Troy Morrow is a sophomore at Vanderbilt University majoring in Medicine, Health, and Society and Biology. On campus, he is recruitment and retention chair for LAMBDA, Vanderbilt's LGBTQIA organization. Troy is also a member of the Multicultural Leadership Council. He is pictured (far left) at Masada with the fellow Vanderbilt students Blake and Kayley. The David Project confused me at first. On Vanderbilt University’s campus, I am strongly involved with our LGBTQI+ community and our organization, LAMBDA. Why was The David Project so willing to take me, someone who had no real apparent connection to Israel, Judaism, or politics on the Israel Uncovered journey? During my orientations for Israel Uncovered, and while researching the organization, I was told that I would be able to find a connection with Israel, but honestly I was just excited for my first international trip. Now that I am back, I have an entirely new perspective on how I am connected to Israel and how seemingly disparate issues and communities can be connected. This perspective was solidified in what The David Project likes to call "relational advocacy."
Relational advocacy is a lens through which to view issues and complexities that may be unfamiliar. It means that the chronicles of struggle throughout the histories of different peoples and different locations are connected. Realizing these connections between our own personal struggles, and identities and the struggles and identities of others, can help with our understanding and change the way we approach certain issues. A history that I understand is the struggle for LGBT rights and our community. The LGBT community in America has survived and thrived because we have stuck together, and we have formed supportive communities to help each other both individually and to help our more global movement. At Vanderbilt, LAMBDA and the office of LGBTQI life have been strengthened in response to several struggles with our community in our University’s history. We have been able to form a tight knit and active community that has created change on campus, so that my peers and I feel safer and more accepted on campus today than in the past. This understanding has helped me, in turn, to understand Zionism and the need for a Jewish state with a Jewish majority. This group of people has been persecuted throughout history, and having a state that was built in part to protect their people and in part to live a life according to their own Jewish values resonates with me in a deeper way than I could have imagined.
We met a group in Tel Aviv on our second day in Israel that embodied this concept of relational advocacy and applied it directly to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This organization is called Combatants for Peace. It is an Israeli and Palestinian organization that is made up of former combatants on both the Israeli and Palestinian sides of the conflict. The members of this organization have seen the conflict firsthand, and have decided that violence will beget nothing other than violence, and the only way to make progress in this conflict is to mediate understanding between Israelis and Palestinians. They have put work into understanding the other side by actually talking to and understanding each other. Through these discussions they have come to the conclusion that the big commonality between both sides is a desperate yearning for peace. This group altered my perspective, in that this issue is not necessarily a dichotomy between Palestinians and Israelis, but rather one between peace and violence, and between hope and fear. Talking to each other and relating to each other have shifted these former combatants from violence and fear of one another, to a hope for future peace. I believe that this hope is a force that can gain momentum among all people involved in this conflict.
In conclusion, to make progress in any social justice or human struggles that we face, we need to make an effort to understand that the struggles in our personal communities are similar to struggles in other possibly unfamiliar communities. Instead of trying to understand these struggles individually with a thousand different lenses, we should recognize the connections, links, and parallels between our separate struggles. In this way we can bolster and improve each other’s perspectives, methodologies, and understandings. I now comprehend my connection to Israel, and I understand that these types of connections underly everything we experience. The next step for the world is to identify these multitudes of connections and use them to expand our understanding and mold our approaches.