“If you represent Israel, then why are you here?” the man demanded.

“We’re here because we represent Israel,” I replied.

On Saturday, Sept. 19, Huskies for Israel stood in Copley Square surrounded by over 200 people with signs and candles who had come to honor the lives of Aylan Kurdi, Galip Kurdi and the thousands of other children and adults who have lost their lives in the conflict in Syria. Many attendees held signs, reading “4 million refugees… Can’t we help more than 0.0025 percent?” and “You have to understand, no one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” Others carried a massive banner that read “We the people of Boston welcome Syrian refugees.” We were the only ones holding an Israeli flag. Our flag began to draw some looks and murmurs and, before long, we were approached by a young man who introduced himself as Feraz and requested to know the reason for our presence. 

“My family came to this country as refugees,” I explained. “Everyone deserves to have a home they can feel safe in, without the fear of rockets and destruction. We’re here to show that Israel stands with Syria.” For the next hour, we were continuously approached by other attendees – families, journalists and other students. Among them were Syrians, Lebanese people and Palestinians. Though many of these confrontations started with hostility, they opened the door to an important dialogue for a humanitarian cause.

Over 4 million refugees have fled the war in Syria. In what is being called the worst humanitarian disaster of our time, more than 11 million Syrians have been displaced, crucially impacting surrounding nations. The Syrian civil war has killed over 220,000 people, half of whom are civilians, with widespread human rights violations on all sides of the conflict. With a lack of food and medical assistance and the constant threat of danger, people have fled Syria in massive numbers, seeking refuge abroad. While many have welcomed refugees into their countries, others have passionately protested against the newcomers. Syria’s neighbor, Israel, has been providing medical treatment to refugees, with over 1,000 treated in Israeli hospitals. The Israeli organization IsraAid has sent a team to help refugees in Europe, and the Israeli company SodaStream has offered to help by providing jobs and homes for 1,000 Syrian refugees.

At the vigil, we shared our stories, putting politics and ideology aside to focus on this humanitarian crisis. Some conversations were more tense than others, but ultimately, each ended with a feeling of camaraderie and support for the Syrian people. Israeli, Lebanese, American, Syrian – regardless of background, we were singular of purpose.

Overall, we came away from the event with the realization that what unites us as people is far greater than what divides us as nations. All you have to do to find that common ground is agree to listen to each other’s stories, whether they be about Syria, Israel or the millions of refugees currently in desperate need of help.

-Allie Glushanok is a third-year business administration and interactive media dual major and vice president of communications for Huskies for Israel at Northeastern.

Photo courtesy Alec Plotkin, Huskies for Israel