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Hillel pitches tent for discussion

By Sara Dejene
On September 27, 2011

Last Wednesday, Hillel at Brandeis sponsored the "Talk Israel Initiative" on the Great Lawn, an event aimed at encouraging discussion about the Middle East among university students.

Hillel at Brandeis was one of 20 Hillel organizations across the country participating in the event.

Most of the discussions were held in tents provided by Hillel's Center for Israel Engagement, which also supplied AV equipment and resources for each tent discussion.

According to Hillel's website, the tents offer areas where "students can converse in an atmosphere governed by the rules of civil dialogue and the university's code of conduct."

In an interview with the Justice, Hillel at Brandeis Executive Director Larry Sternberg said that the purpose of the event was to provide an area students could enter, hold discussions and ask various questions about the Middle East. In addition, Sternberg mentioned the additional media outlets provided for the conversations.

"There were videos available for people. There was an opportunity for people to go on Facebook, and we were hooking up also to Brandeis TV so if they wanted to find out what was going on at the U.N.," said Sternberg. "But in fact, people were much more interested in talking to one another, which was exactly what the purpose of the event was."

Sternberg also said that the conversations had several aspects that spanned a wide range of topics and was inclusive. "We had Israeli students come into the tent. We had American students, Canadian students. We had students from all over, over the course of the day. It was informal. It was non-threatening and it was exactly what we hoped to achieve," said Sternberg.

The discussions also featured Prof. Ilan Troen (NEJS) and Visiting Professor from Hebrew University Uri Bialer, who specializes in political science an international relations.

"They had a chance to sit down with students who just had questions to ask, and any question was fair game," said Sternberg. "They don't always agree about things, but they give different perspectives from their different disciplinary points of view."

Sternberg said both professors expressed interest in participating in similar discussions in the future. According to Sternberg, Prof. Shai Feldman (POL) said he would also like to act as a resource during these conversations. Feldman was unavailable to attend the event because of a previous commitment to hosting a colleague from Saudi Arabia, said Sternberg.

The talk fell 2 weeks after a forum with Director of the Project on the Middle East Peace Process at the Washington Institute David Makovsky, who noted a need for peaceful dialogue.

"[Makovsky] pointed out that too often on campus, we're engaged in finger pointing and blaming and we don't get around to constructive engagement," said Sternberg.

Sternberg said he was pleased with the tent discussion and that he looked forward to having more in the future.

"We don't really need tents to have conversations, so now having established the modality of being able to engage in open conversations, I look forward to being able to do more of them," he said.

According to Hillel's website, there are plans to repeat the initiative during the spring semester.

—Andrew Wingens contributed reporting.


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