Northeastern Illinois University President Dr. Sharon Hahs joined a select delegation of university presidents on a trip to Israel from June 30 to July 6 through Project Interchange, an educational institute of the American Jewish Committee. Hahs and eight other presidents and chancellors were connected with academic exchange possibilities and exposed to both the country's rich history as well as the issues surrounding modern-day Israel.
Participants spent part of each day in educational seminars hearing from dynamic speakers before meeting with academic leaders at Israel's Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Tel Aviv University, and Technion. They also visited cultural landmarks and institutions including the Western Wall and the Holocaust museum and memorial at Yad Vashem. In addition, they met with political and civil leaders in Israel as well as the West Bank.
"The potential impact when [the president] comes back to the university is very positive regarding all the difficulty that we potentially have every year regarding legitimacy or anti-Zionism or understanding the depth of the high-tech quality of Israel and Israeli science and medicine," said Dr. Ellen Cannon, a Northeastern faculty member who nominated Hahs for the trip.
In addition to Cannon's nomination, Michael C. Kotzin, senior counselor to the President at the Jewish Federation, whose Israel Studies Project has helped bring Israeli scholars to Illinois campuses for the past eight years, recommended Hahs to the American Jewish Committee.
Hahs said she was thrilled to receive the invitation and attend the trip in honor of Northeastern's community of Jewish staff and students. "I will always be more interested in Israel from this point forward," Hahs said. "I will listen harder to the news, I will take some effort to read more, visit with people-I am changed by this experience."
Hahs described her knowledge of Israel prior to the trip as "modest," and she came away with a greater understanding of Israel's political dimensions, ancient history and especially its "spirit of innovation" in terms of cutting-edge research in science and technology.
She also said one of her greatest takeaways from the experience was an appreciation for Israel's complexity. Understanding how to approach challenging issues is something she plans to take back to her work at Northeastern.
"Problem-solving is difficult, it is complex, but hearing from so many different voices in Israel helps one think through and have confidence to step into that complexity," Hahs said. "We don't want to run away, we want to be able to step into it in a reasonable, balanced leadership style. This [experience] helps build that confidence to do that."
Hahs also plans to bring Israel back with her to Northeastern through academic exchanges. She made strong contacts within Israel's universities during her trip and hopes to meet with other leaders at Northeastern in order to begin working through process of developing these connections.