You can tell a lot about a person by the way he handles controversy, and even more by whether he perceives controversy in the first place.

It’s safe to assume that in 2013 attempts to propagate the notion that Jews and Zionists are two separate populations will live on. The true test to the validity of this narrative is whether the Jews and Zionists of tomorrow will buy into it.

Two foreign student groups visited the newly recognized Ariel University on the concluding day of 2012. One was a group of Master’s degree students from the Hornstein Jewish Professional Leadership Program at Brandeis University. The second was a group of Zionist Organization of America campus activists. Both arrived at Ariel University simultaneously.

Although they filed into the building together, the two delegations gravitated towards different sides of the crowded room. Maybe it was the group dynamics. Whatever the reason, all guests were poised to meet the three AU students who volunteered to make their acquaintance.

Ariella made aliyah from Florida four years ago and chose to study nutrition sciences at a university whose name resembles hers. Donna is a third year architecture student, who owes her knowledge of the English language to the fact that her parents moved from Boston to Jerusalem when she was a child. Saeed studies computer science and math – but that’s not what caught everyone’s attention about him. Saeed was interesting because he’s Saeed.

Saeed is a trim cut, casual, GQ style Arab student sporting a hard-earned fluent English. His big black plastic rimmed glasses say “I am 2013″, and his collected manner beckons “Got questions? Shoot. I can handle it.”

Naturally, the academic peers from abroad wanted to know about campus life, about whether Ariel was a college town and about, well, about politics.

It’s hard to determine precisely what neutralized the anticipated heated discussion before it even began. Was it the polite, diplomatic, beat-around-the-bush framing of the question? Could it have been the level headed response? Group dynamics? When one of the Brandeis students asked “how do you feel about studying here, at Ariel University, with the politics of this location, being the way they are?”, Saeed responded plainly “I don’t have a problem with the politics here, being the way they are.”

What can you do with a response like that? Talk about the weather? Here’s a young, Arab student, studying not only in an Israeli university but in the institution that – since its recent recognition as Israel’s newest university and long before – has been the subject of national and international debate due to its location on the east side of the Green Line. When everyone else has an opinion about where he’s studying, shouldn’t he have something to say?

But the questions revealed much more about the Jews and Zionists who asked them than they did about the Arab student who actually came to Ariel to get an education.

Even if a line were to be drawn between the two sides of the presentation room (interestingly, the ZOA students sat to the left of Saeed while the Brandeis students sat to his right) it would still be difficult to distinguish between the Jews and the Zionists. Yes, the aspiring Jewish leaders from Brandeis were more curious about political sensitivities while the staunch ZOA Zionists seemed to take a university in Samaria as a given. But a subjective study of a half hour’s series of interpersonal interactions would be un-academic. And it would miss the boat completely.

The meeting at Ariel University was a meaningful experience for all. In part, due to the questions that were asked. In part, due to the answers that were provided. Primarily, due to the fact that everyone was sitting in the same room.

Where are we headed? What will young Zionist and Jewish leaders look like in 2013? Will the two sides of the same coin move in different or even opposite directions? Will they converge? It’s hard to tell at this point. But there’s room for optimism.

Bring everyone together, sit them down for the same encounter, and let them study the guy with the big black glasses. If the Jews and Zionists are less self absorbed and more inter-culturally engaged they may just discover that they, themselves, are one in the same.