The recent Israel-Gaza war has stirred global pandemonium as supporters of polarized viewpoints engage in contentious debate. To raise awareness of the issue and ensure that members of the community are civicly informed, Mercersburg Academy hosted two Brown Bag Lunches to discuss the news of the region. The most recent meeting took place last Thursday during lunch.
The discussions focused on Israel’s fraught history. “We talked about the history and origins of the conflict, the history of Israel, and how Israel formed,” stated Shanuka Navaratne ‘25. The second meeting started where the first left off. “The second meeting was about history after the 1980s to now,” said Thomas Zhu ‘26. The meetings were presented with objectivity. Annie Mohr ‘26 commented, “We talked about norms prior to the session, such as how this wasn’t an emotional conversation about what’s currently happening.”
The idea for the Brown Bag Lunch originated with Gabe McGuire ‘24, in partnership with the Mercersburg Model UN and Civic Engagement Group. “I spend a lot of time talking about politics and current events with [McGuire],” elaborated Allison Stephens, “We wanted to talk about it with the community.” They came to Director of Global Initiatives and Model UN advisor, Justine O’Connell in hopes of setting up the Brown Bag Lunch.
The three wanted to encourage the community to be conscious of the events taking place. “One of our primary goals for this Brown Bag Lunch is to foster civic engagement and the community’s awareness of the current issue,” announced McGuire. Stephens also echoed, “We want members of our community to develop a framework for having conversations that aren’t antagonistic but rooted in better understanding.”
However, the events did raise some concerns among the organizers. “I [was worried] that members of our community thought the session would be a debate,” said Stephens. McGuire added, “It wasn’t really our story to tell. It was hard to create a plan to share information and not biases. It’s an outside perspective for us.”
Despite initial concerns, the event exceeded expectations. Over 40 community members, both students and faculty, were present in the first meeting. O’Connell stated, “We had a huge turnout. That was the largest Brown Bag Lunch I’ve ever organized.” The second meeting also went well. “We had a pretty big attendance for such a short notice,” said McGuire.
Members of the audience left the session with many positive impressions. “I think the event did an excellent job of educating the community based on the facts,” said Zhu, “I learned a lot about the history of Israel.” Mohr also stated, “It’s a very complex issue. After the Brown Bag [Lunch], I feel that I can’t be on a side; there’s so many facets to think about.”
Because of the Brown Bag Lunch’s huge success, O’Connell hopes to use this discussion as a starting point for “a series where we talk about [current] events in the world and provide an opportunity for dialogue.” By doing so, the Academy can be a more informed and engaged community, one that is better equipped to tackle a world filled with biases.