A seminar guided by Dr. Saul Andron, Associate Professor at Yeshiva University’s Wurzweiler School of Social Work, and Rebecca Grabiner, Director of the Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) Graduate School’s Jewish Professional Leadership Program led 10 US Social Work students on an expedition exploring the social and political realities of life in the Jewish state. The students were selected from NY-based social work graduate programs including Wurzweiler, JTS, Columbia University School of Social work and NYU School of Social Work. Click here to read the full article at YU News.
Four of the students from Wurzweiler have shared personal reflections from this experience:
For me, the Israel seminar was all about connections – making them, finding them, and understanding their complexities. What connects the vastly diverse populations of Ethiopian Jews, refugees, Palestians, and ultra-Orthodox all living in Israel? What connects Israeli Jews to diaspora Jews and vice versa? What is my connection to all of this?
These are just some examples of the connections we observed, debated, and grappled with during our time in Israel. In the process of asking how or if these historic connections exist, we formed new connections with others. Somewhere between the early morning breakfasts, shared hotel rooms, and conversations about what it means to be a Jew, what our obligation is to Israel, and what binds the American Jewish community, we formed connections with each other. Through debates about Occupy Wall Street and the Tzedek Hevrati movement, we made connections with Jewish social work students in Israel. And with engaging presentations and rich conversations, we connected with leaders of the Jewish community from all over the world.
But a seminar based on tough questions of personal and professional identity required an enormous amount of self-reflection. It was in those quiet moments before bed, or travelling through the windy roads of the Golan Heights, that I formed connections with myself. I went beyond asking what connects one Jew to another and asked instead what connects me to the Jewish community? What is my Jewish identity and how do I fit into the ongoing Jewish narrative? Though I haven’t answered all of my own questions yet, I have begun the lifelong journey of making connections, finding connections, and understanding the deep complexities that come with being a Jew.
A personal highlight of the seminar was our visit with the social work program at Tel Hai college in Kiryat Shmona. During our time there we met with students involved in the social justice movement, visited student-run projects, had lectures with professors in the program, had a presentation with the head of the trauma program, and observed an emergency drill conducted by students in the trauma program. Throughout our time there I was amazed by the quality of the professors, the quality of the program, and especially, the students. The commitment and passion that they brought to the social work profession was humbling and inspiring. Their corner of the country has seen numerous wars reach their doorstep, and has some of the toughest economic conditions in the country. Observing their ability to meet the unique needs of their community while at the same striving to address the social structural issues in the country was a powerful reminder not to limit the scope and nature of the way I utilize my social work education.
As someone who intends to be a Jewish communal professional, this seminar was invaluable as it allowed me to explore the unique opportunities and challenges that the Jewish state faces in providing social services to it’s clients, and how that potentially relates to those of us serving diaspora Jewry. To gain a proper context of the social climate in Israel and the services that are needed and provided, the seminar explored the different contemporary issues that are impacting the internal nature of Israel, how these issues have manifested over the years, how this impacts social service delivery, and how these changes impact Israel-Diaspora relations. The seminar’s ability to educate and appeal equally across the diversity of the participants’ Jewish experiences, ranging from the Orthodox to the unaffiliated, from the Israel veterans to the first-timers, is a reflection of the range of issues covered and the quality of the presentation, and the conversations that the seminar spawned amongst us students were often just as educational and inspiring as the sessions themselves.
I was thrilled to visit Israel for the first time through YU and the Emerging Communities Seminar. In this two-week seminar ten students from four universities underwent an amazing journey into the heart and soul of Israel. We were guided by the steady hand of Dr. A., Rebecca and our capable madricha Vered. I had so many memorable experiences that were really enhanced by the staff and my new friends.
Our special seminar group rang in the New Year with a special stop to the Qualandiya (Atarot) Checkpoint in Arab East Jerusalem. I reflected on crossing between west/east Berlin, right after the Berlin Walls fall. There were many cars parked on the Israeli side; people dropping off their loved ones or picking them up; people visiting and people going to work. Suddenly, two Palestinian women dressed from head to toe crossed into the West Bank; they turned to me as if to say what are you people doing here? Then they began walking and talking in Arabic. As our tour left the crossing I was left with more questions and despair then before we entered
One evening we all went out to dinner at a special club in Tel Aviv called Na LaGat (Black Out). The restaurant is attached to a special theater of the blind and deaf. We were served by a blind waiter. I remember everyone in the group was nervous, how would we respond to total darkness, forks, knifes, and cups? We had to all rely on each other. Laughter, our hands and our coping skills prevailed. I will always remember sitting with my new NYU/Columbia JTS friends, Deena, Marjorie, David, Laura and Allison.
Shabbos was amazing. Davening (at the Kotel); Walking in the old city; Huvra Synagogue and friends. The day’s events came to a crescendo when some of us left the wall and we headed to Allison Zur’s old city-Jerusalem apartment. Little did we know what awaited us. Breathtaking rooftop views of the city. We ate pareve Cheetos, drank some wine and got a special guided landscape tour of the city from Dr. Andron, our chaperone.
Who could ask for more than this?
What struck me most throughout the seminar was the power of narrative, on the individual and on society, from
both clinical and policy perspectives. In listening to a Palestinian journalist and a Druze activist, I realized how a people’s narrative can shape a peace process, while meeting with members of the Tzedek Hevrati movement allowed me to witness the political impact of citizens giving public voice to their concerns. At Tel Hai College, I discovered that an individual’s recovery following a psychological trauma can be greatly aided by the ability to form a coherent, chronological narrative of his or her experiences, and in meeting with a chareidi rabbi in Jerusalem, with whom I vehemently disagreed, I learned how vital it is to acknowledge the other’s subjective, historical narrative, even as it defies one’s personal sense of historical accuracy, when trying to find common ground with an opposing group.