Beyond Hyperboles and Hate – By Carolina Grinsztajn

A Truly Meaningful Exchange at MJC 2014

When I arrived in Vienna for the MJC, I was tired.

Having spent the previous few months in Israel, the then ongoing conflict in Gaza had put me in a state of mind where the last thing I wanted to discuss was this conflict. On the one hand, I had seen a lot of love and solidarity inside my community and many initiatives gave me hope. But on the other hand, the war was taking its toll, not just in military camps, but on everyday life as people’s minds and speeches became consumed with the topic. Social media was becoming a platform for banners, people were screaming their truths, and there was no real debate – only misunderstanding with no end in sight.

So, when I arrived in Vienna for the MJC, I was tired.

The first days of the conference gave me a huge relief: we were more than a 100 Muslims and Jews from 38 countries hanging around and getting to know each other. We shared prayers and songs and learnt a lot from each other. We united over themes like the alarming increase in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia within Europe, and realized that there is indeed a lot in common between our faiths.

However, it was only a matter of time that the Israel-Palestine conflict emerged during our committee sessions. I knew the discussion will be more nuanced than the exchanges taking place on social media at the time. I was expecting it to be more factual at any rate, but I was not expecting the discussion to begin with something as personal as, “How do you feel about this conflict?”

Hold on. No facts, no blame game, only how I feel?

It was a completely different experience. My own feelings about the conflict ranged from sad, frustrated, hopeless and angry. One by one other participants also started sharing their feelings: one felt threatened, the other felt scared. It was interesting though, that among the feelings no one even mentioned hate. The emotions were there, they were real, we were dealing with it with truth, but not hate.

When people started explaining why they felt a certain emotion, I found myself disagreeing with many reasons that were put forth. And then I realized: it did not matter. It did not matter if the reasons for those feelings were true, false, right or wrong. That person next to me was being true to himself or herself. They had an emotion and that could not be denied. You can disagree with facts, but not with emotions. And then, I understood the importance of what we were doing there.

Even though I support the right to self-defense, even through military means, and I definitely support negotiations and political agreements, what I did realize was that you may try to solve a conflict through military means, or even through political agreements, but as long as the people involved in the conflict still feel threatened and hurt, the conflict will continue to exist. The only way out is to do what we were doing right there in our committees: talking, understanding and creating relationships that can break stereotypes and fortify the search for a common ground. Although we may not have solved the conflict in that room, we did manage to sow the seeds of our own peace.

The moment we are able to understand people and respect their emotions, we can evolve from tolerating each other to actually appreciating the differences among us.

One of the things that struck me as a participant at MJC was the conference’s ability to appeal to our common humanity, while not denying our differences. Yes, we have a lot in common, but we are different- in religious beliefs, political affiliations, principles, traditions – even within our own communities. So we recognized, faced and talked about not only what unites us but also about what differentiates us. And by this point in the conference, one can actually value the differences in opinion and admire the beauty of the people as they dress up in their country’s traditional clothing for social events.

I was especially amazed by how the organization tried to manage so many different food restrictions (kosher, halal, vegetarian, and so on) because they believed in the beauty of the difference in religious and principled practices, and at the end, we could cry together at Mauthausen because we recognized the right to be different without being dehumanized.

We also worked developing projects that could spread that message to a greater public, with the help of the techniques we learned in our committee and with the support of our MJC family across the globe.

So when I left MJC, I was tired. But this time it was only a physical sensation, after all, it had been a very busy and intense week. In my heart and mind, however, I was more energized and strengthened than ever before!

Thank you, MJC Family for making the conference a truly unforgettable experience.

Carolina Grinsztajn
Conflict Transformation Committee
MJC 2014, Participant