When I returned to campus from last week's AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., my friend Elliott's mother was in town. Elliott is a religious Protestant, and because I am traditional Jew, our friendship is a bit unconventional. One night, we all sat down for dinner, and before I unfolded my napkin, the topic of religion had been broached.
Elliott's mother told me about an activity in which she had recently partaken, a dialogue group made up of Christian and Jewish women who sought to understand each other. She said it so nonchalantly, as if trying to locate common ground among devoted worshippers was as ordinary as weekly rounds of bridge.
As she spoke, my mind wandered back to the D.C. conference.
At this annual gathering, you can select among sessions. For my first, I chose one about how Israel is perceived in the Arab media. One of the videos shown especially disturbed me.
We were shown a clip from an Arabic soap opera about a villainous rabbi who took Christian children to a basement and drew their blood to use for making matzah. Though I already knew about these blood libels, I found their portrayal within popular culture -- as if in the context of an Arabic version of "The Young and the Restless" -- really jarring. In that moment, I forgot the reasons for openness and dialogue, and resentment took over.
The irony was that I had to leave the conference a day early to take my "Introduction to the Koran" final. In the course, we analyzed the Koran as a literary form, applying critical thinking to distinguish Koranic and Islamic ideals. Studying it forced me to consider the convergent ideals that underlie a devotion to a scripture and a heritage, and the universal fulfillment that faith can provide. Yet in that D.C. convention center, I cringed in offense at how a faith could cultivate so much hatred.
I was, however, impressed by the presentation by AIPAC "Tomorrow Campaign" chair Paul Baker, who said that "if we had an AIPAC 60 years ago, we probably wouldn't have lost 6 million." He didn't naively assert that the Holocaust would have been prevented, but argued that the catastrophe might have been mitigated with the help of those who would have steadfastly defended the Zionist cause. Since I'm the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, Baker's deduction resonated with me.
The next morning, Israeli President Shimon Peres captivated all with his climactic plea that we should make this generation the last to know conflict, the last to know bloodshed. Thousands cheered his words, arms flailing as they waved miniature Israeli and American flags.
But as I was observing it all from the back of the room, someone muttered to the man by his side, "Yeah, right." His cynicism broke the trance, pushing me to consider the tenability of Peres' romantic hopes for my generation. It was on that conflicted note that I returned to campus.
And conflicted I remain.
I continue to support Israel, because if I don't, then who will?
Still, I hesitate to adopt the "us-against-the-world" attitude that often accompanies Jewish activism. That's why my experience with Elliott's mom over dinner was the ultimate conclusion to my policy-conference experience. Just a group of Christian and Jewish women, trying to understand each other, she told me.
I remember smiling at her, and thinking, if only that was all.
Daniella Wexler, a Los Angeles native, just completed her sophomore year at the University of Pennsylvania.