By: Mariel Priven
At the start of second semester, Shahar Ben Dor, an Israeli sophomore studying at Heschel for the year, initiated In Search of Common Ground, a club to bring together and introduce varying opinions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Club members are brought into contact with students at partner schools in Israel and the Middle East to hear various opinions from people of all backgrounds and religions. Sophomore Rochelle Dweck, a member of In Search of Common Ground, explained that she joined in order to “learn more about Israeli politics from the different perspectives,” and she said that the club has been successful in doing so, allowing her to “learn something new about herself every time.”
This past summer, Ben Dor participated in Seeds of Peace, a summer program dedicated to inspiring and joining communities divided by the conflict. Ben Dor explained, “My personal experiences at Seeds of Peace are what inspired me to start this club. At Seeds I learned the importance of exposing others to numerous perspectives and opinions, and that these personal interactions are the bridges towards peace – the only way to approach a solution.”
Each club meeting varies in style, as the goal is to touch on many different issues and viewpoints. Several consist of dialogues, where students have the opportunity to open up and discuss their personal beliefs and experiences. These meetings also involve learning about a new aspect of the conflict, or a way in which people of all backgrounds are affected. Other meetings involve more listening, as students listen to perspectives of guest speakers, often over FaceTime with teenagers identifying as Israeli, Jewish, Palestinian, or Arab. Despite the difference in formats, each meeting gives students the opportunity to be exposed to a new voice or opinion concerning the conflict, and personal experiences influenced by it.
In the program description, Ben Dor writes, “Our goals are to create a meaningful relationship and engage deeply with each other, with an emphasis on the similarities between us despite the different cultures and religions we are part of. Another goal regarding the conflict is not to take a side and decide which is the ‘right’ opinion, but rather to accept, understand, and be open to different perspectives, considering them as we form our own beliefs.” Overall, club members have indicated that they feel the program has done as it intended, and have truly pushed themselves to rethink the conflict and their understanding of Israel.
Ilana Sidorsky, the club’s faculty advisor, supported that the club has been successful, saying, “I’m just so happy that Shahar is able to get 20 tenth-graders to come weekly during lunch to talk about the conflict. It just shows me that Heschel students want to engage more with Israel and the conflict.”
Although the club is currently open to only sophomores, leaders and members hope that it will ultimately be a school-wide club, allowing for students of all ages to engage in dialogue and to open their minds to different beliefs. The success thus far illustrates that such a goal is possible, and it is necessary in order to provide as many viewpoints as possible. This is vital both for Heschel students and partner schools in Israel, for as Sidorsky explained, one of the club’s goals is for “Heschel students to understand the Israeli perspective, and for Israelis to understand the Jewish-American perspective when it comes to the conflict.”