Despite initially facing resistance from the Hillel of Greater Philadelphia, student members of J Street at the University of Pennsylvania were able to host an event at Penn’s Hillel featuring Breaking the Silence, a group of Israeli Defense Force army veterans who speak out against Israeli military policy.
Thursday’s event drew about 60 people and there were no protests according to Akiva Sanders, a junior and co-president of J Street UPenn.
Shapiro, who noted that many Penn Hillel students would like to live in Israel after graduation, said that it was, “important for people to understand all the different details of the situation in Israel and the situation produced by the policies of a government that we give a lot of money to and we also support.”
J Street began planning to have a speaker from Breaking the Silence come to campus in October but was soon notified that Hillel of Greater Philadelphia would not allow the event to be held in the Hillel building. In January, J Street created a petition to support the event, which was signed by 27 Penn Hillel student leaders.
Sanders said the petition made the point that, “people across the Jewish community amongst my generation really want to have a kind of conversation that is supportive of Israel, loving toward Israel, but is thoughtful and can deal with the realities of the situation.”
With the Palestinians poised to make their bid for statehood at the United Nations, another diplomatic effort was taking place on Columbia University’s manicured campus five miles uptown.
Hillel, the national Jewish student organization, erected an open-air tent on September 21 with the words “Talk Israel: Join the Conversation” on a blue banner on Columbia’s Hamilton Lawn. Inside, there were two TV screens, one featuring video clips of Israeli bands and movies, and the other projecting Talk Israel’s Facebook page. There was also a large square table, around which half a dozen Hillel members and Columbia and Barnard students sat to, well, talk about Israel.
“The wider message is that stuff should be achieved via dialogue,” said Tor Tsuk, Columbia Hillel’s Israel Fellow, a new position created by the national Hillel to conduct Israel programming on campus.
The Talk Israel tent at Columbia is one of 20 Hillel tents popping up on campuses in the U.S. and Canada this week timed with the Palestinian bid for statehood at the U.N. Columbia is considered a “hot campus” by Hillel officials since it has been the site of clashes between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel student groups.