This blog post is by Daniel Pearlman, a junior studying Political Science, Judaic Studies and Art History at the University of Michigan. A few weeks ago, the Israel Cohort at Michigan Hillel organized an event to support students during an uncomfortable time. Earlier that day, a student group constructed two large structures in the center of campus that were meant to resemble the security fence between Israel and the West Bank. Members of that group dressed in military gear, blocking the passageway between the structures, while other students got on their knees and acted powerless before them. On the structures were disturbing messages and drawings that clearly targeted Jewish and other pro-Israel students on campus. For many freshmen, this bizarre and offensive enactment was their first time feeling targeted on campus because of their identity.
The Israel Cohort, encompassing the leaders and fellows of various clubs and organizations that fall anywhere on the pro-Israel spectrum, used this as an opportunity to spread mutual understanding and to promote dialogue. As a member of the Israel Cohort representing The David Project fellows at Michigan, I knew this would help support positive change on campus.
Our event had two parts. The first part was an informal discussion of what happened on campus. We offered concerned students and other Israel advocates a safe space to share their thoughts and opinions about what they witnessed earlier in the day and about Israel in general. Some students felt personally targeted yet had trouble explaining how or why; they couldn’t transfer their thoughts into words.
After debriefing, the second part began. This portion focused more on empowering students. Different “workshops” were set up around the room, each with a different theme. Students freely moved between the stations, going to whichever workshops they thought would be most helpful.
I decided to lead a workshop on Personal Narratives, an important skill I first learned in August at The David Project’s Relationship Building Institute in Boston. My workshop offered something relevant to everyone, but it was especially popular with students who didn’t know how to effectively advocate for Israel.
A personal narrative is simple to explain and easy to create, yet it is immensely effective. It is not just a story, but also a skill. It is neither political nor provocative. It is constantly evolving, depending on how you feel and whom you are talking to. It is a tool to make a conversation more meaningful. It reveals your passions and your identity. Most importantly, though, it is totally genuine. It comes from the heart and will never be challenged. After all, statistics can be debated but feelings cannot.
I began by asking the students at my workshop to take five minutes to think about and write an answer to three questions:
1. What is your first memory of Israel?
2. What is your best memory of Israel?
3. What is your worst memory of Israel?
By independently reflecting on their own experiences, the students started the process of critical thinking. Their creative juices began to flow. Within a few minutes, students were quickly scribbling their thoughts onto their papers, hoping not to forget anything. My Personal Narratives workshop was the key to help them unlock the memories that ultimately shaped who they are today.
In the end, I think I learned just as much as I taught. My peers shared incredible personal narratives with inspiring passion. Some of their stories gave me goose bumps. Most of them were very relatable. One of them almost made me cry.
I truly believe that Personal Narratives can make anyone an advocate. So, what’s yours?