Letter: Reflecting on Israel's day of independence

    This Thursday is Yom Ha’atzmaut, the Israeli Day of Independence. While the day itself is an opportunity to celebrate, it is also a launching point for the Hillel community to spend the week engaging with the ongoing story of the Jewish state. One day alone cannot capture the wide range of Jewish perspectives on Israel, and our hope is that our week of programming will reflect our community’s diversity.

    We recognize that discussions about Israel on our campus can sometimes be challenging and even heated, and for that reason we want to articulate Hillel's approach to this year's Yom Ha'atzmaut programming. The debate surrounding divestment was challenging for some students for whom Israel is an important part of their Jewish identity. Many Jewish students grappled with the divestment resolution, but that is just one of many questions surrounding Israel that Jewish students constantly struggle with. Inside and outside of Hillel, students discuss the issues of settlement expansion, religious tolerance in Israeli society and the ongoing conflict and devastating violence between Palestinians and Israelis. Both before and after this debate, many Jewish students were and still are continuing to explore and define their relationships with Israel.

    The Hillel Exec Board exists to provide opportunities for meaningful and student-driven Jewish engagement. Together, we work to explore our Jewish identities across the religious spectrum, emphasizing pluralism and acceptance of each student’s Jewish practice and experience. At Hillel, just as there is no one way to be Jewish, there is no one way to connect with Israel. For many Jewish students, Israel is an important part of their Jewish identity, but Israel means very different things for many different people in our community. We couldn’t possibly cover the entire spectrum of Israel activities, or represent all Jews on campus, but we work to align our Jewish values with how we relate to Israel. We emphasize learning so that students can consider tough questions about Israeli state and society, we engage in discussion so that we can share our perspectives and learn from each other and we are constantly reflecting so that we can develop our own understandings of how Israel fits into our Jewish identities.

    This week, through discussions, speakers, film and of course food, we hope to create an environment where students can engage with Israel in meaningful ways. From conversations about Israel and Jewish identity on Wednesday, to a discussion about Jewish refugees on Thursday, to cultural celebrations on Yom Ha’atzmaut and on Shabbat on Friday, students will develop their understandings of Israel and the Jewish community. This holiday is a celebration for many who connect their Jewish identities to Israel’s people, culture and story, but we recognize that it is not a one-sided narrative, and that Northwestern students hold many perspectives on Israel.

    Beyond this week, Hillel Exec will continue to pursue opportunities to foster greater understanding among students. We hope that our programming can contribute to the ongoing campus conversation, and we hope to see you at our events this week.

    - The 2015-16 Hillel Exec Board


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