Hillel of Metro Detroit (HMD) Israel Fellowship Program offers University of Michigan students knowledge and learning opportunities.
By Annie Peurach
I was not raised Jewish. I was raised in a Catholic household in Ann Arbor. I only recently started learning about Israel and Judaism and have been quite taken with both. I have even started the process to convert. I am a senior at the University of Michigan at Dearborn majoring in international studies with a focus on French and art history.
My major is an indication of my love of learning about different cultures and pushing the bounds of what I know. I always want to engage in challenging conversations because I feel like, if done the right way, there is an opportunity for growth on both sides. Being an advocate for Israel in Dearborn has given me years of experiencing growth.
When you mention to someone in Ann Arbor that you support Israel, you are often met with “me, too” or even the occasional “I don’t know much about the topic/conflict” from Jews and non-Jews alike. The first time I faced adversity in Dearborn was when someone found out I supported Israel.
I was talking with someone I now consider a close friend. I was telling him how I was converting to Judaism. The first thing he mentioned was “How can you support Israel when you know what they are doing to Palestine?” My first thought was “I only said that I was converting …”
My dear friend is from Lebanon and he has only heard bad things about Israel. Because I had not yet had any classes with the Hillel of Metro Detroit’s Israel Fellowship program, I had no idea how to respond, except to defend Israel as best I could with the little knowledge I had.
We both dropped this topic and vowed never to bring it up again. I wish this conversation would have come up after I had taken HMD’s Israel Fellowship series. I wish I could have explained how Israel is working hard on peace negotiations even when the government of Palestine shoots them down.
I would have explained that Arab-Israeli citizens have the same rights as other Israeli citizens, and that they are free to go about their daily lives. I would have explained that Israel tries its best to help Palestinian civilians receive aid, but they have to be cautious due to the threats that Palestine has inflicted upon Israel.
I would have explained that the land of Israel was given legally. I would have explained that the Jewish people lived in this land 2,000 years ago and were forcibly exiled many times and killed abroad in many genocides and pogroms, and now they finally have their homeland back where they can feel safe.
I am so thankful that I got a chance to be a part of the Israel Fellowship because I now have an extensive knowledge about the Jewish people and the connection to Israel that will help me explain Israel’s story to anyone that will listen, even in a place that is known for condemning it.
Annie Peurach of Ann Arbor is a senior at the University of Michigan-Dearborn.