Archive for March, 2011

Jared’s Report from J Street

March 28, 2011

Better late than never… Here’s OWU Hillel Vice President Jared Shaner’s report from the J Street Conference a few weeks ago.  – OUWJew

“In reporting about my time at the Jstreet: Giving Voices to our Values conference, I want to share a couple of my most intimate and memorable moments and invite anyone who reads this to see me there next year.  I suppose it’s important to share a bit on the mission of Jstreet; it can be summed up pretty easily, peace, they seek to urge a two-state solution to the fighting that has waged for years between the Israelis and Palestinians.

The first term that comes to mind when I recall my time in DC is simply awe-inspiring. Words simply do not express the degree to which I was overwhelmed by many of the events and people that I met there.  From the first moment I arrived, I was taken aback by the magnitude of the event; imagine a line of over 2,000 people all waiting to register.  I’d never seen such a gathering of people interested in Israel in my life.  It was in this line that  I met the first person that impacted me in my travels.  Her name was Sandie and the was a 63 year old D.C native who, for the next hour, told me she and her entire family’s life story.  For most people, this might be not qualify as an “awe inspiring” moment but for someone admittedly ignorant to the Jewish struggle and for that matter much of what is going on in the world, it was a truly enlightening hour.  It was at this moment that I realized that I would be spending the next two days aside some of the greatest and most respected minds within the Jewish community and for that matter the world.

I think the experience as a whole can be summarized through the speakers on Saturday evening, all of whom were distinguished invitees, all three of whom were honored for their tireless efforts to bring peace to the Middle East.  These people all had one thing in common; they were all extremely well educated (attended Ivy League institutions) and they also all faced extreme adversity from others for the work that they have been doing in hopes of bringing peace to the Gaza Strip.  However, when Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish left the stage, I had butterflies in my stomach and tears in my eyes. Dr. Abuelaish is a Palestinian Harvard graduate who founded the Daughters for Life Foundation, an organization that he founded after a mortar shell struck the playroom of his home and killed all three of his daughters and his niece.  What was so impactful about this man and what brought tears to my eyes wasn’t necessarily the fact that he lost his daughters but rather his passion for bringing “justice”, not through retaliation on the Israeli soldiers that accidentally killed civilians, but rather through bringing peace to the two people so that “he can look his daughters in their eyes as a strong man and tell them that the evil is all gone.”  It was Dr. Abuelaish’s words that set the pace for my next day at the conference in which I could hardly pull myself away from the various talks offered.  In fact, I even attended optional talks during the lunch hour instead of exploring the city; truly never would’ve expected myself to make such a move going into the conference, given I was almost more excited by the opportunity to get away in Washington than I was for the conference itself.

The coming day and my last day was to say the least, a bit overwhelming.  Following the morning plenary session, there were nearly thirty different sessions that ran concurrently throughout the day and featured the likes of Roger Cohen (a New York Times journalist) and the Israeli Congress known as the Knesset.  I found all these options for sessions to be overwhelming especially since I had little background knowledge to base my decision off.   So I did what any other curious teenager would, I attended the two sessions marked as “closed to the press” under the presumption that these sessions would be highly controversial.  What I came to found were two of the most interesting sessions; although not necessarily controversial at their core.

The first session was a meeting of nearly all of the Rabbis in attendance who sat down in a public forum to discuss the difficulties of discussing the Israeli struggle without sounding biased towards personal biases.  The solution pinned down nearly after 2 hours seemed a bit cheap in that I probably could have derived the decision “simply allow the congregation to shared their opinion” within 5 minutes of minimal thought.  However, it was not this “groundbreaking” decision that I found to be the value in this session.  What I found enlightening was listening to all these men and women with years of experience, talk about the difficulties and adversity that they have faced when trying to face this issue of what stance to take on the conflicts in the Middle East.  I find it mind boggling that some of these Rabbis had been judged, disrespected, and in some cases punished for their opinion that at sometimes Israel is simply in the wrong and needs to concede some points of their argument in order to finally bring an end to the brutal fighting.

I wandered over to my second session, a roundtable discussion of the Kennesset (equivalent to Congress in the United States).  In this case, I think the “closed to the press” distinction came due to the danger that the members faced by attending the conference; apparently an Israeli law is in the works that would make discussing the Palestinian conflict illegal.  What I found most interesting about this group was the fact that they openly expressed the fact that they believe there’s no need for the conflict to continue and that many within Israel are of similar minds.  However, the issue lies in the fact that those in power don’t see it this way and rather kill every Palestinian for not much else reason besides for the fact that this is the way it’s been for years.  Oh yeah and one other small issue, apparently there is a great degree of corruption and therefore many are making profits from the fighting continuing.

If there’s one thing that is definite, it is that the fighting between the Palestinians and Israelis needs to end as soon as possible; the price of life is just too high for a childish argument over a small plot of land.  While I realize people hold their own personal views on how this fighting should reach an end, I side with Jstreet that the only route is through a two-state solution.”