At New York University, on Wednesday, April
18, 2001, 22 NYU students gathered to watch the documentary "Peace of
Mind" and to discuss the issue of peace and coexistence both (1) in the
Middle East as well as (2) on the NYU campus.
This was a momentous step, although perhaps a small one, in terms of students of different faiths, nationalities, and political alignments coming together to speak openly and face-to-face about this issue which so many of us feel deeply connected to.
As this year has seen an increase of violence in the Middle East, tensions have also increased at our campus. NYU is home to large communities of passionate Jews, Israelis, Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims. While we all live in the same dorms and attend classes together, our respective groups tend to stay separated. Most criticism and arguing is done from a distance.
Disturbing incidents of intolerance have occurred on campus since this Fall. They have been fairly limited and executed by only a minority representation of some of the groups mentioned above, but have nonetheless have contributed to an overall sense of tension and mistrust.
In the past, NYU's Hillel and Islamic Center have co-sponsored powerful and successful events such as a Jewish-Muslim dinner/discussion (restricted only to the topic of religion).
Last Wednesday's event, "On the Road to Understanding," was sponsored by NYU's Spiritual Diversity Network, the Office of Student Life, and the Office of Student Activities. This was the first time that NYU students could come together in a safe and respectful environment, not to debate, argue about, or altogether avoid the topic of politics, but to WATCH a meaningful
documentary about the issue and to LISTEN to one another's stories and experiences.
After watching the video, 12 students (including American Jews, Israelis, Palestinian Americans, other Arab students, as well as
"unaffiliated" students) voluntarily stayed to discuss reactions to the documentary. Our conversation soon turned to more immediate issues taking place in the Middle East.
By the end of the evening, our conversation shifted to the topic of our own issues on campus, and of the importance of being able to dialogue face-to-face, even if for no other reason than to learn to respect one another.
We feel that this event was very successful and important first step in coming to an understanding about our relations on campus. We expect to continue this dialogue next Fall, in the form of an official club or simply as a group of committed students.
If you have any questions or would like to learn more about our group-in-development (or, for NYU students, if you'd like to be involved in the future), please feel free to e-mail any of the four student organizers of Wednesday's event:
Shana Kirsch firstname.lastname@example.org
Heba-alla Nassef email@example.com
Sarah Hoffman firstname.lastname@example.org
Noor Ahmad email@example.com
Special thanks to Stephen Polniaszek, the Jewish-Palestinian Living Room Dialogue Group in California, all others who supported and encouraged this event, and especially all those who attended!
"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has."
-- Margaret Mead