Letter from Ella Ozer, Spring 2016 recipient, Tel Aviv University.
Being in Israel for a few months meant a lot of things to me and I was able to learn and grow personally from the many experiences that I had. A lot of adventures and memories came and went and I can leave looking backing knowing that I wouldn’t change a single moment from the past five months. That being said, I want to touch on a single experience, during Yom Ha’Zikaron, Israel memorial day.
Memorial day in Israel is a lot different than other countries for two reasons: every person here is connected to the fallen soldiers, and survival of the country is still very much relevant. Since almost every Israeli adult has served in the army, they have insight and first hand experience of the danger and hardships that soldiers go through. Many have been friends or family of those who lost their lives and therefore can easily empathize with fallen soldiers. In addition, fighting for their country is not something of the past, it is still very much relevant. Because of this, memorial day is something that citizens of all ages, young or old, connect with.
My experience is from the night of memorial day during a ceremony that our program held for us. It was very touching and well put together, with stories and melancholy songs being presented by those on our program. I had been struggling that semester trying to figure out how to do my part in helping Israel as a whole. I had not been courageous enough to join the army after high school, which is the way a lot of people – both Israeli and not – accomplish their part. As I was watching a slideshow of fallen soldiers, I was thinking of how I could help. I knew that I would be very happy living in Israel, but it then also occurred to me that I could make a much greater impact from living outside of Israel.
Without the help of outside sources, Israel would be in bad shape. It needs support and advocates all around it to make a global change on the perception of the Jewish state. I think that I can play a greater role in helping Israel by not living in Israel. Inside Israel, people do not need to be convinced of which standpoint they are going to take. In the diaspora, a huge amount of people are unaware of the issues happening or the ever so prevalent conflict. I feel that I have more tools and resources and a greater opportunity to help the country that has given me so much by living in America. And maybe, one day I can settle down in Israel, but during my working years I think the United States is a better place for me.
Letter from Isabel Schneider, Spring 2016 recipient, Saving the Stones program.
One of the beauties of old friendships is that over time you are able to see your friend in a variety of contexts and places; you can’t always appreciate their complexities until you’ve witnessed them interact in diverse scenarios. The first time I came to Israel was almost ten years ago, and I saw her as a paradise for teenagers to roam through the boardwalks of Tel Aviv at all hours, full on falafel and the ancient dishes fed to them by aged relatives whose only shared language was food. The next time I saw her as a marvelous place for active adventurers, full of dazzling desert night skies to sleep under, Golani waterfalls to hike through, and rivers to fall into from a rope swing pushed by a kindred spirit. The third time was a longer test of our relationship, and I spent a year studying her language, her people, her history, her art, her school systems, and I saw a much fuller version of her. I witnessed her shame: the brutal desert prisons that housed innocent asylum seekers, the schools that taught biased and inconsistent histories, the vendors in Jerusalem whose prices depended solely on the language you spoke and the religion you were unwillingly born into, and the corrupt politicians. And I celebrated with her in her pride: as a nation built for refugees from around the world, the innumerable NGOs and projects to teach coexistence and tolerance in numerous creative and wonderful ways, the schools that were cutting edge in their educational strategies that produced mindful, independent youth, the factories and companies that stood up for the rights of their workers regardless of their backgrounds, the humble laboratories and offices where people of every cultural, religious, and political background laughed and worked side by side without conscious effort, and the movers and shakers who are fighting to improve their nation daily. I’ve seen that she is a nation with great soul, whose existence is precarious and volatile, but is still capable of producing leading innovations and every possible field, from agriculture and high tech to diplomacy and education. I saw a country brimming with incredible people, overcoming generations of PTSD and possessing a national pride that inspires and motivates every facet of their lives, in ways difficult to describe to outsiders, and deeply moving to those who have the opportunity to understand it. Currently, I am here to witness one of the rarer, more unique versions of Israel. I’ve been studying conservation, and have been exploring and learning within the closed doors and private laboratories of some of the most incredible historic sites in not only Israel, but the world. Israel has the densest amount of sites from antiquity on the planet with over 34,000 known sites, including ten UNESCO world heritage sites, and holy places for Jews, Baha’i, Druze, Muslims and Christians. On this particular visit with Israel, I am privilege to viewing the side of her burdened with upholding and honoring her history. So many empires and civilizations have left their mark upon this land, and its citizens are so diverse, it is remarkable that this country is able to create a national identity. Even more remarkable is its ability to be the guardian of a physical place so rich in history and artifact, and to uphold its responsibility in making this history accessible and relatable to the myriad people who come to learn here. For the last few months I’ve had the opportunity to study and work in cultural heritage conservation with some of the greatest masters of this subject, not just in this petite Middle Eastern nation, but globally. I’ve worked with the Israel Antiquities Authority, and seen how Helen B. Reich Scholarship Recipient Report Isabel Schneider August 5th, 2016 monumental their task is (namely to preserve Antiquities and create accessibility of them for both the public and academic spheres), and am impressed and awed at their accomplishments. They are at the forefront of innovation in this realm. The laboratory of the Dead Sea Scrolls uses documentation technology that is unparalleled. Recently, the frescoes at Herodium installed an electromagnetic system to prevent moisture exposure that had only been seen as thoughtful conjecture by the rest of the world. While political candidates are winning Knesset seats on platforms of desperately needed real estate reform, Israel still manages to maintain more than 150 nature reserves and national parks. The fine arts conservation department routinely passes some of the most fascinating artifacts of world heritage through its doors, and yet continues to be a welcoming, casual environment manned by experts who are as comfortable doing precision cleaning on Chalcolithic frescoes, as they are traveling across the country to do emergency cleaning on floor mosaics being freshly unearthed by archeologists, or lecturing foreign academics. In addition to partaking in government-sponsored heritage conservation I’ve also been privileged to meet private individuals and companies that are ensuring that cultural heritage preservation can coexist alongside innovation and growth. I’ve had opportunities to lead workshops and summer youth programs in Akko that engage high schoolers with conservation and archeology, and been floored by their insights and ease in accepting the task of maintaining the spirit and history of their homeland. This ability of people to comfortably and willingly support the burden of cultural heritage preservation while simultaneously and constantly finding ways to grow and expand is the quality that I am most impressed with on this experience with Israel. I am perpetually inspired by this land and its people, and am excited to see what other lessons I have yet to learn from them