Hillel activists rally for Israel and peace

This is a republication of an original article in Hillel News on Tuesday, January 27, 2009.


The Muslim Student Association (MSA) and Hillel at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) hadn’t spoken to each other since a conflict flared between them several years ago. All that changed recently as the groups worked together to organize a peace rally on VCU’s campus.

a large group of students and faculty stand with candles at dusk on a plaza

Hillel and the Muslim Student Association at Virginia Commonwealth University joined together for a peace rally.

“For us this is amazing,” said KB Levin, Hillels of Richmond director. “It took several years of no conversation. This was really a step in the right direction for us.”

In the wake of the recent Israeli conflict with Gaza, Hillels all around the country have been demonstrating support for Israel through rallies, dialogue and speaking events, and in a number of cases, Hillel students have worked with Muslim students to rally together for peace. (See complete list below.)

Hillel at Loyola University Chicago has always had a strong relationship with groups of other faiths on campus, especially Muslim students, said Director Patti Ray.

“Our relationships have taken us through both intifadas, the Gulf War, the most recent Lebanon War and, of course, the Gaza conflict,” said Ray. “We take pride at Loyola that there has not just been civility in the political programs that we work on together, but real listening and communication.”

Her Hillel held two events in response to the Gaza conflict. On Jan. 14 about 30 students, mostly Jewish, sat in a circle lit by memorial candles and held a service for the Israelis that perished in Gaza. Loyola Hillel also organized an event “Sharing Prayers for Mideast Peace” with the Muslim Students Association, Hindu Students’ Association, EVOKE (Encouraging Vocation through Knowledge & Experience) and the University Ministry.

“I think I am always going to remember looking out over the Lake [Michigan] through the crystal-like glass walls of the Greenhouse in the shining sun as students, faculty, and staff from throughout the university crowded into the room to hear the moving prayers and reflections for peace from our diverse faith communities,” said Ray. “All of us there knew we were in an environment only possible because of how we all live every day together here.”

three students sit in winter clothing

Students from Hillel at Loyola University Chicago participate in the Sharing Prayers for Mideast Peace event on January 14.

While Loyola University and VCU may be several states apart, the feelings on both campuses are similar. Levin echoes Ray’s sentiments, saying that students’ hearts are all living in the same place while they attend school together.

“We’re all on this campus together, whether we agree on everything or not,” Levin said.

The VCU administration was so impressed by the students’ collaborative efforts that it provided security and a PA system for the peace rally to occur in the commons area at 5 p.m., a high-traffic hour, something it doesn’t usually do for students groups, said Levin.

“The administration was so touched by our show of unity and solidarity to be able to set aside our own political beliefs,” she said.

Marcus Johnson, a VCU senior and the MSA’s liaison with other groups, said that he feels “humbled” to have worked on such an event, adding that he didn’t think an event like this could ever happen at VCU.

“It was just a great opportunity and it proved that we are able to work together,” he said.

Coming together to rally for peace showed the Jewish and Muslim students that they can be friends, said Steven Flick, a VCU senior and Hillel president.

“I think for the first time ever since I’ve been at this school people realized that Jews and Muslims can be friends on this campus,” Flick said. “We have certain things that we really do agree on and that there are a lot of things we have in common. It’s something that has been missing.”

Inspired by this event, the MSA at VCU has decided to create a new program called “The Peace Initiative,” creating interfaith dialogue not only with Hillel but with other groups on campus, said Johnson. The first event they are planning is an interfaith dinner with Hillel.

Levin said that collaborative events such as VCU’s peace rally or Loyola’s “Sharing Prayers for Mideast Peace” event demonstrate to the larger communities the power the students have.

“Students’ voices are the voices of change,” she said. “It gives them a chance to really show that and to really create that change themselves.”

Elsewhere

The events at Loyola University Chicago and VCU are just two examples of local Hillels’ response to the Israeli conflict with Gaza.