Seventy undergraduates from five US University Hillels spent a week learning at the Hartman Institute in Jerusalem in December. Students from Columbia/Barnard, Princeton, UCLA, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale studied iEngage throughout the fall semester in preparation for the Israel seminar. Once in Israel, the group discussed questions of peace, justice, and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through the lens of classical and contemporary sources, both Jewish and secular. Their study sessions were complimented by field trips around Jerusalem and cultural experiences designed to enhance the classroom learning and shed an additional perspective on the issues they had been discussing. From the opening session with Donniel Hartman teaching about Israel and the Palestinian Conflict: Our Internal Struggle through the closing session with Yossi Klein Halevi asking What Does It Mean for American Jews to be in a Relationship with the Israeli Psyche? the seminar never shied away from challenging topics. Tiyulim included visits to the settlements with the Shorashim-Roots Project, a combined effort of Palestinians and Jewish settlers to understand each other’s connections to the land, fears of each other and how they can live together, and a visit to one of the Jewish settler outposts, including a dialogue with residents.
Participants reported that the seminar not only provided them with language that clarified their own thoughts on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but that many of the presenters exposed them to new ideas and ways of thinking. As one participant noted, “In reality, this seminar addressed not the conflict itself, but rather how we think and talk about it; what are our values that inform our perceptions of Israel and the Palestinians? How can we be inclusive rather than exclusive? How can we gain a more nuanced understanding of Israel and its people, and how we relate to them? I feel extremely empowered by the ideas discussed at Hartman.” The emphasis of a values-based understanding of Israel that is a hallmark of iEngage resonated strongly with many of the participants.