I was grateful to see the editorial by Wayne L. Firestone, Hillel’s president and CEO, reprinted in the JTNews last week (“Colleges playing catch-up on Israel,” February 10). Firestone is absolutely correct when he points out that the rest of us have a great deal to learn from the way college students conduct their conversations about Israel on campus.
Fortunately, our local Hillel community is no exception. Public discourse about Israel too often slides into rhetoric characterized by personal attacks and an unwillingness to listen to the perspectives of others whose viewpoint differs from one’s own. But here at Hillel UW, circumstances could not be more different.
Here, students grapple with challenging questions about personal identity and the national character of the Jewish State. But they also come to Hillel in order to become better acquainted with Israel from many other different perspectives. Our students come to learn about Israel’s role as an incubator of high-tech and ecological innovation. They come here to hear the stories of young Israeli gays and lesbians. They come to ask penetrating questions of Israeli soldiers not much older than themselves. And they come — dozens of them at a time — to join the tens of thousands of their peers who visit Israel on a Birthright Israel trip each year.
I am hopeful that Firestone’s words resonated strongly with JTNews’s readers, and to them I want add my own personal invitation: Come visit us and see for yourselves. Stop by Hillel and see first-hand the many ways that we can learn from the thoughtful and committed students who make Hillel UW their second home. I am confident that you will come away from your visit inspired and newly committed to thoughtful and compassionate discourse on Israel.