Educators Visit Israel Under The Banner of JCRC
By Elana Needle, PhD
Ask yourself this question: do you want to go on a week-long study tour with 16 strangers? In July? In the Middle East? I definitely hesitated with my answer, but eventually said: of course! Saying yes brought me to one of the most enriching experiences I’ve had.
Our tour, “Scholars as Bridge Builders”, was funded by the Jewish Community Relations Council of NYC (JCRC). The trip had an ambitious programming agenda. And, it started as soon as we landed in Israel, overlooking Jerusalem. For most, it was their first trip to Israel. I’ve personally stood at that very promenade three other times in my life. As an adult, I was able to view Jerusalem from a different perspective then as a recent college graduate, a teenager and a young child. I realized that in order to be a more effective teacher and tour participant, I would need to set aside my past experiences. For this trip, I was a student and educator. I would cast my ever critical eye on the land, its’ social justice issues, history, policy-making and governance in a way that would permit me to learn. It was my job to take the voices from the people and organizations that we met with back to the States and represent the reality of the situation to my peers, and my students.
Most importantly for me, we went into the West Bank. We were able to see Rawabi, the very first planned city in the West Bank. We had the opportunity to speak with eminent Palestinian and Israeli survey researchers. These researchers investigate what Israelis and Palestinians think about among other things, the two state solution, and the intentions of the other populations (i.e. do Israelis view Palestinians as threats and vice versa). We had lunch with two Palestinian University professors, who are also warriors for peace. And later, we talked with an Israeli settler living in a Jewish settlement intentionally placed within a Palestinian territory, outside the Green Line. In short: an array of voices were represented. A few were missing, but we still had access to see and hear things that would have been impossible otherwise.
Our divergent experiences and frames of interest allowed for a dialogue that was continuously engrossing and dynamic.
We came face to face with the hard questions: what effects does the Boycott, Disinvestment and Sanction (BDS) movement have on Academia? Is the BDS movement inherently Anti-Semitic? As Americans, many of us value the separation of Church and State as enshrined in our Constitution, but what does it mean if the law of the land is dictated by the Orthodox Rabbinate?
I can say that I walked away with an enormous appreciation for the diversity of life in such a small land. And a belief that even in the face of complexity, scarcity, terror and war, there are those that are striving for peace and the greater good.
Luckily, the dialogue and work hasn’t stopped. New partnerships, lectures, and writing have been produced as a result of the trip. I’m excited for what the future has in store, and for continuing the work of being a Scholar, and a Bridge Builder.#