June 7, 2024
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Navigating the Conflict Before and After October 7

Last year, through a generous grant from the Covenant Foundation, and with the support of the SAR High School Innovation Lab, Dr. Hillel Gruenberg and I started working on a project called “Navigating the Conflict.” Created in the mold of Model UN, the goal was to engage students in understanding the myriad perspectives that must be accommodated in order to create lasting peace for Israel and the Palestinian people.

Peace has a greater chance of success if the parties involved are invested in its success. As such, when there are not only competing security and economic interests, but narratives as well, which often stand diametrically opposed to one another, the chances diminish. Importantly, neither Israelis nor Palestinians constitute a monolithic group, and within each group are competing voices. Navigating these complex and competing interests, from within and outside of each group, is challenging, to say the least. Given that we as a community are deeply emotionally invested in this conflict, our hope was that students would gain a better understanding of its complexities by actively trying to solve it.

Over the summer, we read through countless books and articles to collate a reading list for our potential students. We reached out to Israelis from across the political and geographic spectrum and interviewed them with open-ended questions about their thoughts on the possibility of peace (or lack thereof) and their specific hopes and concerns. I contacted colleagues in Israel to help with conducting similar interviews with Palestinians they knew. I also studied a variety of guides to Model UN and similar programs in order to figure out how best to guide our students in their own preparation.

We were somewhat nervous. This is not an easy topic to engage with, and there are strong feelings within our community about the very possibility of peace in the first place. Furthermore, it is difficult to ask students to advocate, even from a theoretical perspective, for a position that even begins to consider the positions of extremist and terrorist groups. This is a concern we took very seriously, and were going to work hard to navigate this approach delicately. Having our students take these positions was not necessary for our educational goals, and we considered a few options to get around this issue, such as not having students represent those factions but having one of us do so for them or, at least for the first year or so, omitting those groups altogether (even while recognizing that this would make our discussions less realistic).

Right before Sukkot, we met one last time to put the finishing touches on the program and to compose an email inviting students to join this initiative. We finalized a list of potential issues that could be negotiated (among them economic and security issues), from which our students would choose. Hillel and I left school for the upcoming chag feeling both nervous and excited about this project.

Then came October 7.

While before, we were contemplating security concerns and abstract challenges, potential collaboration and competing narratives, now we came face-to-face with a real and possibly existential threat. There were real hostages and a real sense of mourning for the hundreds of victims. We had entered the chag full of optimism and finished it full of despair. By the time we returned to school, the world had changed.

From the outset of this project, we knew that there was a strong possibility that our “model” peace negotiations would end in failure. For us, that was part of the learning process. (Many of the items on our reading list highlight the possibility of failure.) If our students were able to successfully negotiate an agreement, all the better. But even if they failed, we would have succeeded in helping them better understand the issues and the delicate nature of negotiations. They would work on their negotiating skills, their research skills and their problem-solving skills. Furthermore, we had hoped to have the participants in the project share their experiences with other students in their 10th grade history classes, where they study the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as part of the curriculum.

But now our students didn’t need an extracurricular club to engage them with this topic. In their homes, at school and in their communities, their days and nights were focused on the aftermath of October 7. In school, we worked (and continue to work) tirelessly to support them emotionally as they navigated this crisis, educated them about the various issues related to the attack and subsequent war, and encouraged their initiatives to help those in need in Israel. They were inundated with news reports about the massacres across Israel, the hostage situation and negotiations, and the war efforts. Everywhere they turned was another reminder of the conflict.

Two pesukim have been on my mind since October 7 every time I think of this project. On the one hand, we find in Tehillim 12:6, אני שלום, וכי אדבר המה למלחמה “I am peace, but as I speak, they are for war.” This pasuk highlights the challenges of pursuing peace in the face of those who oppose it. On the other hand, we find in Kohelet 3:8, עת מלחמה ועת שלום, “There is a time for peace and a time for war.’’ While we hope and we pray that one day we can use the materials we have collected in the ways we had wanted, it is clear that now is not that time.

This initiative was developed as part of SAR High School’s Innovation Lab. As with any experiment, there is always the possibility that it will not turn out quite the way you had expected. In education, one always has to pivot and make changes on the fly. New circumstances arise that challenge our assumptions and force us to reconsider our methods. This one, at least for now, didn’t even begin. And yet, on some level, we learned a very important educational lesson, one that we often acknowledge for our students. Failure is always a possibility. Nevertheless, our failures often lead to something new. Right now, in 2024, it’s hard to see how we will use these materials and our plans to discuss Middle East peace, but I am confident that even if this particular initiative never gets off the ground, we will find a way to use this experience, and hopefully these materials, for something new.


Rabbi Dr. Shlomo Wadler received his BA from Yeshiva College, his MA in Bible from the Bernard Revel Graduate School, and semikhah from RIETS. He has a PhD in Theology from the University of Notre Dame. Shlomo taught Tanakh and Hebrew at Yeshiva University as well as at the University of Notre Dame before joining the SAR faculty.

 About Machon Siach:

Machon Siach was established in 2015 with a legacy gift from Marcel Lindenbaum z”l, honoring the memory of his wife, Belda Kaufman Lindenbaum z”l”.

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