JUF mission takes Illinois student leaders of different faiths to Israel

Student Leader Mission 2015

Participants on the Student Leadership Delegation to Israel at the grave of David Ben-Gurion.

Non-Jewish students from Sikh, Muslim, Christian, Assyrian and Armenian backgrounds experienced Israel with their Jewish peers through JUF's Israel Education Center's first Student Leadership Delegation to Israel last month. 

Thirteen students from eight Illinois universities embarked on a journey to learn about the country and its conflicts firsthand. The trip's diverse itinerary provided a unique and profound look into Israel and its culture, peoples and complexities through authentic interactions with Israelis and Palestinians.  

Too often Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are boiled down to slogans and rhetoric on campus. This trip offered a diverse group of student leaders a deep dive into a complex and ever-changing situation. Ultimately, they will return to campus able to share their firsthand perspective of "what Israel really is."  

Students began the trip in Tel Aviv where they learned about Zionism and Theodor Herzl through a visit to Independence Hall. Professor Uzi Rabi, director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern Studies at Tel Aviv University, explained the complexity of the region and the security challenges Israel faces. Through discussions with former Knesset members, IDF soldiers and activists, students were able to engage with the multiple perspectives that exist in Israeli society.

Students also interacted with Israel's rich culture through a graffiti tour, a performance by an Israeli-Arab youth band and an afternoon exploring Nachlat Binyamin and the Carmel Shuk. 

Students then traveled to Nahal Oz, the closest kibbutz to the Gaza border. Journalist Amir Tibon, a resident of the kibbutz, answered students' questions about war, security and life on the kibbutz. A visit to David Ben-Gurion's grave in Sde Boker sparked a conversation about Israeli innovation and perseverance. At Shekef, a moshav in JUF's Partnership Together region, students learned of the positive impact that Chicago's Jewish community has on the area.

The group then traveled to Jerusalem and celebrated the New Year with Jewish and Arab students from Hebrew University while learning about life as Israeli college students. Visits to Yad VaShem and Mt. Herzl illuminated the historical events that had a profound impact on contemporary Israel. Afterward, students led Shabbat services -- a first for some of the participants -- to welcome the Sabbath and reflect on their eventful week. 

In Jerusalem the group braved cold and rainy conditions to tour the Old City and learn of the diverse populations that call Jerusalem home. The final discussion was with Bassam Eid, a Palestinian human rights activist who talked about Palestinian society and the destructiveness of the BDS movement. 

"The country itself reaffirmed my opinion that Israel does in fact have a right to exist, and seeing its beauty directly gives me renewed motivation to promote Israel education," one student said. "As a Christian, I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of joy after seeing the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. Mostly, I was proud to see that people of any religion can freely practice their faith in Israel, and I pray that this can be an example for the rest of the Middle East."

Abigail Seitz is an Israel Intern with JUF's Israel Education Center and a sophomore at Columbia College.


Posted: 1/7/2016 04:18:03 PM

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