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Reflections from The Hartman Institute in Israel

This winter break, our Assistant Director traveled to Jerusalem with students from our Israel Seminar to attend an intensive week-long seminar at the Shalom Hartman Institute. Please read the reflections below to see the impact of that experience on our students.

Arielle Ticho '17

Attending the iEngage Student Seminar through Hillel International and the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem was precisely the opportunity I needed to expand my understanding of the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. As a senior at Northwestern who grew up in a conservative Jewish household and became more involved in Hillel during my sophomore year of Northwestern, I spent much of my college years developing my Jewish identity without thinking critically about Israel. At the beginning of my senior year, I decided that this was the year to intentionally learn more about Israel and explore my relationship to the people, land, and country. The once-a-week Israel seminar, led by Executive Director Michael Simon, was just the place for me to do that. Accordingly, when I learned through the seminar about the opportunity to attend the Hartman Institute, I knew I would gain much from the experience. 


Overall, the Hartman Institute provided a space for me to learn about the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts and Israeli politics through the lens of Jewish values but in a manner that allowed for diverse opinions. The week-long seminar consisted of speakers, hevrutah study, focused electives, and field trips. Much of the learning happened by applying Jewish texts to modern-day geo-political realities of Israel. We learned to frame these complex issues into categories such as "self-preservation" versus "compromise" and "moral justification" versus "realism" and more. Seeing the conflicts through various

Ben Levey '17 and Arielle Ticho '17

frameworks, rather than politically-charged facts, helped me think about the issues from multiple perspectives while simultaneously shaping and re-shaping my own opinions. 


One particular field trip was especially impactful for me, namely the visit to Lod. Lod has a complex history regarding the foundation of the Jewish and Democratic state and continues to be a place with many socioeconomic, religious, and racial challenges. During our visit, we went to the city's Arab-Jewish community center and spoke with Fattan, the Muslim woman who manages the center, as well as Tali, the Ethiopian Jewish woman who runs the Jewish programming within the center. These two women described the difficulties of connecting three very divided communities - the Bedouin Muslims, the Ethiopian Jews, and the Haredi Jews - into one center and, while there work is not complete, we were able to applaud many successes they had already accomplished. What struck me the most was the way in which these two women celebrated and supported one another on an interpersonal level. Despite the divides among their broader populations, these two women collaborated beautifully to build a stronger center and therefore a stronger community. The opportunity to hear them share their work with us filled me with hope and inspiration to continue striving for interfaith partnerships and social justice. 


At the end of a week, as I had anticipated, I left the Ben Gurion airport with more questions than answers regarding my thoughts on Israel. The key difference from when I had arrived there, however, was that I now had a stronger framework within which to ponder these critical questions, and I had Hartman to thank for that.

Alex Rubin '17

A lot of the talk around campus right now is about building unity among campus groups and populations. While these goals are generally focused around bringing groups of different backgrounds together, I saw over winter break a diverse group of Jewish students live, learn, and laugh together for a week of intense and emotional experiences.

What initially struck me about the Shalom Hartman Institute’s iEngage winter seminar was the diversity of the students who attended. The seminar attracted students from all over the country. Some were in their first years at university, while others were graduate school veterans. Some students prayed in minyan every day and others probably never have been to a weekday service in their life. Students represented political beliefs across the spectrum, as well as a variety of racial, gender, sexual, and socioeconomic identities. For many, this

Northwestern Hillel students with Medill alum Yossi Klein Halevi at The Shalom Hartman Institute.

was the most diverse set of Jewish people they had ever been among.


Given such a diverse group, the learning opportunities were rich with experience. The teaching at the institute generally featured chavruta learning, pairing two students together to pour over texts and use each other’s knowledge to make sense of it, before hearing the Hartman fellow give his own explanation about the texts chosen and their significance to the course’s topic. I made an effort to sit next to a different person each time, and preferably someone I hadn’t met yet, in these kinds of classes, to learn from as many different experiences as possible. Some highlights included studying biblical texts with a freshman from Yale who spent two years in a gap year program at a famous yeshiva in Jerusalem and looking at modern religious Zionist writings with a Jew-by-choice a few hours later. The different viewpoints present at the seminar were highlighted by how closely we studied together, allowing the personal experiences of students to impact our learning, and providing me with perspectives I never would have reached studying by myself or just by a teacher.


Aside from the diverse group of learners, one of the strengths of the institute was the diverse learning experiences it offered. As much as the chavruta learning was instrumental in showing that learning among a diverse group of learners enhances the educational experience, some of the best lessons were those outside the classroom. The trips we took brought to light the topics we wrestled with inside the beit midrash, giving us a diverse learning group and diverse learning experiences.


The best part of the iEngage seminar is not simply its diversity, but its unity. While we were getting many messages, and often left sessions with more questions than answers, we were learning together, thinking together, and living together. I learned just as much in my interactions with the other students at the seminar as I did from the Rabbis, politicians, and professors who taught us. I met so many different people and watched us all become close friends. Not just people to hang out with at night after the seminar’s daily schedule finished, but friends who have remained in touch months after the seminar ended, even while on campuses across the country.

I spent a lot of time in this reflection focusing on the diversity present, in the demographics of the students who attended, and in the thoughts presented and explained at the seminar, but what made me appreciate this diversity was the open, friendly, accepting way of thinking that enveloped the seminar. Everyone there had a spirit of learning and adventure which allowed all of these different people and ideas to be present at the same time and to all contribute to a really special experience for all who were there. While I like to tell people that I had a really great vacation rather than a true break over my winter break, because of the intensity of learning and bonding over my trip to Israel and at the iEngage seminar, I wouldn’t trade it for two weeks anywhere else. I’ll have years to sit on a beach, the iEngage seminar was truly a once in a lifetime experience.

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