A mere three months ago, several UC Davis students lost a close friend in a drunk driving accident. Avi Schaefer was a 21-year-old freshman at Brown University, his life filled with such rare passion that his story has been filtered through various forms of media.
After graduating from high school, Avi and his twin brother, Yoav, moved to Israel and joined the Israel Defense Force. Experiencing the Middle East through his direct involvement in the Israeli Army taught Avi that the only path to peace in that region of the world is through dialogue and education. Avi always said that “the continual cycle of violence will cease only when both sides realize and understand the needs and aspirations of the other.”
During Avi’s short five months at Brown, he formed an unlikely friendship with a Palestinian student – a bond so rare, and one that they cherished dearly. They worked toward fostering a dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians on campus, and a curriculum of dialogue to teach in schools throughout Israel, the West Bank and Gaza
There are many valuable lessons that can be taken from Avi’s life – ones that are especially applicable here in Davis, and that directly affect thousands of people, most of whom are on college campuses. The obvious lesson that should never have to be taught is of the destructive force of drunk driving. The fact that a person who served for three years as a soldier in the Special Forces could be struck down by someone making a reckless decision should be a lesson to us all. There is never a time or reason to choose getting behind the wheel of a car while intoxicated; the life you would be risking is more than just your own. It goes without saying – use Tipsy Taxi.
Avi believed in the expression, “An enemy is someone whose story you have not yet heard.” This is a maxim that needs to be heeded here at UC Davis. In a period where our chancellor is writing guest opinion pieces, calling for peace and tolerance on campus, in the wake of severe acts of intolerance – swastikas carved on doors, racist parties, hate crimes to the LGBTQ community, and students being called Nazis because of their religion – this is an expression that should be taken to heart. We may not all agree with each other, and that’s okay, but what we need to achieve is the ability and willingness to listen to one another, find a common openness to our views and respect the fact that we are all simply human beings with varying opinions.
We all have one common goal: to live in peace. “Seek peace, and pursue it” was a favorite psalm of Avi’s, which speaks of what we all hope to see one day. Avi lived his life taking each step with this very thought, constantly aware of the ability we all have to create peace.
In honor of Avi’s tireless devotion to peace in the Middle East, several friends of his are seeking to continue his work here in Davis. Through the founding of an organization on campus seeking to foster dialogue between groups of Israeli and Jewish students and our Palestinian, Arab and Muslim counterparts (and all those interested in the age old conflict), we want to carry on Avi’s dream of peace.
You might have noticed a demonstration the other day on the quad. SJP put up an exhibit and pro-Israel students responded with their own materials. While there were those on both sides with passionate convictions, many of us on both sides were engaged in dialogue. To those that were willing to have meaningful and honest dialogue about our two peoples and our futures, I say thank you. It is not about convincing each other of anything or picking apart who did what to whom in history – that does not help us move forward. Both sides have their flaws, and the only thing we can do now is talk about what is next and how we can live together in peace.
For those of you who want a peaceful future for both sides, without bombs or checkpoints, curfews or terrorist attacks, I ask you to please seek out the other side and engage in dialogue. We need to follow in Avi’s footsteps and truly seek peace and pursue it.