Michelle Bennett and Zoey Fleisher are members of NFTY-Missouri Valley.
I consider myself very familiar with Israel. I am well-versed in the culture and fairly knowledgeable of the history. Being so passionate about this country, I care a lot to learn as much as I possibly can. Spending 4 months studying abroad there on NFTY-EIE, I deepened my current knowledge about many things, but some of the most valuable was what I learned about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and what it means in terms of the events and issues we see on a daily basis in more recent times. I could not ever, and do not claim to be an expert on this, for it is incredibly complex. However, the opportunities I have had to learn about it have given me the confidence to talk about the conflict in a very accessible way. With this confidence, I find it a priority to enable other teens like me to learn about and discuss the conflicts in Israel.
When I was asked to write a program for NFTY Missouri Valley’s Leadership Training Institue about the recent events in Israel, and about the conflict in general, I immediately saw two goals: 1) to educate and 2) to foster productive conversation. It is extremely important for NFTYites, as a group of teens who claim to be passionate supporters of Israel, to know and understand what is happening in Israel and to have the resources to have access to further information. We also need to be as comfortable talking about Israel as possible, because as Jews in communities around America, we are the ones that others come to with questions or comments about Israel when the conflict is prevalent in the media. Comfort with such conversation begins with conversation amongst ourselves, which is where programs in NFTY come in. I tried to incorporate both of these education and discussion aspects into MV’s LTI Israel Program.
I began and ended with a little education about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I showed how the media portrays the conflict and what effect this has, and I showed the most unbiased video I could find, so that participants might have some idea of the history of the conflict, without persuading them to think negatively of either side as a result. However, during this program, I tried to encourage discussion by having participants send a text message to 5 random people saying “I’ll explain later, but could you quickly tell me what is going on in Israel and Gaza in 3 sentences or less?”
As soon as I sat down to participate in the program, I was interested. I may only be a teen, but I am a teen that cares deeply about the world around me. Michelle began the program with slides of the media portrayal of the issue in Israel, and then we went head on into discussion.
As I sat down into my group, I was asked to text five people. I chose my father, mother, brother, and two close friends. It was a difficult task, to fit so much history into 3 sentences, however the responses really struck a chord. Whether one was Jewish or Christian, of faith or not, each person’s 3 sentences said a lot about them. What Michelle created was dialogue, which is key in understanding the conflict going on in Israel. I firmly believe that a large reason the conflict keeps getting larger is because of misinformation. People never talk enough across the aisle, and if we can began to do that even in a small setting such as a NFTY chavurah, than we have gotten farther than ever before.
It is hard to talk about Israel without bias. As Jews, we feel obligated to the land and to the people. Our passion for Israel burns deep inside our souls. With that said, it is important to remember that there are people other than Jews who also feel that burning passion; people of other faiths that claim Israel as their holy land too. Michelle’s program has encouraged me to talk about Israel, so that hopefully, one day, every one will be able to peacefully dwell in their holy land of Israel.
While I was walking around, facilitating the program, the discussion I heard was more than I could have ever hoped for. At best, I hoped that participants would receive a text message or two. Having asked them to turn on the volume on their text alerts beforehand, what I heard throughout the programs was dings and rings and beeps, each one contributing a new perspective to the conversations. I heard responses ranging from paragraphs of accurate information about current events, paragraphs of slightly inaccurate information, a sentence consisting only of what the news reports, and even a few “I can’t”s here and there. Each response tells something about how the world perceives the conflict in Israel, but even more, how those around us perceive it. These texts started conversations between participants about what kinds of opinions their friends and family held, how informed they are, and what they can do to promote constructive conversation in their community. Knowing what types on conversations we will face is the starting point to increasing discussion on the conflict, and this program showed me that NFTYites are truly up to the task.
Michelle and Zoey:
In this program, participants and leaders alike saw how difficult it is to sum up the situation in Israel in just 3 sentences. The reason for this is likely because it should not be easy to explain such a complex situation in so few words, for that would take away from the depth and education needed to begin to understand it. The hope was that participants would walk away with the start to such a deeper understanding, but also the desire and ability to continue their education about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This program, having been carried out at Leadership Training Institute, gave the leaders of Missouri Valley the responsibility to continue talking about these topics throughout the year in their TYGs and the foundation to create such productive discussion. Thank you to everyone who participated and made the program meaningful!