Student Thoughts: What UMass Uncovered (2)

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Note from Elana: One of our outstanding students, Carly, put together an article about The David Project and her Israel Uncovered experience, and included thoughts from fellow busmates. We think the way she engaged her peers to write about their trip is pretty cool and I will share her and her classmates' thoughts with you this week, in two parts! By Carly Korman, Umass Amherst, Bus 4

The David Project is a Boston based non-profit Israel Advocacy organization that works with campuses across the country in educating, training, and empowering student leaders to be successful in their strategic advocacy work. They focus on Relational Advocacy and strongly believe in the idea of finding common ground among diverse student groups to be the most effective approach in Israel advocacy. Israel Uncovered Campus Leaders Mission is a ten-day trip to Israel where Jewish student advocates accompany non-Jewish student leaders and are exposed to different narratives and aspects of Israeli society. UMass had the privilege of sending twenty participants on Israel Uncovered over this past winter break. Four Student Advocates and sixteen Student Leaders representing a myriad of student organizations they are involved in on campus shared this incredible experience together. We participants varied from freshmen to seniors, came from diverse backgrounds of many cultures, and carried a multitude of expectations, hopes, and preconceptions. These are just a few of the innumerable memories and experiences we shared.

from Nick Goncalves:

My experience in Israel was nothing short of incredible. It’s hard to convey in words the immense importance and dimension of literally every second of the trip. As a non-Jewish, mostly secular person I wasn’t really sure what to expect, but I was reminded to clear my head of any subjectivities or conceptions I had and not let it impact the experience (and even the ones that remained in my head were completely and totally Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 10.14.25altered forever). By far the most humbling and relatable experience was a moment when we were at an “eco-farm” run by Eco Peace in Ein Gedi right on the edge of the Dead Sea, overlooking the Jordanian coast. We were listening to a speaker tell us about the weak salt bed of the Dead Sea causing sinkholes, and the rapidly decreasing supply of water in the Dead Sea, containing highly saline water, which is hard to use as a dependent water source as it is. She went on to describe how the shared human need for a dependable water source could potentially lead to initiations of a peaceful resolution for Jordan and Israel. It was an extremely humbling moment, to be reminded that amid conflict and war and unrest, we’re all still people, and at the human level we all share the same basic needs. This was a very crucial moment in the trip for me-it tied me into the Israeli people, and also reminded me that we’re all still people behind all the differences we face on the outward level.

from Monica Curtin, Catholic Community:

Screen Shot 2016-03-09 at 10.14.49During adventures through northern Israel, our bus stopped at a commercial shopping area for lunch. We were given a food voucher and 45 minutes to order, get our food, eat, and return to the bus. Options: falafel, burgers, and pizza. I went with pizza. I know, a sheltered white girl chose to forego falafel for pizza while on her once-in-a-lifetime trip to Israel. Classic. The pizza place was empty, perfect! A few other kids from the trip ordered their pizza and waited outside, but I chose to stay and talk with the girls who were working after I ordered. They asked if I had come to Israel on Birthright, and were intrigued when I answered "No… and no I’m not Jewish… I came here with the David Project… Yeah all expenses are paid for… Yeah there’s a bunch of us… Well most of us aren’t Jewish… Yes I’m loving my trip to Israel". At some point during our conversation, I realized that this was the first time during trip that I was having a full conversation with someone from Israel who had no prior knowledge of what I was doing there. This was it. This was Israel Uncovered.

We talked about school, food, language, funny accents, and shoes. I was glad that the mushroom pizza was taking too long to heat up because it allowed for more time to talk to these girls. One of the girls revealed that it was her first day working at that pizza shop, as she had returned from the IDF the day before. She didn’t even take time to relax from the constant drills, classes, and training of the IDF before starting work. Meanwhile, I was given a month long winter vacation to relax from bubble-letter exams before the new semester was to begin. I’m the same age as that girl. I don’t necessarily look any younger than your average 19 year old and I would like to believe that I don’t act any younger. Yet I learned that to be 19 in suburban Massachusetts is not the same as to be 19 in Israel. I am not daunted by the pressures of war, I am not trained to serve my country, and I experience nationalism only by rooting for the U.S. during the Olympics. A 19 year old in Israel is fit, she is willing and happy to serve her country, she carries herself as somebody who is responsible, ready to make decisions, and confident and strong. We both love comfy shoes, funny accents, and reggae music but only she is ready to respond to threats of violence and only she is able to say that she is loyal to her country until the end. I am amazed by the strength of the Israeli people. They are strong and they are proud. They are beautiful and they cannot be taken down. I’m not so impressed by their mushroom pizza.

from Carly Korman, Israel Community & Greek Community:

Intensity. For 10 days I was given the opportunity to show non-Jewish students from UMass what Israel really is. Not just the borders and the politics, but having the opportunity to hear stories and get narratives from so many different perspectives of the Israeli people, to dig deeper and see the people as individuals living their lives not as victims or terrorists or good or bad, and experiencing the culture of diversity and coexistence taking place on such a small piece of land. I'm so beyond grateful to be able to say I shared this experience of seeing Gaza, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Egypt, and the West Bank with 39 other fortunate student leaders. Ten days does not suffice the time it would take to uncover and show every aspect of the state of Israel, but in ten days I learned so much more and saw so much more truth than in 21 years of reading what the western media has given me. As a Jewish student, seeing such a diverse group of people’s opinions and attitudes toward Israel change, and seeing people connect to the land in so many different deep and personal ways was the most powerful point and I thank The David Project for giving me this experience.

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Having returned to UMass after this incredible trip, I am confident in saying our journey of uncovering Israel is just beginning. From the memories we made to the facts and connections we created, we have so much to share with the campus community. Each one of us has a narrative now, a story to share, and a tangible connection to the state of Israel and I urge you to ask them about it, because the most beautiful part about this whole trip, is that no two students have the same narrative.

Carly Korman is a junior at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst, pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Psychology with a specialization in Developmental Disabilities and Human Services. She is a sister of Alpha Epsilon Phi Sorority as well as the Vice President of the Student Alliance for Israel (SAFI).