Israel and Syria: A Conversation on the Refugee Crisis at Temple University

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One of the themes of our annual Israel Uncovered: Campus Leader's Mission, is that Israel is a country that anyone can connect to. No matter the background or upbringing, there are so many facets of Israel and its society that can spark a connection within students that leaves them with a deep appreciation for this land. 

Brynn Hackett, a campus leader from Temple University, is involved with the UNICEF on her campus. On this past winter's Israel Uncovered trip, Brynn had the opportunity to visit Ziv Hospital, where doctors treat thousands of wounded Syrians who have suffered from the ongoing conflict. Upon returning to campus, Brynn worked with fellow participants, Chiamaka Obigdibo and Jeanne Friedlander, to put on event highlighting the current crisis in Syria and the role Israel plays in treating those effected. We recently spoke with Brynn about her time in Israel and the motivation behind bringing her experience back to campus. 

Michael Kagan: What first sparked your interest about our trip?

Brynn: I had heard about the trip through my friend Shali, who went the year before. I respect her as a friend and campus leader, and she seemed like she took a lot away from it. I was worried about being influenced or the trip expecting me to think a certain way, and I didn’t feel that on (Israel Uncovered). You are really there to hear both sides and form an opinion for yourself which is really important for me.

M: What were some preconceived notions that you had about either Israel or the conflict itself before going on the trip?

B: I think many people who haven’t been to the Middle East picture it like a war zone, which was definitely not the case when we went there. It is definitely a country thriving in the arts and full of history, and the culture is so rich there. It is definitely not like the media portrays it when you go there and see it.

M: From all the things you experienced on the trip, you decided to plan an event on your campus in coordination with Lior, the Israel Fellow, and the Jewish community but really, you focused on the organizations you were involved in. What was the name of that event and what really inspired you to put on this type of event based on your experience in Israel?

B: The event was called "A Conversation on the Syrian Refugee Crisis" and my club Unicef x Temple helped host that. The reason why I wanted to focus in on that specifically was because we went to the Ziv hospital in Israel, and got to see the ministry and how they give medical aide free of charge to victims of what’s going on in Syria. Coming from a background in high school, I was involved in refugee resettlement which is a topic that is always on my radar and close to my heart. It was nice to get a few different perspectives on that. At this specific event there were three speakers. First was Rami, who is a first generation American of Syrian decent who is also a Temple student. He talked about his advocacy and first hand experience, and what he has learned. Then we had Modi Kahana speak and he founded Amalia, which coordinates the busses that pick up the people who are in need of medical attention on the border of Syria and Israel. His story was commendable. Last we had Ellen, from the nationalities services center, and she spoke more on our backyard and how refugee resettlement in Philly affects us and the changes with the new presidency. It is important to bring things back home because it's easy to not care about things that aren’t in our backyard, but we are all connected.

 Brynn wanted to bring the conversation of Syrian Refugees to campus after visiting Ziv Hospital in Northern Israel.

Brynn wanted to bring the conversation of Syrian Refugees to campus after visiting Ziv Hospital in Northern Israel.

M: Im assuming this was based more on your experience going to Ziv hospital. So, what specifically about learning about the Syrian refugees in Israel made you want to do this kind of event?

B: I didn’t know that Israel was doing anything in means of aid for Syria. You know only about the tension. I think it was important to touch on that that there is government and non-profit work helping with it. I think it was important to put that on people's radar. I think a lot was to despite what we hear in the media.

M: Looking ahead, there has a been a lot of warm reception from UNICEF in wanting to learn more about Israel, and even Lior herself wanting to invest in bringing more opportunities. What has been the response you have seen to this event?

B: So from the event itself, our club and (people who attended) just wanting to get involved with the cause in general, and a few people are going on the Fact Finders trip as well to learn more and see for themselves. The biggest thing is getting it on people’s radar and for a lot of people, I don’t think it was their first choice to go there, but once they got a taste of what Israel has to offer I think they want to see it for themselves, which I think is the best way to learn.

 Modi Kahana, founder of Amalia, speaking to members of UNICEF x Temple about how his organization helps treat wounded Syrians.

Modi Kahana, founder of Amalia, speaking to members of UNICEF x Temple about how his organization helps treat wounded Syrians.

M: Well, your event was a success, and the hope we have in terms of looking ahead is that students that go on our trip may want to partner on future events or be close with the Jewish community. How do you see your involvement on campus in the future whether it’s with the Jewish community or seeing yourself as an ally?

B: I think to start off I'm still really close with people I went on the trip with and our Jewish community and Israel fellow, so I have that connection with someone who is really in involved with the Jewish community. From there, our club wants to collaborate and now that I have worked with Lior and Temple Hillel, they have a great event space and are open for collaboration, which we are all for it. Now having gone to Israel, I’m more aware of what’s going on politically and current events in Israel, as well and staying informed and passing that along to other people.

For more information on our Israel Uncovered: Campus Leader's Mission click here.