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September 08, 2011 - Image 47

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2011-09-08

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Understanding Each Other

One UM-D student's involvement in leadership programs leads
to having compassion for both sides of the Middle East conflict.

By Abbeygail Epelman

What if you went through your entire life
and one day you reflect back and realize you
had never traveled to that one place of your
dreams? You ponder on the experience, why
you want it so badly, what you would gain from
going there, and then you have a choice.
Do you commit to the idea and start to
research, plan and act? Or do you shrug off
the idea as a good yet unobtainable dream?
Perhaps you leave it to faith to allow it to hap-
pen in your lifetime, but it's not for you to initi-
ate? This same process goes through our minds
when it comes to peace and especially action
needed to obtain peace in the Middle East.
So, why is it that such a good idea, an idea
like peace, isn't embraced and acted upon by
all? Is it because not all feel they are capable of
such an endeavor? Or perhaps they don't have
the drive for a better tomorrow? Or maybe they
feel like someone else will take care of it.
Peace and coexistence take every single
person to achieve. We need to eliminate the
mindset that "one day someone else will do it."
Because that one day is today, and the someone
is us.

I started my undergraduate degree at the
University of Michigan-Dearborn in the fall of
2009. It was the first time I had been introduced
to such a large Arab American population and,
being an anthropology major with a minor in
religious studies, I was pretty excited to learn
and observe a population unfamiliar to me. I
made friends with many men and women in
my classes; I asked a ton of questions and even
read the Koran.
Minor incidents started occurring on cam-
pus that made me less comfortable with my
Jewish identity. There were many anti-Zionist
and anti-Israel organizations on campus and, to
me, that meant anti-Jewish. Such incidents and
misunderstandings lead me to not wear my Star
of David to school. I didn't involve myself much

with the Jewish community or speak up because
I didn't want my social life negatively affected.
My second year at UM-D, I decided I wouldn't
put up with the one-sided promotions any
more. I have always been an outspoken woman,
and this year it really came out. Organizations
like ASU (Arab Student Union), MSA (Muslim
Student Association), HOPE (Humanitarian
Organization for Palestinian Equality) had
events year-round involving anti-Israel topics. I
made an effort to get the materials they were
passing out, and I was shocked — could these
statistics and facts be correct? Maybe Israel
isn't what I thought it was after all?
My doubt concerned me; I stuck up for Israel
whenever I had the chance to, but what was I
suppose to say when the things I read left me
speechless? I was one person. I was outnum-
bered, and I didn't know where to start. I saw
an announcement on the Hillel of Metro Detroit
website for a fellowship involving Israel advo-
cacy and I submitted my resume.
I was accepted into the fellowship, which last-
ed 10 weeks and covered a variety of topics such
as the history, military, lifestyles, conflict, interna-
tional industry and Israel right here in Michigan.

The fellowship not only strengthened my identity
as a Jew, but also as a Zionist, a member of the
community and an advocate for the positive out-
comes of the Jewish State of Israel.

New Type Of Leadership
During one of our sessions, I was introduced
to Brenda Rosenberg, who spoke to me about
a pilot leadership program called Tectonic
Leadership. I was immediately interested. She
called, and I was admitted into the five-day
retreat in early May.
The days leading up to the retreat were
uneasy. I had no idea what to expect or how
to behave. The only people I knew going into
the retreat were my good friends Hussein Berry
and Hamzah Latit both are Muslim students at
The retreat was held at the Manresa Jesuit
Retreat House in Bloomfield Hills and opened
on Yom HaShoah, a day I hold close to my heart,
being a first-generation Holocaust survivor's
decedent. Normally, I spend the day in quiet
meditation, reflecting on my life, and those of
my grandparents, great-grandparents and fam-
ily affected by the Holocaust, hoping that their

struggles make me a stronger person. Brenda
spoke beautifully about the importance of Yom

HaShoah and lit a candle in memory of all the
lives lost. As tears fell from my eyes, Hussein
squeezed my hand and I knew from that
moment on that this would be a life-changing

Throughout the days of the Tectonic
Leadership retreat, 15 other Muslim, Jewish and
Christian students and I learned the disciplines
and commitments of Tectonic Leadership. We
created bonds with each other that no one could
replace. We shared our pain, positive experi-
ences, tears, frustration, happiness and most
of all, a common goal for peaceful solutions.
Samia Bahsoun and Brenda Rosenberg, creators
of Tectonic Leadership, inspired, challenged and
motivated us continuously with their wisdom
and experience in conflict resolution and the
beautiful friendship they have created.
Throughout the week, not only did I learn so
much from the Muslim perspective, but also I
stopped seeing them as "the other" and began
seeing them as my brothers and sisters. I looked

Understanding Each Other on 40


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September 8 2011


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