Inter-collegiate book club tackles Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor.

By Noa Dahan, Isabella Lieberman and Sarah Weiss

“I turn to you, neighbor, in the hope that an honest telling of my story may touch you — and help create some understanding, if not agreement, between us.”

So writes Yossi Klein Halevi in the opening chapter of Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor, the book which our Israel-themed book club, “Reading Between the Lines,” is currently reading.

Meeting virtually every Friday afternoon, the book club includes students from Michigan State University, Eastern Michigan University, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo College and Grand Valley State University.

Launched in April and organized by Maddi Jackson (director of Israel Education and Programming for MSU and the Hillel Campus Alliance of Michigan), Reading Between the Lines provides an opportunity for students from all these colleges to connect through reading. In the midst of quarantine, we gather on Zoom for lively discussion of the latest chapter of Letters, engaging and exchanging thoughts, feelings, questions, concerns and ideas.

With topics of conversation ranging from politics to theology, from ancient history to personal identity — and the intersection of all these issues in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — our weekly book club hour is both fun and intellectually stimulating.

Halevi has the profound talent of simultaneously voicing his perspective and resonating deeply with his reader. His writing takes a complicated conflict, one that is rooted in a long and nuanced history, and translates it into something both understandable and intimate.

The book club provides a refreshing chance for participants to think about the world beyond our usual social bubbles. Seven time zones away from Israel, members “Zooming in” from their own devices, we come together to socialize, explore and develop a critical understanding and perspective on Jewish history, contemporary issues and the world around us.

Halevi’s writing is thoughtful, personal and often emotional — qualities reflected in our book club’s dialogue. We begin each meeting by talking about a chapter of Letters, but inevitably end up drifting away from the text itself, sharing our own feelings and views as well as the ways in which we, as Jewish-American college students, feel the ripples of Israel’s political turmoil in our own lives. Our discussion helps us interact with the text on a meaningful personal level, while the book itself provides a thought-provoking account that powerfully captures and contextualizes the political and emotional difficulty and complexity of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Soon, Reading Between the Lines will have the incredible opportunity of speaking with Halevi via video call. We look forward to digging even deeper into his work, ideas and connection to Israel. While we are not the “neighbors” to whom Halevi addresses his letters, we are fortunate to be among the many readers touched by Letters to My Palestinian Neighbor.

Getting Back to Business

Whitmer continues to allow different sectors of the economy to re-engage. Her stay-at-home order was set to expire May 28, and on May 26 she opened up retail and auto dealers by appointment only.

To make transitioning easier, the Small Business Association of Michigan has developed resources to assist small businesses.

“Getting back to work will require changes for small businesses that could be overwhelming,” said SBAM President Brian Calley in a statement.

The “Get Back to Work Safely Guide” includes tips and resources for issues that small businesses may face, including revising employee policies and employee handbooks, as well as talking with employees about new expectations. The guide also provides checklists on PPE use, cleaning and health screenings, as well as other considerations small businesses may need to take on in their facilities.

The guide is available at sbam.org/Resources/COVID-19-Resources.

Noa Dahan is a student at Western Michigan University. Isabella Lieberman is a student at Grand Valley State University. Sarah Weiss is a student at Eastern Michigan University.

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