I liked how personal it was.”
Senior community health major Ben Bryer was the MC for the night. He said, “I think the stories were really well told, people were really passionate about it and had a really good understanding of what they wanted to relate to the audience.”
In addition to hearing stories, Resetting the Table facilitators-in-training guided conversations at five tables during the event. Resetting the Table is a national organization that has visited over 70 campuses to help students share their Israeli experiences and discuss topics important to Israel. They had attendees share their experiences with their table and prompted further conversations with questions.
Facilitators’ jobs are to create the comfortable environment for discussions on Israel to help people learn about different perspectives, according to Rachel Gartner, who is a facilitator-in-training.
Freshman business major Arielle Gottlieb thought the facilitators did a good job in creating that environment.
“It was really one of the first times I’ve been comfortable speaking about my views on Israel-Palestine,” Arielle Gottlieb, a freshman business major, said. “I felt comfortable and that there was a strong productive narrative going on.”
In addition to discussing personal relationships to Israel, speakers and attendees discussed their thoughts on the Israel-Palestine conflict.
Junior marketing major David Rosenstein told the story of how he grew sympathetic for the Palestinian point of view in a series of interactions in 2018 after Israel Fest. At the end of Israel week, students of this university celebrate Israeli pride on McKeldin Mall. For the past three years, Students for Justice in Palestine have protested the event. Last year, the PRIDE Alliance supported SJP for the first time, leading Rosenstein, a previous member of the PRIDE Alliance, to post a Facebook message.
Rosenstein told the students at the event that he had thoughtfully planned the message to make sure his readers understood the conflict in seeing an organization he previously identified with supporting one that is in direct contrast to his beliefs.
After posting, another student challenged him in a response, leading both to enter a conversation where Rosenstein said he learned that not all people practicing Judaism support Israel. Since this conversation he said he has been confused and has returned to Israel where he has listened to speakers on both sides.
“Now I realize that there is so much validity in being confused and not knowing everything,” Rosenstein said during his presentation. “There is something that is so okay with having these dual identities and not having all the answers and I didn’t know that before.”
Jonah Anderson, a junior broadcast journalism major, shared his experience hearing a Palestinian woman discuss her perspective on the conflict between Palestine and Israel. He said listening to her and the pro-Israel audience showed him the importance of listening to both sides and understanding what each group sees as their truths.
Bryer spoke of an internal conflict between his Jewish identity and his general relationship to Israel, and he said that he was happy to hear that others shared this conflict.