Contributed by CAMERA intern Emma Fruchtman.

To conclude the University of Michigan’s Second Annual Wolverines for Israel Conference, Professor Michael Leitner of California State University at Chico shed new light on the Arab-Israeli conflict. He presented the idea of “Playing for Peace,” programs which bring together children of different backgrounds to share their love of sports. Through common interests, Jews and Arabs will engage with one another in a positive way.

Dr. Michael Leitner presenting at the University of Michigan.
Dr. Michael Leitner presenting at the University of Michigan.

By bringing Professor Leitner to campus, Lindsay Hurwtiz, the CAMERA Fellow at the University of Michigan, hoped to “inspire the students to recognize that there are smaller things to be done to help end the conflict, aside from large political movements. [She] wanted to give the pro-Israel group on campus a tangible approach [to lessening the tension].”

Students were engaged and motivated by Professor Leitner’s efforts. During his talk, Professor Leitner had the students take part in an interactive exercise. After the event, “almost every audience member came up to one of the hosts to comment on how incredible the speaker was. There was also talk of creating a soccer team with MuJew (campus’ Muslim-Jewish group),” hosting an inter-faith sports tournament, participating in the Friendship Games, and other recreational projects.

The event was publicized over Facebook, through flyers, and by tabling in popular buildings on campus. The leaders sent out personal messages and emails to Hillel and other groups. In the end, approximately 40 students came, including regular attendees and several newcomers. It was a success! Had it not been just before finals week, there would have been a bigger turnout.

Not only did Professor Leitner speak about these sports programs, but he also suggested other events (i.e. a dance), which can promote positive interactions amongst the Jewish and Arab communities on campus.

All in all, Lindsay described how “the most effective aspect of this program was ultimately showing the students that there is something they too can do to ease the conflict… even if it’s on a smaller scale.”

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