Campus Leaders Blog 2

January 1st, 2017

Note: A delegation of Campus Leaders from Brown University is in Israel with Project Interchange. The delegation is accompanied by Seffi Kogen, Assistant Director, AJC Campus Affairs, and Rachel Craig, Senior Associate, AJC Project Interchange.

Happy New Year from beautiful Tel Aviv on the Mediterranean!

The second half of Friday was jam-packed with new experiences. We departed Yad Vashem and drove down to Netiv Haasarah, right on the border with the Gaza Strip. There, we met with a woman named Tzameret who shared with us the difficulties of living in such a strife-riven place, where rockets and mortars could slam into homes with little or no warning. Still, she loves her home and is committed to raising her family there. We had the tremendous opportunity to take part in a beautiful art project that Tzameret has undertaken, to cover the wall protecting her community from Gaza in messages of peace. The students enjoyed adding their own messages, and appreciated the project.

From there, we went to Sderot, a town in the South that has infamously been a target for Hamas rockets. We chatted with Nir, a friend of Yoram’s who lives in Sderot, at a reinforced playground, which doubles as a bomb shelter. Nir gave a very interesting account of life in the city, and provided a perspective that was more right-wing than anyone else we’d met so far. The students loved the opportunity to have a candid discussion and to learn a different perspective.

Upon our return to Jerusalem, we enjoyed a group discussion, and had the opportunity to reflect on the trip thus far—in a word: complexity! We’ve only heard from Jewish Israeli voices so far, and we’re excited to diversify that, but we can tell that there is much more to this place that is apparent in the discourse the students have seen at Brown. One student voiced how frustrating it is that being against Israel seems to be a part of a litany of beliefs all progressive students are supposed to adhere to. To her, though she wants to see equal rights for Israelis and Palestinians, this conflict cannot be understood through a simplistic lens of good and evil.

Friday concluded with a beautiful Shabbat (Sabbath) dinner, hosted by Rabbi David and Ayala Levin-Kruss. The Levin-Kruss family have long loved hosting AJC trips for Shabbat dinner in their home and this year was an especially fitting match since Ayala is a Brown alumna! The couple invited several students from Pardes, the Hebrew University, and Hadassah College to join us, so we didn’t just enjoy a delicious and traditional Shabbat dinner, but we also got to meet young Israelis and learn from them about their culture.

Today (Saturday), was the closest thing to an apolitical day you can have on a trip like this. We began bright and early with a walking tour of the Old City of Jerusalem, led by Yoram. We learned the history of Jerusalem, slipped notes between the cracks of the Western Wall, and toured the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The students loved learning that their own religious denominations each had some claim to a part of the Church—a meaningful Jerusalem experience for all.

From the spiritual high of Jerusalem, we ventured down to the Dead Sea—the lowest point on earth! A fun time was had by all as we floated, cheesed for the camera, and DIDN’T splash in the incredibly salty water. Then, having had the experience, we boarded the bus to head to Tel Aviv!

Our first night in Tel Aviv—New Year’s Eve!—saw us venture out on a walking tour of Jaffa, then enjoying a scrumptious dinner in the Ethiopian restaurant Balinjera, where the Ethiopian woman who owns the place graciously told us her story of immigrating to Israel as a child, and her perspective on Israeli society as a Black woman.

Now, we’re getting on our dancing shoes for a thumpin’ NYE party—conveniently located in our own hostel.
Talk to you next year!

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