Building Bridges the Brandeis way

New initiative will send five black, five Jewish students to Israel to learn coexistence

From left to right: Ryan Yuffe '15, Amaris Brown '16, Alex Thomson '15 and Cynthia Jackson '16

A new student initiative to strengthen ties between black and Jewish undergraduates is about to take off — to Israel.

Brandeis Bridges will send five black and five Jewish students to Israel to learn about coexistence firsthand in early January. The trip will be a case study for the participants in how different communities come together, stay apart and improve their relationship.

The program is sponsored by the Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee (BIPAC), Brandeis Black Student Organization (BBSO) and Martin Luther King and Friends (MLK & Friends). The initiative grew out of discussions among Amanda Dryer ’13, Alex Thomson ’15 and Ryan Yuffe ’15, president of MLK & Friends and co-presidents of BIPAC, respectively, about the social distance between the black and Jewish communities on campus.

“Brandeis is diverse, but has a ways to go,” says Thomson. “I can’t necessarily do much in attracting a more diverse group of students, but I can work on enhancing the racial and ethnic connections already here.”

Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. is the inspiration for Brandeis Bridges. The civil rights leader came to campus in 1957 to deliver lectures on race relations, and a scholarship fund was named in his honor following his assassination in 1968. “I feel strongly about recreating that historical connection,” says Thomson.

The Fellows, along with Dean of Students Jamele Adams and Hillel director Larry Sternberg, will travel to Jerusalem, where they will explore Israel’s foundations, ponder questions about the Jewish state, and meet with an Ethiopian Knesset member. They will also meet with International YMCA president Forsan Hussein ’00, an important figure in improving Jewish-Palestinian relations. The Fellows will also explore the different religions in Jerusalem, visiting Christian, Jewish and Muslim holy sites.

Next stop is the Palestinian city of Ramallah on the West Bank. Then the students will visit Haifa, a great example of cooperation between the Arab and Jewish communities. Last stop is Tel Aviv, to learn about Israel’s African refugee community.

In the weeks leading up to their departure, the Fellows will meet with some of Brandeis’ most distinguished professors in African and Afro-American studies and Near Eastern Judaic studies. The ten students will participate in leadership development programs and discuss stereotypes that afflict each of their communities. Preparation for the trip will culminate over dinner with President Lawrence, a personal supporter of the initiative.

“The ultimate goal is go to Israel, educate these ten Fellows and, in turn, help them educate others in their communities,” says Thomson. “We want to come back as ambassadors for this new reconnection.”

Categories: Humanities and Social Sciences, International Affairs, Student Life

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