A Letter of Thanks For the Hartman Israel Trip in December 2019

By Ariel, Jewish student leader at Guelph University 

“Find community in a cacophony of voices, not an echo chamber of tribalism.”

This particular line has been replaying in my mind ever since I heard it on the trip. Community is felt on many scales, from as small as my close circle of family and friends, to as large as the Canadian, North American, and International Jewish communities. For me, community is the group of people with which one chooses to surround themselves and identify with, and for these four years, my community is the family I’ve chosen to surround myself with at Guelph Hillel.

In Hillel, we often talk about defining our community as a tent, setting core values as our immobile pegs that ground us and provide foundational framework upon which we lay the tarp – the flexible and ever-reshaping borders that definite and redefine boundaries for our community based on shifting ideologies and expectations. The tent has open flaps on all side, inviting anyone to come inside from any direction, and join in the displacement of the tarp and the updating of the community dogmas. However, the tent is not adapting and malleable to anyone who enters and tries to remove one of the pegs, challenging the very core values on which our community exists. Excluding people who disagree or challenge our communities’ core values might sometimes feel like the creation and reaffirmation of an echo chamber, a secluded group who neglect diversity in opinion because it appears to fundamentally conflict with their own.

 There are times when I feel afraid or uncertain of what I might do or say in the event that someone tries to dismantle one of my core values – my Judaism, my Zionism, my drive for inclusivity for myself and other peripheral persons – and while there is no way to predict what I would say or do should the moment arise, the best I can do to prepare and seek constant learning and growth; something I was able to so immensely undergo during my time at the Hartman Institute. 

Exploring perspectives different than my own, challenging my own stances and creeds and emerging more solidified in my identity and beliefs, and doing so all within the context of Jewish student leaders motivated to learn and grow as a greater Jewish community was insight and evidence that total pluralism is possible and achievable, without sacrificing any grounding pegs of the tent, any core values of the group. From my time in Israel this past December I take with me more than just the multitudes of lessons learned and moments of growth undergone, but also the vision, the experience, and the feeling of what a small pluralistic Jewish community can be, who’s members might differ quite extremely in certain opinions and stances, creating a cacophony of voices, but who are still united by core values – by their drive to see the Jewish community flourish, their desire to achieve the absolute best for Israel and its inhabitants, and by their willingness to learn and maintain open-mindedness towards the adopted family that is the community within which we find ourselves. I cannot thank you enough for allowing me the opportunity to experience this firsthand and bring this feeling back to our Guelph Hillel community, with the drive and inspiration to further implement this vision here too.

With deepest appreciation and gratitude,