Program: Ben-Gurion University
Time Abroad: Fall 2008
Major: International Studies & Communication
Our Overseas Student Program was likely the smallest in Israel with only 35-40 students. Most were from the U.S., but we also had students from Mexico, Norway, and Kenya. I took classes that had actual meaning to me, beyond their ability to transfer back as credit to the University of Denver. I took classes on Jewish Identity and Contemporary Issues, Critical Decisions and the History of the State of Israel, International Terrorism and Guerrilla Warfare, and Arms Control and Nuclear Weapons in the Middle East. Our professors had all been in Israel for a number of years, but came from backgrounds including the United States, Britain, and South Africa, in addition to native born Israeli. All of them had interesting views and all had some tie into current events in Israel.
My Jewish Identity class, specifically, caused me to reevaluate the idea of Judaism as a personal decision. By understanding the separation of Jewish identity in personal and collective forms, beginning with the Emancipation in Europe, I have come to a greater understanding of my fellow Jews, specifically in the United States. As a Conservative Jew, my identity often confused many Israelis and I myself tried to experience Shabbat, specifically, in as many ways as possible from on the beach in Tel-Aviv to services at the Kotel, Western Wall, in Jerusalem with a group from a yeshiva to everything in between.
I traveled almost the entire country from around Be'er Sheva and the Negev to the Galilee and the lower Golan Heights. I was in Jerusalem frequently and Tel-Aviv a little. I was in Haifa and Eilat. I hiked in areas all over the country. I visited large cities, small cities, moshavim, kibbutzim, student communities, and immigrant communities. I met and spoke with Israelis on from every political background, Christians, Druze, Palestinians, Israeli Arabs, and Bedouin.
I went on a group trip through the closest communities around the Gaza Strip to a moshav, to a kibbutz, and to Sderot. We talked to people about what life is like to live under a constant threat of rocket attack, where people drive without seatbelts, with the windows down and the doors unlocked, and where children are too scared to play outside. I can only hope that the threat from Hamas has been adequately eradicated. I went on a tour to Rachel's Tomb, near Bethlehem, and through the West Bank to Hebron where I saw the city that is home to some of the most extremist, right-wing settlers and visited the Cave of the Patriarchs and the Matriarchs. I went north to Rosh Hanikra, the beautiful grottos at the Lebanese border, and spent a day in Petra, Jordan. I had planned to visit Egypt but was warned that I may not make it back into Israel due to the terrorist threat in the Sinai Peninsula and decided to postpone that trip.
I miss walking down the stairs of my not-so-nice dorm and hopping on a bus to the Old City of Be'er Sheva whether to walk around, go to the mall, get frozen yogurt or waffles, go shopping on the pedestrian mall, get falafel or shwarma at the bus station, take a bus to somewhere else in the country, or anything else among the plethora of activities I did in Be'er Sheva. I miss getting searched by security at bus stations and train stations, at malls, or carded while entering the University. I miss University security carrying around Uzis and being hit on the arm by soldiers carrying their AK-47s, M-16s, etc. onto the bus. I miss people telling me they don't know English and my attempts to communicate in English. I miss seeing religious Jews and religious Muslims interacting, peacefully, on a regular basis. I miss being able to eat meat almost everywhere I went. I miss the feeling of being Jewish in a Jewish country. I miss the acceptance and the understanding.
I listen to Israeli music and yearn to return to the land where I truly grew as a person. I feel a need to look at the world from a different lens, from one of a person who has experienced more than just America. I want to return to the country where I was constantly invited places, to dinner, etc., just because I was there, because I was family. I want to be in the place where I can try to understand the people and they can do the same for me. I have a longing in my heart to return to Israel. I think of Israel always and my time there, short as it was, has forever changed the person that I am.