The Fight That Shocked Me


I never would have guessed that my biggest argument in the coexistence house would be with someone of my own faith.

by Samantha Hellwege

A class discussion in the Middle East Coexistence House (MECH) usually goes something like this: Every Monday night at 7:15 p.m., all sixteen residents come downstairs from their rooms to sit on the couches in our fireside lounge for an hour and twenty minutes. A topic is then presented with a brief history and/or situations similar to it in other countries, followed by questions and discussion. For example, does the conflict in Northern Ireland provide us with any examples of how peace in the Middle East may be possible in the future? After expressing our thoughts on various topics, the conversation ebbs into other points of interest. One class discussion on the topic of homeland lent itself to a discussion of what we all thought the word homeland meant, and what we personally thought of as home. Half the residents of the House are Jewish, and the other half are a mix of Christians, Muslims, and even a Buddhist.

Before entering the Middle East Coexistence House, I prepared myself for what I knew might be some troublesome topics. I knew there would be points of contention. What I never envisioned, however, was that it would come from someone Jewish, like myself. One evening, the housemates started talking about the Gaza Strip. I said that maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing that Israel pulled out; a fellow Jewish housemate became angry at this and insisted that Israel never should have left and should reclaim all territories it has ever given back. Suddenly, heated opinions were flying.

I tried to listen to all the points, but it became impossible. I was stunned. I offered a rebuttal and, at that point, it turned into an argument that lasted for the remainder of the class time. It was something of a spectacle. Other housemates sat silently and watched as if they were sitting front row at a tennis match, trying to follow each serve and return. It was the most intense evening at the house to that point, and I learned how hard it can be to state an opinion without feeling like you are making a personal attack. Until then, our classes had been quite civil, with everyone carefully choosing each word to express their opinion. This new argument, on the other hand, was heated and personal.

A non-Hollywood ending

Eventually, the discussion ended and everyone slowly retreated to their rooms to work on other assignments. I, however, couldn’t help but replay the argument over and over again in my head. I felt hurt, angry, frustrated, and confused. I understood there might be conflict with members of different religions, but weren’t Jews supposed to be united on everything? After all, how does a group remain strong in the absence of unity? How could she have the completely opposite view as me? I felt like she had launched a personal attack, and even more so, I felt embarrassed, afraid that the non-Jewish housemates would view us as inept, discombobulated, even.

Luckily, my roommate Shari, one of the Christians of the house, was willing to lend an ear while I vented and that’s when I was able to take a step back and look at the situation more objectively. While venting about it felt good, I realized it was not going to change anything. I had to accept that not everyone has the same opinions, and that this was the whole point of MECH, to learn to communicate and listen. It was the reason I wanted to live in the house in the first place, to challenge myself and to learn to understand the opinions of others, no matter how different they may be from my own.

So, even though we may have disagreed, the most important thing was that we could sit down, talk, and listen to each other. Taking the time to hear each other out is how we begin to settle our differences. And, even though this argument was not the last between myself and this Jewish housemate, our future arguments felt less personal. A great Hollywood ending to this story would be to say that she and I are now best friends, but it’s not true; however, now we are able to have extremely productive debates.

Also, I now understand that just because you practice the same religion does not mean you will have the same opinions. As I have since been reminded, Jews are notorious for their ability to debate and disagree on just about anything. At the very least, I can look back on that night and know that, while something may seem bad at first, it can, in fact, transform into something very beneficial.

About the Author

Samantha Hellwege
Samantha Hellwege is currently studying abroad in Valencia, Spain, for the spring 2008 semester. She hopes to spend the upcoming summer in Morocco learning Arabic. She is currently majoring in Middle Eastern studies and double-minoring in Spanish and Jewish studies. Her senior year will be spent living in the Middle East Coexistence House for the Samantha enjoys photography and reading. Future career plans are unclear at the moment, but will involve lots of traveling!

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