Nearing the end of Israel Week on campus, a group of Northwestern students came together Thursday night to share personal stories relating to Israel and what it means to them in an event put on by J Street U called Telling Your Israel Story.
Weinberg junior Dan Toubman stressed in his opening remarks that the evening was about creating a dialogue centered upon individual experiences.
“The point of this event is not to prove any political point, not to say that any stories are better than any other stories, just to sort of give people a safe space to share their relationship with Israel,” Toubman said.
NBN was given permission to share the stories below:
Jacqueline Soria, SESP senior
Soria said that when she agreed to speak on a panel about Israel on campus at a synagogue, she wasn’t sure what to say.
“I was worried that in the audience of elderly people, they would not be comfortable with me using the word 'occupation,'" Soria said. “So I was like ‘I’m not going to talk about being involved in advocacy on campus, I’m going to talk about ... how I went to a Jewish day school.'”
However, when Soria got to the event, she decided to share her full story.
“I talked to them about everything,” Soria said. “I came to talking about how I came into being involved in Israel advocacy, but how important is to me to speak about both of the peoples who live in the region and talking about a two-state solution.”
When the panel was opened up for a question and answer portion, Soria said, tensions began to flare.
A man in the audience asked why the Israeli-Palestinian conflict received more attention than conflicts like Syria. “He was like, ‘I recognize Palestinian suffering, but I don’t really understand why this is more of a focus than those other issues,’” Soria said.
After she told the man she appreciated that he recognized Palestinian suffering, Soria said, a woman jumped up from her seat and said she did not agree with what Soria was saying.
“I couldn’t finish,” Soria said. “I couldn’t believe that someone had publicly attacked me for saying….I recognize what the reality is today.”
As the event came to a close, however, Soria said other audience members approached her and thanked her for speaking, whether or not they agreed with her.
In those last moments, Soria said she realized that “opening up and trying to start a conversation ... is an opportunity for other people to open up and maybe continue the discussion with you."
Dan Toubman, Weinberg junior
Toubman studied abroad in Jordan, and during Ramadan he was invited over to a taxi driver’s home to break the fast after sunset. He was having a good time until he told the man he was Jewish.
“He went on this whole long tirade about how he hated Israel and he felt that Hitler had the right ideas, but only with Israel and not with the Jews,” Toubman said. “And that made me super uncomfortable and I had to leave.”
A few weeks later, some students from the program took a trip to Israel. When they crossed the border, Toubman said he felt like he was going home.
When he tried to meet up with his group in the West Bank a few days later, his taxi driver kept warning him that it would not be safe.
“He started accusing me of being a traitor,” Toubman said. “He said, ‘Do you hate Israel? Who are you? This, Israel, is us versus them. It’s the Jews versus the Palestinians.'”
An “exorbitant taxi fare” later, Toubman finally met up with his friends and headed back to Jordan. Along the way, they stopped at a fruit stand in the mountains of Palestine and paused to talk.
“Really in the end, I realized that is what Israel is supposed to be,” Toubman said. “We were just there, existing as humans and that is what Israel means to me.”
Tomer Cherki, Weinberg freshman
Cherki shared his story through three major themes: cursing, ice cream and football. To begin, he talked about some of his “personal curses.”
“My family has had to migrate from one place to another ... time and time again because of religious persecution,” Cherki said. Growing up, he said he was taught to hide his Jewish background.
“I was bullied as a child,” Cherki said. “People would chase me around with a picture of a crucified, bloody Jesus saying ‘Look what you did!’”
According to Cherki, Israel is the one place he doesn’t have to hide his origins, ”and they have great ice cream.”
Cherki recounted waited in line for the treat before the start of a football game when warning sirens began to sound, signaling incoming Katyusha rockets from Gaza. As he headed to the closest shelter, Israeli forces launched a defense missile in return, which collided with the rocket directly.
“When they met, there was a giant explosion that sent sparks dancing across the sky and I just stopped and looked,” Cheri said.
After leaving the shelter, Cherki said, his family was still excited for the game, even though their ice cream had melted. However, once halftime began, another red alert began.
Finding the timing strange, Cherki said, “All of a sudden it clicked for all of us: the terrorists were watching the game too.”
Noah Perkins, School of Communication junior
When Perkins visited Auschwitz during the International March of the Living, a two week trip to Poland and Israel for Jewish teenagers, he said he felt empty.
“I felt there was something wrong with me,” Perkins said. “I walked into a gas chamber and I walked out and still, yet, I did not cry.”
When he got back to the bus, he stumbled upon the story of a man who refused to be parted with his tefillin when he arrived at the camp and was beaten to death.
“That was the moment that I cried, not because of what had happened to this person, but because I did not know what tefillin were,” Perkins said. “I didn’t know what he died for, and so I wept.”
Determined to learn, Perkins approached the rabbi on the trip who explained to him the significance of the leather prayer boxes. Perkins then recruited the rabbi to help him buy a set of his own once they got to Israel. In Jerusalem, they went to a shop ran by a scribe named Ezra.
“He told me that what I was doing was a great mitzvah ... because I was choosing to do this not because of what others did,” Perkins said.