In Teaneck, where tensions are high over the war between Israel and Hamas, two teenagers — one Muslim and one Jewish — are working together to foster understanding and dialogue among young people about the conflict.
Rawda Elbatrawish and Liora Pelavin, both students at Teaneck High, are organizing a youth talk on Oct. 25 called "Through a Deeper Lens" that invites young people to openly discuss events in Palestine and Israel and ask questions.
"The whole purpose is to have a conversation where we can express what we believe in and why we believe it and to get educated on what is happening," said co-organizer Elbatrawish, a high school senior.
"I really hope we have a civil conversation, really understanding what is going on rather than just using social media as our main news source."
The event, at the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County in Teaneck, is open to youth up to age 25 and registration is required. Event fliers have been shared at the high school and with local mosques and synagogues.
The students' event comes amid growing tension in Teaneck, which is home to large Muslim and Jewish communities, and where people have clashed over their views over the conflict.
On Wednesday, residents packed a Board of Education meeting outraged over a letter that District Superintendent Andre Spencer sent to families offering support and counseling to students upset by the conflict.
He should have explicitly condemned Hamas and terrorism, said residents, many of whom signed a petition calling for him to revise the statement. The meeting grew so tense that the board president interrupted critics' remarks and at one point cut off volume of a speaker commenting about a Muslim student in the audience.
Other residents also showed up to praise the superintendent for recognizing grief on both sides and for not making a political statement. One student said the statement made her feel included, in a community where she did not always feel that way.
In his letter, Spencer said the school would foster open dialogue and provide a space for students to express their concerns and feelings. Counselors were available for students seeking support and “empathic and confidential guidance," he said.
The Teaneck Board of Education meeting came one day after hundreds of people rallied outside municipal hall both in support and in protest of a council resolution that condemned the Hamas terror attack in Israel and focused on trauma and fear felt in Jewish communities.
Those in support of the resolution said it was not about politics, but denouncing hate and terror and antisemitism.
Protestors called the resolution one-sided and said it ignored Palestinian suffering and a history of oppression they have faced. The council unanimously adopted the resolution.
Outside and inside the meeting, the climate was tense, emotional and at times marked with anger.
Pelavin, the Teaneck High School sophomore who is co-organizing the youth event, said the Oct. 25 event would focus on conversation and would not allow personal attacks.
"It's a safe space for anyone to talk," she said.