Finding Optimism and Engagement at J Street's Policy Conference

This is a guest post by Rebecca Hornstein. Rebecca is from Minneapolis and grew up at Temple Israel. She is a Junior majoring in Religious Studies at Macalester College.
I returned from J Street‘s “Giving Voice to Our Values” conference last year with a greater sense of optimism about my role in creating a peaceful solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. This sense of hope stood in stark contrast to the pessimism I had felt about a peaceful end to the conflict after spending a year in Jerusalem between high school and college.
During my time in Israel, I heard stories of lives lived in the conflict from countless diverse perspectives and returned home with many unresolved questions. I also brought back a profound and continuing sense of ambivalence about my relationship to a place with which I have a strong connection, yet have also seen violate my deepest values first hand.
When I returned to the Twin Cities to begin my freshman year at Macalester College that following fall, I found that all of the nuance and complexity I had encountered during my time in Israel/Palestine was not reflected in the simplistic and polarized conversation about the conflict taking place on campus and in my community. I also saw my dream of a peaceful resolution to the conflict slip further and further away as violence in the region continued without a political solution. My feelings of hopelessness caused me to disengage from both conversation and action.
Participating in the J Street conference last year was my catalyst for re-engaging.
As I listened to Israeli, American, and Palestinian activists taking risks and putting everything on the line for the peaceful solution we all so desperately need, I was forced to look inward and ask myself “What’s my excuse for not taking action?
The time I spent with other students from around the country in conversations around the Israeli/Palestinian conflicts on their campuses was incredibly meaningful. Suddenly I was surrounded by hundreds of other students wrestling with the same questions with which I had been wrestling. The people I met and the stories I heard that weekend reminded me that with unity and hard work we have the ability to help create a peaceful Israel that reflects the Jewish values of equality and justice we were raised never to compromise.

This year I will attend the 2012 J Street conference, “Making History,” joined by 12 other Macalester students determined to work for a productive dialogue around, and ultimately a solution to, the conflict. If you are unable to join us for this historic conference (March 24-27), be sure to follow live conference coverage along at