By Carl Schrag and Emily Briskman
If you thought you'd already read everything there is to read about Israel trips, think again!
Last week, 25 Fellows in JUF's Write On for Israel program traveled to Israel for a two-week immersion into the key issues on Israel's agenda as seen through the eyes of some of the country's leading journalists and academics, government and military officials, and Israeli and Palestinian teenagers.
The trip follows a year of monthly daylong seminars in which Fellows learn about Israel's history and current challenges, and gain valuable tools to help them take leadership roles in Israel activities when they get to college campuses. These excerpts from the Fellows' writings during the first days of the trip capture some of the excitement engendered by the intense varied itinerary:
Write On Fellow Hannah Schlacter celebrated her birthday on the trip.
"The theme of perspectives was clearly introduced in our meeting with Miri Eisen, former advisor to the Prime Minister of foreign press. She stressed the legitimacy of different takes on the same issue, such as whether Israel should launch a preemptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities. Coming from different backgrounds and with different values and concerns, we realized the validity of the sentiments of Israel, the international community and, to a lesser degree, Iran. We were astonished to find that there were so many legitimate points of view on what had once seemed for many of us to be a rather straightforward situation. We learned not only to respect other opinions, but also to use the views of those antagonistic toward Israel to our advantage in conducting a productive and friendly dialogue."
--Nate Swetlitz, Chicagoland Jewish High School
"We visited the Kinneret cemetery, where Naomi Shemer and many other Zionist and Israeli icons are buried. For me, this was the most moving part of today's program. Our guide Yoram shared inspiring, eye-opening pearls of wisdom about Jewish society in Israel before independence. We heard of the incredible commitment the youth of the Second Aliyah had, and the nearly superhuman expectations they had for themselves. This truly put several things into perspective for me. The greatest miracle for our people in the past century is undoubtedly the creation and survival of the state of Israel, which was made possible only by the immense dedication and sacrifice of those who believed in this dream. Today, I believe we must similarly be so dedicated to our people's dream; to be a free people in our land. We certainly have our work set for us, as Israel is far from the ideal place we know it can be, and as our enemies grow in number and power. As we learned at the cemetery, the work set before our people demands our complete dedication."
--Gordy Tcath, Deerfield High School
"We began our trip with a visit to the offices of Ha'aretz, where we hoped to answer the question "Where is Israel today?" However while editor-in-chief, Aluf Benn, provided a fascinating bird's-eye view of Israel, I still couldn't understand Israel's present situation if I didn't understand its past. In order to fill in the past, we first visited what is now called Rabin Square, where prime minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Interviewing locals about the assassination and getting a sense of how they feel about it made me try to think about how I felt about Rabin as a leader of Israel. Later, as I sat in Independence Hall, in the very room where David Ben-Gurion proclaimed Israel's independence, a wave of emotion came over me. I felt proud that I'm here now, as a Jew welcomed by other Jews into the Jewish home. Like most other countries, Israel was born in the midst of war, but it has become a cultured, respected, successful country in just over 60 years, despite the difficulties it has faced."
--Matthew Silberman, Ida Crown Jewish Academy
Write On Fellows and staff visited the Israeli Museum at the Rabin Center in Tel Aviv.
"In Independence Hall, I sat right next to the chair of Golda Meir (my favorite politician of all time!) It suddenly came to life—not only the significance of the room, but also why I am in the Write On for Israel program. I was amazed by the sense of urgency surrounding the declaration of statehood. The signing men and women knew that if they did not act then, the dream of a Jewish state may never be realized. The importance of Israel, a state where Jews could finally be safe, is so great."
--Arielle Granof, New Trier High School
Write On Fellows visited the studio and newsroom of Channel 10 News.