2009 Al-Quds Visit to Brandeis

Al-Quds Brandeis Group

The Student Exchange: Experiences and Encounters

by Garrett M. Nada ‘10 and Jared A. Hirsh ‘10

Garrett and Jared are two of the Brandeis student leaders of the Al-Quds--Brandeis Partnership. They both participated in the Brandeis-Al-Quds Summer Institute in Istanbul, Turkey and visited Al-Quds in May of 2009.

The visiting Al-Quds University students arrived on Friday, November 6, 2009. After napping for a few hours and trying to recover from the jetlag, we had dinner at the Stein restaurant on campus with the Slifka Scholars. The Slifka Scholars are Israeli Jews and Arabs selected due to their background in peace and coexistence work and activism in Israel. Several other students from the Middle East also came to the dinner to welcome the students.

The following afternoon a group of fifteen students including the five Palestinians went into Boston for a Duck Tour of the city. We then headed over to the North End where we enjoyed some authentic Italian pasta and later on some of Mike's famous cannoli. We then introduced the Al-Quds students to Boston's public transportation system, taking them on the T to Newbury Street for some window-shopping and coffee.
After having brunch on Sunday, we went to watch the band Mochila practice outside of Slosberg. Mochila is an Arabic-Jazz fusion band led by Slifka scholar Muhammad Kundos and is an eclectic mix of individuals from various backgrounds. We then took the Brandeis shuttle into Cambridge to have a North African inspired lunch at Café Algiers. After sipping some Arabic coffee, some students went to tour part of Harvard's campus while others bought souvenirs for their families.

Later in the evening the students from Al Quds University attended a meeting of the Brandeis Student Union. Members of the Brandeis Union explained the workings of the Brandeis student government and then gave a chance for the Palestinians to explain how student government worked at Al Quds. Key differences between the Brandeis and Al Quds governments including the relative merits of having national parties influence politics on campus initiated a series of interesting discussions.

The following day we were joined by a sixth Al-Quds student. We took the Al-Quds students to some our classes including an Arabic language course and a history course on the Iranian Revolution. On Tuesday we had a workshop with professor Tom Doherty on Thoreau's Civil Disobedience and then went to Concord to see where Thoreau lived and to have lunch at the home of Dan Terris, Brandeis University leader of the partnership with Al-Quds.

We also went to the Old North Bridge and learned a bit about the battle that happened there before returning to campus for a dinner celebrating the accomplishments of the Al-Quds–Brandeis Partnership. At dinner Al-Quds students spoke about the partnership and engaged in informal conversations with distinguished guests from community organizations and the higher education community of Greater Boston, and with Brandeis students, faculty members and staff.

On Wednesday, the Al-Quds students attended professor Mari Fitzduff's graduate-level course "Coexistence and Conflict: Theory and Analysis," which was discussing coexistence work being done in the settlements in the West Bank. They were then received at the Inter-Cultural Center (ICC) for a multicultural dinner and performance in which students from various culture clubs on campus got to meet the Al-Quds students. It was a fun- and food-filled evening featuring spoken word and dance performances by Brandeis and Al-Quds students as well as some craft-making activities sponsored by other ICC clubs.

On Thursday the Al-Quds students toured the Rose Art Museum with students studying cultural production. In the evening, we attended an event put on by Students for Justice in Palestine featuring a politically active Palestinian-American slam poetry performer. Several Brandeis students as well as two of the Al-Quds students also read or performed pieces they had written.

On Friday, we had a conversation moderated by Brandeis’s Protestant and Catholic chaplains that covered a wide range of topics, including interfaith dialogue, our individual visions of a good society, and what role religion can or should play in bringing about an ideal society. We also reflected on the week as a learning experience before going to the weekly campus peace vigil, followed by Friday Jummah prayer with the Muslim Student Association and enjoying a delicious Halal meal prepared by the wife of the Muslim chaplain.

At night, we had a farewell party for the students in the Ridgewood dormitory suite they lived in, and invited dozens of Brandeis students with whom our guests had made connections with during the week. Throughout much of the night, we danced to Arabic music performed live by Brandeis and Al-Quds students.

Each night, following our scheduled activities, we returned to the Ridgewood suite and reminisced about the experiences of the day while drinking Arabic coffee. Often other students who had encountered the Palestinians during the day dropped by the suite in order to talk with them and learn more about their lives in Palestine and their perspectives on Brandeis.

The Palestinians complained that they had trouble remembering all the new names and faces they met every day. There have been ongoing email and Facebook connections between Brandeis and Al-Quds students. Our guests will have a hard time matching all of the additional faces to names and email addresses when they get home.