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Monday, August 14, 2006

Groups dispel myths about Middle East conflict

Courtney Hagen

Monday, August 14, 2006

Rabbi Zalman Tiechtel lives by the motto that “labels are for shirts and not for people.”

With the increasing conflict between Israel and Hezbollah, Tiechtel’s motto has become even more important to him. Tiechtel is co-director of the Chabad Jewish Center at the University of Kansas.

With KU students returning to Lawrence, Tiechtel is preparing himself for an onslaught of questions and misconceptions from students about the conflict.

Last month, members of the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah crossed into Israel, killed three Israeli soldiers and kidnapped another two. The event set off a chain of violent events between Israel and Hezbollah. Israel began bombing the Lebanese city of Beirut and Hezbollah fired back with rockets.

“The greatest challenge today, especially with American youth, is simply the myths and confusion that strongly exist,” Tiechtel said. “It is simple confusion of people on the role of Israel today.”

Tiechtel said one of his goals for Chabad was to be a source of information for Jews and non-Jews alike to give everyone the opportunity to ask questions.

“Everyone is invited,” Tiechtel said. “Labels aside, our goal is to simply educate anybody and everybody who is interested in learning the true facts about the Jewish people or the land of Israel.”

Though on a different side of the conflict, Nick Kallail, Derby third-year law student, also understands the misconceptions. Kallail is Lebanese and understands that his peers may examine the conflict from a more American point of view. He thinks a different perspective is important to better understand the situation.

“The important part is making sure that the ones who care are gaining a better understanding of what is happening there,” Kallail said. “To get a more rounded understanding of what is happening, one can’t solely rely on CNN or Fox for the facts. You have to take what they say and supplement it with talking to people from the region and looking at media reporting from other countries as well.”

Kallail doesn’t feel strongly about labels either. He said he had noticed a strong misconception through people’s belief that it was Israel and Lebanon fighting and not Israel and Hezbollah, a small militant part of Lebanon.

Both Kallail and Teichtel agree that an open dialogue is necessary to combat the stereotypes and misconceptions. Kalleil said lectures or other programs might be valuable in helping people understand. Teichtel plans to host events at the Chabad center to strengthen solidarity of its members and educate others.

“We are told in the Jewish religion that the greatest weapon to combat darkness is light,” Teichtel said. “In this situation the best we can do is good deeds and educate our brothers.”

More information on Israel, Judaism and programs at Chabad can be found at www.JewishKU.com. Information about Lebanon can be found at www.arab.net/lebanon/.

Kansan staff writer Courtney Hagen can be contacted at chagen@kansan.com.

— Edited by Nicole Kelley

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