Building Bridges



August 9, 2018

Be interested, not interesting.

That’s the motto Amanda Landesman, 20, is taking back with her to Brooklyn College after participating in Engagement Institute, organized by Hillel International.

The rising senior was one of more than 150 students who spent the week learning how to be an effective engagement intern on campus — developing the skills needed to meet their Jewish peers where they are physically and mentally.

“Active listening is the key,” Landesman said.

The three-day conference opened at Hofstra University with a Jewish learning session led by Eric D. Fingerhut, president and CEO of Hillel International. Using snippets of text from the Book of Genesis and the Book of Psalms, Fingerhut highlighted the importance of radical hospitality and respecting differences when engaging in meaningful conversations with others.

“It’s about understanding where people are coming from,” Fingerhut said. “We need to listen and respond with respect and integrity.”

Hillel Institute featured a variety of thought-provoking sessions, including a conversation between Israeli author Yossi Klein Halevi and Palestinian activist Huda Abuarquob. The pair engaged in a respectful discussion about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, where Klein read aloud pages from his book, Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor, and Abuarquob responded with her thoughts.

Halevi said his book “models what a positive conversation might look like between two people who see the same reality differently.”

For Allison Egrin, a David Project intern at Grand Valley State University and an active student at Hillel Campus Alliance of Michigan, the conversation between Halevi and Abuarquob was enlightening.

“It pushed boundaries and limits,” Egrin said. “And yet, they were still civil.”

The annual conference also served as a training ground for the next cohort of Ruderman Inclusion Ambassadors. Supported by the Ruderman Family Foundation, ambassadors work to create and implement programs that support the inclusion of students with disabilities in campus Jewish life.

This academic year, 28 Hillel students representing 15 campuses will serve as ambassadors, including Hillels of Westchester student Daniella Harris, 19.

For most of her life, Harris, who is hard of hearing, relied on her hair to make her hearing aids less noticeable. But not anymore.

“Just because it’s a disability doesn’t mean it disables you,” Harris said. “I want to build a safe space for our students at Hillel.”

The conference’s underlying theme, building bridges, continued with a Wednesday afternoon volunteer project, sponsored by the Genesis Prize Foundation. Students affiliated with Hillel and The David Project streamed into the Sondra and David S. Mack Student Center to help assemble 900 hygiene kits for Syrian refugees.