By Mara Hochberg-Miller, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
I decided to study in Israel because it is the place where my Judaism, interest in Middle Eastern politics, love for eretz yisrael, and career path in international relations happily meet.
Back home in California, I could study Middle Eastern history and international diplomacy all I wanted, but the material felt very subjective. Different professors understand the history, politics, and conflict differently and teach them in different ways.
To understand and form my own opinions and ideas, I needed to experience Israel firsthand. I wanted to gain a sense of what it was actually like to live in Israel outside the context of a classroom. In order to understand Israeli concerns, I knew I must put myself in Israeli shoes.
I had previously traveled to Israel. During my first trip, I found myself caught in the middle of the 2006 Lebanon war. Sadly, war is not an uncommon occurrence in Israel, and it gave me my first taste of Israel.
Because of the war, I experienced Jerusalem as a divided city. Unable to explore the Christian, Arab, or Armenian quarters of the Old City, I was stuck in the bubble of the Jewish quarter, desperately wanting to experience the whole thing. While studying at the Masa Israel-accredited Rothberg International School of Hebrew University, I was finally able to experience all of Jerusalem.
Life in Israel is one of dual realities. Not only was I in Israel to experience the first bus bombing to occur in Jerusalem in years, but the bombing impacted me persoanlly as the one woman who was killed was a student in my Hebrew class.
On the other hand, I was also present to see the entire country come together to celebrate Yom Hazikaron, Israel’s Memorial Day, and Yom Haatzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day. The fact that these two days occur one after the other tells much about Israel itself. Israelis learn to take the bad and the good together. By remembering the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the state of Israel, we can celebrate the existence of the state of Israel.
Learning to live in Israel is about learning to live in between these parallel planes. No matter what happens, life goes on, and this is an inspiring mantra for living.
The educational experience I had while being in Israel has been unique. During my semester I took an Israeli Foreign Policy class with a professor who worked for Golda Meir and personally knew Yitzchak Rabin, Menachem Begin, and many of the other “big name” politicians in Israeli history. Because Israel is such a young country, he was able to teach us history and politics based on his first-hand encounters with it.
Furthermore, I was able to learn so much about the political situation on the ground by experiencing Jerusalem rather than being taught about it.
I now have a greater understanding of the different complications to any peace process, nuances of each potential plan, why the border disputes are so complex, and how much work it will take to finally be able to reach an agreement.
The current situation is heartbreaking and will require an immense amount of commitment and trust on both sides to reach a final agreement. However, one cannot lose hope.
Choosing to study abroad in Israel was an incredibly rewarding experience, and I have been exposed to so much that I would not have gotten the chance to otherwise.
The things that I have learned and experienced during my time in Israel are things that will stick with me for the rest of my life. I have grown as a person, explored my religion deeply, and developed my social and political beliefs further. I know I will be back many times in the future.