On January 19-22, Yale hosted its 49th Model UN conference (YMUN49), which welcomed more than 1,000 high school students from around the globe. Among them was a delegation of ten students from Israel who traveled with Debate for Peace, an interfaith conflict resolution program that brings together Arab and Jewish students from Israeli and Palestinian cities to participate in Model United Nations conferences, where they learn to debate, negotiate, and try to resolve the most pressing issues in international relations today.
While visiting Yale for the conference, the Debate for Peace delegation received a unique opportunity to meet with Yale students enrolled in Professor Dina Roginsky’s advanced Hebrew language class, “Israel in Ideology and Practice.” Circulating around the classroom in small groups, they interacted in a shared language — Hebrew — with some students also finding linguistic commonality in English, Arabic, Russian, and Spanish.
“This was our first meeting in the US, and it gave my students confidence that they ‘belonged’ at an Ivy League institution,” said Steven Aiello, Co-Director of Debate for Peace. “In Israel, we use English as a common medium for our Arab and Jewish students, so it was interesting to come to the US and speak in Hebrew with American college students. As a non-native Hebrew speaker, I was quite impressed. I hope to return next year!”
For Maya Avraham, a high school student from the Chen Young Ambassadors School in Petah Tiqva, Israel, the interaction was a highlight in her first visit to the US. “Meeting the Yale Hebrew students was a wonderful opportunity for me to see my native language being taught to some of the most intelligent young people of this generation, as well as a chance to hear more about their different backgrounds and learn about their experiences in an Ivy League school,” she said.
Yale students in the class, all of whom speak Hebrew as a second language, valued the opportunity to converse with native Hebrew speakers and engage in cross-cultural dialogue.
Professor Roginsky reflected on how the Israeli students’ visit made the course content more tangible for her students. “While my class focuses on Israeli society and politics from afar,” she explained, “this encounter allowed my students to hear the lived experiences of their Israeli peers.”
Yaakov Huba ’23 welcomed this new perspective. “I think you learn the most about another culture by meeting those of your age. Comparing life experiences and trading stories allows for a very expansive view of both your and their cultures,” Huba said. “Meeting the Israeli students was an expansive exercise.”
In addition to exploring cultural differences, the students enjoyed discovering shared interests. “Meeting classmates with similar interests from across the world is always a unique experience,” said Sam Pekats ’23. “To be able to bond in such a way on the basis of foreign-language study made this encounter especially meaningful.”
Some Yale students established connections with the Debate for Peace students that have continued after the visit via social media. “Through our brief meeting, I am thankful to have connected with some of the students, discussed our common interests, and continued contacting them,” said Lydia Lee ’23.
Professor Roginsky teaches in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations and is a member of the Council on Middle East Studies at the Yale MacMillan Center.