Emotions Play Vital & Underrated Role in Classroom

The first attack occurred on July 30, 2015 during the gay pride parade in Jerusalem. Six people were stabbed and one — a sixteen year-old Israeli girl named Shira Banki — died from her wounds. Less than a night later in West Bank, two Israeli settlers burned the home of a Palestinian family to the ground, killing the infant, Ali Dawabsha. Later, his mother and father also died from injuries, leaving only Ali’s four-year-old brother Ahmad alive. In the case of both the firebombing and the stabbing at the pride parade, the attackers were Jewish-Israeli extremists.

I was in Israel as a member of the Bronfman Youth Fellowships, a cohort of 26 Jewish North American high school juniors. We were diverse politically and religiously. My cohort had been invited to the Pride Parade by Rabbi Steve Greenberg, founder of an Israeli gay rights organization called the Jerusalem Open House. Because of scheduling issues, we were unable to go. I had fought against this decision, saying we ought to make time for the parade, but to my disappointment then, and gratitude now, I was overruled.


My cohort and I made a sign proclaiming our solidarity with the Palestinian family. We said the mourner’s Kaddish for Ali Dwabsha, and said the healing prayer for the stabbing victims. Then, a few days later, we left. I brought home with me a disturbing feeling of incomprehension. I was hungry for more information, more stories, to help me grapple with the tragedies that had taken place in Israel.   

As I sat down in History of the Middle East class at the beginning of the winter, my initial inclination was to smother my emotions. I was worried that the connection I feel to Israel and the love that I have for my friends there would bias me as we discussed the conflict. Alternatively, I feared that my sympathy with the Palestinian cause would sway me in the opposite direction, and I would be so confused emotionally that I would get nothing done academically. Teacher Dan Matz said that there is a danger in experiencing a place before learning about. “It erects some hurdles,” he explained. “Because maybe you want a certain story.”

But Matz also said “you learn better if you’ve been to a place because you care more.” He encourages emotional responses in the class, even organizing a fishbowl discussion during which the Jewish students in the class sat in the center and discussed whether we had encountered emotional roadblocks in our study of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. At first I was shy, unwilling to admit my political-religious-emotional sentiments in such a public setting. But then others spoke up. Izzy Goldberg (’16), perfectly articulated my fears when he expressed that he felt a connection to Israel but wasn’t sure how to articulate it in an emotional setting. Here’s what I wrote in my journal about the moments following Goldberg’s assertion:

Dan asked the rest of us if we also felt a connection to the land. I was fully prepared to say no (I don’t know why, but I felt like I should say no), but then I surprised myself by saying yes. I told them … there was something about standing in the place where Moses stood and feeling that your blood is so much older than you are. I also said that my primary connection is through people. When we talk about that occupying army, I picture my friends in green…


I was only able to clear my hurdle once I realized it wasn’t my emotions but my fear of them that had impeded me. It is easy, at school, to see academia as cold and unfeeling; to see emotions as superfluous. But emotional responses, while not out of place in an analytical essay, are just as legitimate as intellectual ones. By acknowledging my feelings and potential biases, I was able to see more clearly.

I sat down with Dylan Earp (‘16), who is planning on spending next year at a pro-labor, pro-socialist, Zionist, anti-occupation gap year program in Israel. This sounds complicated because he wants it to be. Earp expressed feeling excited to “grapple with (his) Zionism and Jewish identity.” He said, “Any gap year program is about finding yourself…the whole point of being Jewish is wrestling with complexities.”

I admire and envy Earp for having the courage to dedicate an entire year to grapple with his internal self. I believe that there is high value in emotional introspection, and we should strive to carve out more time for it. We should certainly allow it into our intellectual discourse. Perhaps the question we should be asking ourselves is, why should the two responses be separated at all?