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Northeastern Students Travel to Israel on Dialogue of Civilizations Summer Study Abroad

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The group traveled to the Baha’i gardens in Haifa

This summer, Ruderman Professor and Director of Jewish Studies Lori Lefkovitz led a group of 14 Northeastern students on a summer study abroad trip to Israel, part of Northeastern’s signature Dialogue of Civilizations program.  Entitled “Contemporary Israel and its Complexities,” the program introduced the students to the vibrant, complicated, and exhilarating civilization that is modern Israel.

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The Western Wall in the Old City of Jerusalem

From all reports, the trip was intense, thought-provoking, exhausting – and not least, fun.  Students engaged all their faculties, from the intellectual to the sensual. They studied “Israel in Literature and the Arts” and “Politics and Communications in Today’s Israel,” and shopped for Shabbat dinner in the Shuk, volunteered in a community garden, climbed Masada in the June heat, and swam in the Dead Sea.

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Group picture by the closest point to the border between Lebanon and Israel.

For the first three weeks, the students were based in Jerusalem, giving them a chance to get to know the city well.  As participant Chloe Sakhaie wrote in the students’ blog, “I feel that in one week, I went from being a tourist, to a resident of Jerusalem.”  In addition to touring extensively and visiting such sites as Yad Vashem, the Israel Museum, the Western Wall, and the Christian Quarter, they met with political leaders, journalists, and artists. They also took advantage of the city’s tremendous cultural offerings.

The last ten days of the trip were spent in the modern city of Tel Aviv, a significant and sometimes perplexing contrast to ancient Jerusalem.  “To tell you the truth, I’m having trouble getting a sense of what this city is all about,” blogged Sarah Sullivan.  “In Jerusalem, you could tell by the way people dressed, the old Jerusalem stone, and the quaint, peaceful atmosphere that it was an ancient city with religious roots. …. As we walked the streets of Tel Aviv, I found myself thinking, ‘What is this city?’ It seemed to be very eclectic, grabbing bits and pieces of other cultures to create something new.”  In Tel Aviv, the group participated in the Gay Pride Parade, visited the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, and toured immigrant neighborhoods in South Tel Aviv.

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Students at Masada, in the Judaean Desert

The group traveled beyond their bases in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, south to Masada, Ein Gedi, the Dead Sea, and Kibbutz Hatzerim in the Negev, and north to Haifa and Safed.  In all these places, they explored the political, cultural, and religious complexities of a civilization at once ancient and thoroughly modern.

At the Jordan River, they watched as Elijah Muhammad, a Religious Studies major, was baptized in the spot where John baptized Jesus.  “Our group crowded around the river as we anticipated the arrival of Elijah,” writes Matt Horowitz.  “Then he came out of nowhere. And there he was, dressed in a flowing white gown with the sun gleaming off of him in a way that blinded us all. …. He made his way towards the water and in a quick moment, he was being dunked under water. He quickly came back up to the loud clapping of the group who cheered him on as if he had just won a tennis match. We all shared the same jubilation Elijah had at that moment, as we knew how special this was to him.”

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Elijah Muhammad being baptized at the site where John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River.

Lucrezia Rigano, an Economics major from Argentina attending her first Jewish service on Shabbat in Tzfat, was both frustrated and intrigued by the experience of sitting separately in a women’s section screened off from the men’s sanctuary.  “The women all sat down singing calmly while on the other side it sounded like a rave full of dancing teenagers who were exploding in energy drinks,” she writes.  “Not only was I insulted by the fact that anyone could think that I am less worthy and thus I had to sit behind a curtain, but I was more frustrated at the fact that it seemed like the women had no problem with it…. Nonetheless, I… thought it was beautiful to think that a spirit had joined the people at the synagogue to welcome Shabbat, and that that was why the women were happy and passionate.”  From the opposite perspective, Matt Horowitz, a Modern Orthodox Jew and a Business major, was surprised to find a woman blessing the Torah in a Modern Orthodox synagogue in Jerusalem.

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Sarah Sullivan riding a camel

The five weeks in Israel challenged many of the students to rethink previously held views, while instilling in all of them a deeper understanding of the complex challenges Israel faces.  As Anna Meyers remarked, “[T]his trip has been a time to verify certain beliefs and challenge others…. Jerusalem brings Jews together, which we have definitely experienced…  This trip has also been a way for us to expand on and change our opinions of Israel that some of us gained through Birthright. Five of the Jewish students have been on Birthright….  Through classes and conversations, our eyes have truly been opened to the conflicts that this country faces that we were not previously taught.  What is extremely special for some of us, however, is that we have learned that we do in fact love Israel, even if it is for a different reason or in a different way than we thought from Birthright.”

To read the students’ blog, visit http://nu2013israel.wordpress.com/.  To view photos from the trip, visit http://www.flickr.com/photos/mariaamasanti/sets/72157633721251714/with/9107182055/.

Read the rest of the Haverim Fall 2013 Newsletter here.