On November 11, 2015, the room snickered as the first student raised his hand high and reached for the microphone. It wasn’t that we thought asking questions was worth snickering at—that’s what we were all there to do. So what made it funny? Senator Chris Coons had that exact question on his mind and clear as day on his face as he took in our stifled laughter. And then the student stood up and introduced himself clearly into the microphone as the chairperson of Delaware’s College Republicans group. And then Senator Coons got the joke.
The Delaware senator is a Democrat, and even those throughout the room with minimal knowledge of politics knew that Democrats and Republicans have a history of getting along like cats and dogs. Still, that didn’t stop anyone from coming to the lecture that student advocacy group Israel U planned and put together. We all listened intently as Senator Coons shared his perspective and answered questions.
The lecture and q-and-a focused on a topic that is currently in the media and always important to us: Israel. The senator started the talk with a fifteen minute explanation of what is happening in the Middle East and why. It was, of course, a condensed version in such a short amount of time, but it would serve to frame the rest of the night.
After that, the floor opened up. That first student questioned Senator Coons to explain how the Iran Nuclear Deal isn’t unconstitutional as a treaty unpassed by the Senate. (The senator explained that the deal is not considered a treaty and therefore constitutional, and wouldn’t rise to the Republican leader’s pressing debate.) After that, the line to ask questions steadily grew throughout the night. Questions about everything from Palestine to the Syrian refugee crisis were asked continuously until Donna Schwartz, Hillel’s director, had to cut off the questioning so that the senator could get home to his family.
What I personally found the most notable about the night, though, was not that we were in the presence of a senator, but that we were in the presence of each other. Everyone in that room had a different opinion on the issues in the Middle East. Even those who agree on most points often have at least one issue that divides them. We were not all Democrats or Republicans, or even Independents, Libertarians, Socialists, Anarchists, or Nihilists. We were not all Jewish or Christian or Muslim, not all agnostic, atheist, Buddhist, or unsure. We were not all English majors, not all engineering majors, not all history majors. We were as unique as our opinions, yet we all came together to listen and learn. We respected one another and made efforts to learn not just from Senator Coons but from each other. To me, that is the most important take away from the evening.
With the world in such a state of flux, it is more important than ever to put aside our differences and work together. Even before last weekend’s tragic attacks, we sat together for a discussion with Senator Coons to create a peaceful environment for learning and discussing. Hopefully, we can continue making that environment. G-d knows we need it.