By Valerie Chambers, Campus Director, Hillel at KSU
Hillel International’s Masterclass Israel Xperience created an exciting learning opportunity for Hillel Professionals across the United States and Canada. This trip, although a short 7-days, took me, and 25 others across Israel, examining multiple narratives and perspectives of Israeli society. By the end of the trip, I had so many feelings, some conflicting, but ultimately a feeling of hope.
We were a hodgepodge of Hillel professionals from different schools and with different specialties, handpicked for an innovative “Pilot” program to learn about the complexities of Israeli society. We came from different backgrounds and opinions, but also came with an open heart, mind, and ears. We traveled with Makom (an Israeli organization that educates and creates programming that embraces the complexities of Israel) and we followed their tools for radical listening through Chesed (justice/judgement) and Din (compassion). This allowed us to listen and learn with compassion and empathy, but also with our authentic selves.
Throughout the trip, we explored a different “Tribe” each day. We listened to Israeli’s living in the Settlements, Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem (Judea and Samaria, Palestine, or however each tribe identified), Kibbutzniks, Mizrahi Jews, Arab Citizens of Israel (who many also identified as Palestinians), spent Shabbat in Tel Aviv, and even attended the Protests on Kaplan Street. I recognize there was no way to fit every “tribe” in Israel into this short trip, but it was definitely packed to the brim with learning experiences.
With each person and organization we met with, we listened to their dreams, nightmares, and memories. We were able to ask questions, and heard opinions and information that isn’t normally in the news. We travelled across the country to meet different speakers. We walked along East Jerusalem and through the streets of Bethlehem. We travelled through the rocky roads of Shiloh to see brand new houses, or people sleeping in vans. We drove to Kibbutz Nir David and to Beit Shean. We were even invited to Iksal to have tea with one of our facilitator’s families! We walked through Nazareth to hear Tahrir, and to look out on Mt. Precipice. We saw the old buildings of Yafo, and the new of Tel Aviv. In each place we were able to see hear people speak their truth in the place they call home.
We had two amazing facilitators, Mohammad Darawshe, a leading political analyst and expert on Jewish-Arab relations inside Israel, and Shlomit Naim Naor, a published poet who works as an educational consultant for the Jerusalem educational board in the fields of culture and pedagogy. Both presented multiple perspectives on different issues in Israel that in the Diaspora we’re not able to experience first hand.
One of the many questions we examined was, "Is Israel a Jewish State or a State for Israeli Citizens?" This question stuck out to me. If it’s a Jewish State then it is also a state for the Jewish people in the Diaspora and that means myself, our Hillel students, and our families. But if it’s for Israeli citizens then that takes Diaspora Jews out of the equation. Not only is this something I’m tackling, but something our students are tackling on campus as well.
Overall, this trip, as my cousins in Kibbutz Tuval said to me, created an opportunity to see more “tribes” than what even the regular Israeli has the opportunity to see. I look forward to sharing the experiences and lessons I learned with students on Kennesaw State’s Campus to create more fulfilling Israeli programming and building connections on campus.