Dartmouth College professors share perspectives on Israel and Palestine during Saint Michael’s lecture

April 19, 2024
Elizabeth Murray
Associate Director of Public Relations

When Dartmouth College Professor Susannah Heschel, Ph.D., heard the news out of Israel after an attack by Hamas on Oct. 7, 2023, she was shocked and felt horror as the events reignited violence between Israel and Palestine. 

“I felt that something had just ended, a certain world ended, and something awful was happening in this world going forward in a permanent kind of way,” Heschel recalled recently during a talk at Saint Michael’s College. “It was very emotional.”

Photo by Sophie Burt ’26

Heschel, a professor of Jewish Studies, said she received a call from her colleague, Professor Tarek El-Ariss, Ph.D., who teaches Middle Eastern Studies at Dartmouth College. El-Ariss was in Cairo at the time getting ready to lead an alumni trip, which was soon canceled because of the outbreak of violence in the nearby countries. 

“I heard in his voice how he felt horrified and shocked,” Heschel said. “I heard in his voice how I felt.”  

Both agreed that they needed to do something at Dartmouth to respond and provide space and education for their community members – many of whom were experiencing similar emotions in response to the conflict. The following Tuesday, they held the first of two forums, and the room was packed.

Photo by Sophie Burt ’26

“With our colleagues, we spoke to one another with great respect and dignity, and then the students stood up and asked questions, some of them very sharp and pointed, difficult to hear,” Heschel said. “But they asked politely and with dignity. They realized also we were all in this conversation together. Students and faculty were trying to cope.” 

Both professors have been nationally recognized and lauded for their handling of these issues on Dartmouth College’s campus as tensions on other campuses over the conflict between Israel and Palestine have boiled over and become extremely divisive. Heschel and El-Ariss shared their takeaways from this experience during the annual Rabbi Max B. Wall Lecture on April 11 at Saint Michael’s College, which was attended by a number of local community members, students, Edmundite priests, members of the Board of Trustees, faculty and staff.

Photo by Sophie Burt ’26

Several family members of Wall’s were in the audience during the lecture, including two of his daughters. Toward the end of the talk, one of his family members stood up to thank the two professors for sharing their experiences.

Photo by Sophie Burt ’26

“I just wanted to say how our father and grandfather would have so admired and loved both of you,” the family member said. She added that her only wish was that everyone in the U.S. could learn from the professors’ perspectives.  

So, how do the professors plan to continue these conversations going forward? Heschel and El-Ariss say they will have more forums, workshops, courses and other programs to further develop the educational resources available to the Dartmouth College community. 

“It’s important as well to create opportunities to develop these communal bonds both within the classroom and outside the classroom,” El-Ariss said. He added, “We might have very different understandings of what’s going on, but at the end of the day, there’s a communal bond between you that’s developed through this institution. …It is also our job to make sure we remind them of this.”  

Watch an interview with Professors Heschel and El-Ariss by NBC5 here.>>  

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