Hey y’all! First of all, can I just say that if you are a Wofford student thinking about studying in Israel, do it!!!! This may be the best decision I have made in my entire life and I really hope to encourage others at Wofford to have such a great experience. I am already dreading the day I have to leave and am wondering how I will handle being able to read signs again and not having a bus driver try to kill me as I stumble to my seat in between his sharp breaks and turns.
I have also come to the conclusion that life is pretty much always a party here. On Wednesday, classes were cancelled for a 2 hour period as the university brought a DJ on campus and everyone partied. They even gave out free beer [which has been a reoccurring event]. A lot of the time, I find myself wondering if people even study at all or if they just party all the time? The other day we were sitting in our rooms when an announcement came over the speakers that are located in every apartment. Since it was in Hebrew, none of us could really follow it and we were about to run for the bomb shelters when they came on in English and told everyone to get up to the student bar for a ,you guessed it, party. Its great as they seem to strike a balance between getting everything done and having a good time. One Israeli commented that the life in Israel is uncertain due to the surrounding political tensions and so you must enjoy life as it comes to you. You can see the impact of this mentality in other aspects of Israeli life too…like the MANIAC drivers who will take on a bus if they feel the need. Its as if every day needs to be seized and that includes not wasting your time by driving a normal speed and not cutting people off. It is a very much a change from the style of life in South Carolina, but I am getting used to it quickly!
On the other side of things, I do have a lot of obligations here as well. I am taking Arabic [yes, I am crying into my book every night], Terrorism and Response, Arab Thought and Culture, and the Internship course. Arabic is proving rather difficult for me and it has me thinking I will be thankful to go back to America where they speak English. But its also pushing me as I have never had to read a different alphabet and the new experience is definitely changing the way I learn. Terrorism and Response is fascinating and sobering as well. The professor is also in the Israeli Defense Force and has spent most of his career working in counter-terrorism. Of course, this means his perspective on the matter is very clear cut and strong which bothers some of the students, but it also gives us great insight as he explains the nitty gritty of dealing with terrorism. So far we have covered a lot of the history and it is interesting how he ties in major events to the development of terrorism. For example, we learned about the impact of Nazi ideology on extreme Islamist movements and how closely they mirror Hitler’s examples. Its dark, but interesting material, to be sure.
For my internship, I am interning in the Department of International Relations for the Leo Baeck Education Center! The center subscribes to the progressive judaism side of things and works hard to help integrate people of different cultures into society and also to provide a high-quality education in the elementary, middle, and high schools. Outside of the education center, they have many other projects such their “Playing Cultures” which seeks to bring people of Jewish, Arab, and other backgrounds together through music. Other examples include the Arab-Jewish summer camps which helps expose the younger generations to each other and to breakdown the stereotypes and judgements these children have made about each other. They have a quote on the website which I think will give you a bit of perspective on what Leo Baeck wants to achieve. “On the one hand you can see the fear: they meet for the first time and some of them are really scared. Arab children, scared of Jews, Jewish children, scared of Arabs… in our small way we can change this.” (Noa Erlich, 2011 Summer Camp Coordinator)
It seems odd that they could live in the same country yet be afraid of one another, but that is a reality for many of the people here. At any rate, I really hope this internship will help me to better understand the different cultures of Israel and to expose myself to different aspects of the conflict here. This is definitely a positive side of Arab-Jewish relations and the center works hard to integrate people from all walks of life. These are only a few of the projects taken on by Leo Baeck and there are many more aspects such as their work with autism and empowering the Ethiopian Jewish community that I could talk about, but if you want to know more, check them out here.
All in all, I cannot think of a single complaint here. Everyday has something new and fascinating, whether it be a trip to the Golan Heights [pics to come] or simply hearing hearing a new a perspective and I am continuously growing through out my time here.