Since last summer’s military conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, Hillel Concordia has worked to alleviate the tense situation as classes resumed in the fall. The organization’s objective is to educate and promote Jewish culture, religion and values to the student body.
“I think Hillel did a lot of work to make sure the campus didn’t become too politicized. So we did our best to work with other clubs . . . the student union [and] with all parties involved to make sure Jewish students on campus feel safe and non-Jewish and non-Arab students who are the majority on campus . . . don’t have to be bombarded with information and rhetoric,” said Ryan Schwartz, president of Concordia Hillel.
Born and raised in Montreal, Schwartz is a political science student at Concordia and is also studying at the School of Community and Public Affairs. He became involved with Hillel upon returning from an internship in Israel last summer.
“I met with all sorts of groups – members of Parliament, human rights organizations, Palestinians – and I toured around the disputed territories as well. So I met really with the whole spectrum, left-wing and right-wing. It was to do advocacy work and get hands-on view about what’s going on, so I’d be better informed and learn about the process of public relations essentially for Israel.”
Schwartz’s stay in Israel happened to coincide with the beginning of the country’s military conflict with Hezbollah. “I was there the week before Hezbollah crossed the border, killed two soldiers and attacked a village.”
“It was horrendous, it really was. A week before the war I was on the border between Israel and Lebanon. I saw the Hezbollah [from close proximity]. You could see them . . . looking at you and you could see they had posters up, and you could see a little guy with binoculars and he’s staring at you and you’re staring at him, and any minute he could snipe you.”
Schwartz said the atmosphere and opinions in the country were varied, as some areas of the country were devastated while others were unaffected. Although he was within range of attack, Schwartz said he wasn’t afraid because “that’s everyday life in Israel.”
“Israelis. that’s their resilience. [they] just go on living life because that’s what you have to do and that’s the only way to keep your sanity. Their people really, truly live every day for the moment and every day as if it’s their last . . . [But] that’s not just in Israel, as far as I know from my Middle Eastern and Arab friends, it’s the same thing in their countries.”
When reflecting on how to resolve current tensions, Schwartz said, the “thing about this whole Arab-Israeli conflict is that it’s too emotionally charged on both sides. I think the only way of really solving this is academically, to sit down and talk between people and understand one another.”
Events organized by Hillel echo this sentiment, such as One Voice, which featured a Palestinian and Israeli speaker together. Schwartz said the message of One Voice is that “it’s the personal relationships that matter. [One is] Palestinian, [the other] an Israeli and [they’re] best friends. We get along and it’s through our personal relationship we have to speak to our leaders and say with one voice: we want peace . . . enough with the bloodshed.”
Membership in Hillel and attendance at events is not restricted to Jewish students, said Schwartz, “we are Canadian, and as Canadians we need to be part of the Canadian fabric of a multicultural society and be inclusive and be included by others as well.”