Trip Blog — Day One

May 26th, 2016

Editor’s Note: Lili Kalish Gersch, Director of Alumni Engagement at Project Interchange, and Dan Elbaum, Assistant Executive Director and Managing Director of Regional Offices at AJC, are in Israel with Project Interchange’s delegation of University Presidents and Chancellors and will be blogging about the delegation’s experiences.

The first full day of our Project Interchange seminar for U.S. University Presidents and Chancellors began with an overview of Israeli politics and culture by one of Israel’s finest academics, political scientist Shlomo Avineri. The participants, all accomplished academics themselves, were very impressed by Dr. Avineri, who gave them a strong appreciation of the complexity of the issues. One participant raved: “It made me proud to be a member of the academy.”

The group learned a great deal from Lt. Col. (Res.) Avital Leibovich, AJC Jerusalem Director, who spoke on the Israeli strategic environment and its relationship with its neighbors. After learning about the threats and stresses that are part of everyday Israeli life, the participants were astonished by how well adjusted and “normal” Israeli society is. They wondered: “How would the average middle class American household deal with this?”

In the afternoon the group met at length with some Israeli academic peers. They were fascinated by the contrast between Tel Aviv University, a world-class institution which receives most of its funding from the Israeli government, and IDC Herzliya, a private interdisciplinary college (the first of its kind in Israel) that actually fought for the right to NOT take government money. IDC is a testament to what can be achieved with strong visionary leadership.

At dinner, the participants reflected at length on the impact of national military service on the Israeli university experience. Israeli students are, by and large, more focused and mature than their American undergraduate counterparts; more ready to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities before them. Inspired by Israel’s example, these university leaders agreed that American students would be well served by a year of service before college.

The seminar has already begun to explore the complex issues related to BDS (boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign against Israel) on campus. The group was appreciative of the insights provided by Dr. Amichai Magen, who provided clear answers to difficult questions and pointed us towards additional resources for further learning.

We look forward to another day of exploring the beauty, strength and complexity of Israel with the university presidents.

The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Project Interchange.