Hillel Kent State: Creating Conversation About World Conflict


The student life coordinator at Hillel, Mike Pollak (pictured left), stands with some of the Kent State students on the student leader Israel trip in January, 2023. Photo by Mike Pollak.

Sophia Lucente

In January, Hillel took student leaders to Israel and Palestine over winter break to create a better dialogue in the Kent community about the conflict..

Hillel, an organization for Jewish life on campus, took 20 student leaders and five Jewish students to Israel over winter break to learn about the conflict. They listened to multiple speakers from all sides, according to Mike Pollak, the student life coordinator at Hillel.

“The goal of the trip is for student leaders to form their own opinion about Israel,” Pollak said. “The second part of the goal is for them to come back and create dialogue in their own communities.”

The root of the conflict in Israel and Palestine is a territory issue, and the students were able to talk to community members and organization leaders from all sides, hearing their solutions to the conflict.

Some of the other activities on the trip included going on an off-roading jeep tour, touring a holocaust remembrance center, swimming in the dead sea and hearing speakers from all sides of the conflict. Unlike the other trips Hillel takes, such as the birthright trip, this trip consisted of mostly educational activities.

For Julie Buonaiuto, a student leader on the trip, this was her first experience overseas. What surprised her the most was how much she loved it.

“I was expecting it to be more challenging for me to go out of the country, but I loved every minute of it,” she said. “I never expected to be so connected to Jewish culture.”

Her favorite activity they did was swimming in the dead sea. She said the scenery was beautiful, and they could see mountains in the distance as they floated in the water.

This was the third time Helen Gaffney, a Kent State senior and member of Hillel, has gone to Israel with Hillel. Even though she’s been there three times, she still had new experiences, including going to Bethlehem and Ramallah, hearing the Palestinian perspectives, and learning about Ethiopian Jews.

She said the trip was successful in its goal, and that “people are more educated and empathetic to the conflict” after going and talking to civilians in person.

“It’s such a complex conflict with so many perspectives, but I feel like people are a lot more educated and empathetic because we’re not just looking at a social media post,” she said. Gaffeny continues, “we’re there in their homes, sharing a meal with them, talking about their experiences, how they thrive, what their hardships are, and I think that’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”