From Israeli-Americans like myself to those of us who have just begun learning about the conflict, everyone who came out to D.C. was able to personally engage with Israel in new ways. I found it empowering to listen to some of the people directly involved in the peace process. I heard politicians speaking candidly in small settings about their obstacles to progress from their own perspectives. Hearing from Israeli and Palestinian parents who have lost their children to the violence of conflict also brought home the seriousness and urgency of our work.
The speakers, panels, and conversations from our two days at the conference also gave us a first-hand understanding of how diverse the pro-Peace camp really is. As expected, I met a lot of Jews my age that grew up caring and learning about Israel through family, school, and visits, but I was surprised to also see so many Christian, Muslim, and Latino students who had learned about the conflict more recently, as well. One student I have come to know personally is a first generation Pakistani-American from Maryland who first studied the conflict in high school. She has since studied abroad in Jerusalem, traveled throughout Israel and the West Bank, and become a leader on J Street U’s National Student Board. At the conference she gave an impassioned speech about urging attendees to take ownership of our future by working towards a two-state solution.
Bringing back my experiences at the conference to grounds, I hope that J Street UVa can play a role in fostering constructive spaces for engaging with Israel. We want to give students from various backgrounds the chance to grapple with the complex moral issues and political realities in Israel. It is my hope that the Jewish, Palestinian, and the broader UVa community will join our efforts to combat apathy and promote productive action while maintaining a respectful environment.
- Ori Shimony
The Brody Jewish Center, Hillel at the University of Virginia, is the focal point in a renaissance of Jewish life for the 1,800 Jewish students on Grounds.