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An Evening with Naftali Bennett

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Jewish Students Reflect on Conversations with Israel’s Former Prime Minister

On March 22, 2023, Duke’s Jewish students had the unique opportunity to hear from Israel’s Former Prime Minister, Naftali Bennett. The Duke Center for Jewish Studies, with Jewish Life at Duke and the Program American Grand Strategy, hosted An Evening with Naftali Bennett, drawing over 1,000 students, faculty, staff, and community members to Duke’s Page Auditorium.

Moderator Professor Bruce Jentleson led a stirring conversation, asking challenging questions about Bennett’s background, his viewpoint on settlements, his viewpoint on the peace process, and more. The audience submitted a wide range of questions on complex issues ranging from Israel’s relationship with India, to why democracies – including Israel – seem to be plagued by polarization at this particular moment, to why Israel hasn’t joined in on economic sanctions of Russia. Read more about the event.

Following this event Prime Minister Bennett was welcomed to the Freeman Center for Jewish Life for a private reception with student leaders of Israel-focused groups on campus, Center for Jewish Studies’ Ostad Fellows, the student executive board of American Grand Strategy, faculty, staff, and friends.

The Student Perspective

Students Abby Finkle (T ’25) and Mikhal Ben-Joseph (T ’23) shared with Jewish Life at Duke their reflections on the experience of meeting Bennett.

My Jewish Identity

“I was obviously thrilled to hear from and meet Prime Minister Bennett, but I was confused as to why he would come speak at a university in North Carolina that has a lower Jewish population than many other elite universities, so I asked him. Bennet responded that once you hold the title of Prime Minister of Israel you are a de facto leader of the Jewish people, and thus you are responsible for engaging with Jews all over the world. On my gap year in Israel, I was on an almost entirely Israeli program, and I was constantly asked if I would join the IDF and make Aliyah, the obvious subtext being that a true Zionist would. I found Bennett’s response validating; even though I chose college over the IDF, my Jewish identity/connection to Israel is still strong enough to warrant the previous prime minister’s time. ”

-Abby Finkle, T ’25, Duke Center for Jewish Studies Ostad Fellow

A Human Connection

“I am incredibly grateful to have had the opportunity to not only meet, but also to have a meaningful and enlightening conversation with Prime Minister Bennett. My greatest takeaway from this experience is that Bennett, like all important changemakers, is a person who holds strengths and weaknesses, who has questions with no perfect answers, who knows that the real world is filled with challenges and compromise. Rather than me listening to a politician “speechify” from afar, this reception allowed me to make a real, human connection with an important and thoughtful policymaker through conversation. Bennett’s explanation for being involved in Israeli politics as simply “the way things should be” as part of his Jewish identity inspired me to recognize the connection between my own Jewish identity and the career aspirations I hold.”

-Mikhal Ben-Joseph, T ’23, Co-President of Duke Israel Public Affairs Committee (DIPAC)

Following this event, Jewish Life at Duke Director Joyce Gordon reflected: “The intimate, personal opportunity that our students had to be in real conversation with Prime Minister Bennett is one of those “only at Duke” moments.”

Jewish Life at Duke is grateful to have played part in providing this memorable experience for Duke’s Jewish students.

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About Jewish Life at Duke

Jewish Life at Duke (JLD) is the hub for all things Jewish on Duke’s campus. An accredited Hillel as well as a department within Duke University’s Division of Student Affairs, Jewish Life at Duke is guided by a mission to empower Jewish students to learn and grow intellectually and spiritually; to inspire and nurture personal paths to Jewish identity; and to cultivate community and friendship. Comprising the Freeman Center for Jewish Life and the Rubenstein-Silvers Hillel, JLD takes a pluralistic approach to Judaism to ensure that all Jewish students, regardless of affiliation, are welcome and included.

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