Hillel interns join with Hillel professional Rachel Gildiner (left), President Wayne L. Firestone and Summit supporters International Board of Governors members Cheryl and David Einhorn (on right).
(Washington, D.C. - July 22) More than 200 student interns of all backgrounds gathered on Capitol Hill last week to learn how to disagree agreeably during the Facing Change Summit, sponsored by Hillel, Ashoka U and the Interfaith Youth Corps. The Summit, made possible by Hillel International Board of Governors members David and Cheryl Einhorn of New York, advanced Hillel's civic engagement and dialogue efforts that began at the Summit on the University and the Jewish Community in 2008.
At a time when the campus environment is often poisoned by harsh rhetoric on the Middle East and other issues, students learned techniques to enable them to espouse their own beliefs while respecting those of others.
"In dealing with the dynamic environment of the college campus where extremists on both sides of the Middle East equation voice their opinions, the Facing Change Summit helped me to speak to people with different opinions and find a common ground to work together for shared goals," explains UCLA sophomore Raquel Saxe. "When I go back to campus I also want to have the opportunity to speak to students who don't have an opinion on the Middle East to share different perspectives on the issue."
Speakers from Hillel President Wayne L. Firestone, to IFYC Founder Eboo Patel, to Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer urged students to build bridges of understanding across ideological and ethnic divides.
Rep. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fl) with Summit participants.
In his address to students, Firestone cited the famous adage of Hillel the elder who stated, "If I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?" Firestone explained that the saying urges individuals to join together collectively to work for the common good -- and they should do so immediately.
Patel called on students to fight fire with water. He recalled attending a conference in which a Pakistani Christian tore into Islam. A Muslim panelist calmly responded that he loved Christianity and cited Biblical passages advocating love rather than hate. Patel said that by fighting fire with fire, nothing would have been accomplished. However, by fighting fire with water, he put out the flames, and started a new, healthy relationship.
Krauthammer urged students to respect their interlocutors while staying true to their own beliefs. Responding to a student from the University of Delaware who complained that her campus is "rated the fifth most apathetic school in the country," Krauthammer quipped that he respects apathy: Because the American system of government is one of the least intrusive, people don't feel the need to get involved.
Students from the Northwest share their life stories during the Summit.
During the second half of the day, students participated in workshops which included sharing life stories with others from their regions. One student said she attended the Summit because she would not have been exposed to such diversity in her hometown in Wisconsin. Another said that the Summit would help him in his Muslim-Jewish dialogue group on campus.
Participants were recruited by 12 Hillel interns who canvassed Capitol Hill discussing the idea of civility and inviting students to the event. George Washington University student Natalie Epelman, a Summit organizer, said that the Summit taught her "how to make civil discourse happen." Fellow Hillel intern Julie Sherbill added, "Now I better understand the barriers to crossing boundaries of identity."
At the end of the day, participants enjoyed a congressional reception, co-hosted by Reps. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), Sue Myrick (R-N.C.), Jared Polis (Colo.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Heath Shuler (D-N.C.).
Hillel Communications Intern Noam Weinblatt contributed to this story.