2014-2015 Eizenstat Grantees Blog Page
August 5th, 2015: After-thoughts
I have just arrived back in the United States and I am still processing all of the wonderful and challenging elements of my experience in Israel. I’m now knee-deep in interviews for my research, and am strategizing around how to best continue the process from the Brandeis campus. I am anticipating at least of a hand-full of very early morning Skype interviews.
So far, I have have learned a tremendous amount from my interview subjects. They each have wildly different and unique stories about what brings (and previously brought) them to study Arabic. Although I have a very small sample due to the challenges I described earlier, I am already able to note some of the trends I’m looking for with respect to motivation to study the language and motivational shifts as a reaction to army service, earlier Arabic education (and educators), as well as Mizrahi identity and understanding. Most of the participants cite a shift in their relationship to Arabic over the course of their lives and their studies, mostly as a result of change in proximity or exposure to Arabic speakers, and either newfound comfort with the language or coping with chronic discomfort with the language. All of the participants highlighted the urgent need to enforce Arabic studies in early childhood education, and how being a token Arabic speaker in Hebrew-speaking Israeli social environments puts them in a special position with respect to their surroundings. They each have slightly different reasons as to the importance of learning the language, particularly relative to the importance of learning English and other languages of high ethnolinguistic vitality. I will share more of my results as I progress in my research, so look out for more updates.
During my last week, I visited my boss from a school I previously volunteered at a number of years ago. When I spent Shabbat with her during my time at the school, she explained how Arabic played a vital and yet quite confusing role in her family’s experience. She, like most people in her village, comes from a family who immigrated from Yemen immediately after the establishment of the State. Some of our initial conversations were formative in my understanding of Mizrahiyut and Arabic, and drew me into a number of facets that are driving this project. During my most recent visit, I was once again fascinated by the on the one hand ever-present, and on the other hand remarkably suppressed representations of Arabic language and Arab culture- particularly in the children’s speech and behavior.
I also was in Israel to witness two horrific and tragic events that shook the state to its very core; the stabbing of six individuals at the Jerusalem Gay Pride Parade, and the torching of a Palestinian home in Kfar Duma. I was honored to take part in a number of rallies and protests that brought awareness to the issues at hand and healing to aching families and communities. At an anti-violence vigil in Gush Etzion, which comprised mostly local Jewish supporters, a number of Jewish communal leaders and a few Palestinian leaders addressed the importance of coexistence in both Hebrew, English, and Arabic. When one of the Palestinian leaders spoke, he delivered his message through an emphatic, moving speech in Palestinian Arabic. Most of the audience could not understand, and looked comforted by his assumed message, while still being subsumed by fear of hearing (loudly spoken) Arabic in the public sphere. When he translated his message, the crowd looked infinitely more comfortable, and more individuals applauded his speech. The discrepancy between these two responses really highlighted a lot of the sentiment drawing me to learn about Arabic language education in Israel, and emphasized the importance of multilingualism as at least an inlet to a shared society.
Thank you so much for reading, and I hope to see you all at the Eizenstat Reception in October, where I will share more of my experiences from the summer.
July 24, 2015:
I hope your summers are treating you well. As some of you know, I received the Eizenstat Travel Grant in order to do research for my NEJS Senior Honors Thesis in Israel. So far, it’s been a pretty wild ride, but I’ve learned some pretty unique and important things, and have met many influential people in the field. I had intended to write about why Israeli high school students were choosing to study Arabic in high schools, but later changed my project to focus on university students due to a number of bureaucratic challenges.
When I first arrived in Israel, I set up a number of meetings with professors and students who have done work in Education, Sociolinguistics, Sociology, and Middle Eastern Studies, who each gave me concrete and valuable advice about how to best approach the main issues I was tackling in my research. I asked these people, amongst many people I was meeting in my day-to-day life, how they saw militarism, Mizrahi identity, and any motives for coexistence figuring into the study of Arabic in Israel. The best part about doing research is Israel is that people are more than willing to give you their opinion on anything….even if you haven’t asked!
The more unfortunate aspect of doing research in Israel is that many aspects of the state are still remarkably centralized. In order to do research in the school system, not only do you need the permission of the school superintendent as you would need in America, but you also need permission from the Israeli Ministry of Education’s Head Scientist. While consulting an Israeli professor about how to fill out the application, I discovered that as of a month before I arrived in Israel (around the time of the change in government), a new policy had been put in place in the Ministry that forbids foreign researchers from entering public schools. Since public schools make up a significant portion of the high schools in Israel, I needed to come up with a new target audience that would not incur the likes of that policy: university students.
Arguably, this version of the project is more interesting, innovative, and far easier to continue both over the summer and remotely from the United States. University students are far more in control of their educational decisions, and can articulate both their rationales for studying the language amongst other experiences that have shaped their language ideologies. Since I have received approval for this restructuring (just a few short days ago), I have started serious recruitment efforts and have begun interviewing different students for the project. I also have left my survey on just about every relevant Facebook page and listserv (with many more to come) with the hopes that those who cannot be interviewed can be a part of the project - particularly since I’m coming back to America in about a week’s time.
Amongst all of the most uplifting parts of my research experience, as well as the shenanigans, I have taken time to immerse myself in as much as I can of Israeli society - ranging from the magical and the beautiful to the shameful and ugly. I also have been to many different events and exhibits that both are and are not relevant to the project, and have met many incredibly insightful people. The other night, while at a panel at Shuk Machane Yehuda, I ran into many of those people, who were both presenting and in the audience. I was pleasantly surprised as to how I had at least started to find a community of people who also care about and study the same issues. It was really empowering, and I look forward to having more opportunities to engage with these individuals and communities in the future. And don’t worry - as any good student should, I’ve taken important time off to go to the beach and catch up with friends.
Thank you for keeping up with my summer adventures, and look out for another update soon!
Winter 2015 Ethan: "Ever since my first semester at Brandeis, I have been affixed to the study and practice of computer science."
Ever since my first semester at Brandeis, I have been affixed to the study and practice of computer science. My obsession began in the Introduction to Computers classroom and has since flourished into a BA (soon MA) and two start-up companies. My newest venture is a cyber security project, spurred from a conversation I had with my uncle in the summer of 2014. As we put our brains together and poured our hearts, sweat and tears into this project we knew something was missing. We needed Israeli technology, which we eventually found in the form of Watch Dog. Should a company be a target of a hacker, Watch Dog will notify them of the attempted hack right in the palm of their hand, via their iPhone or Android device. Through proprietary software people can now block the hackers, prior to his ever gaining access to their website. The Eizenstat grant enabled me to get to Israel and meet with the developers of this revolutionary technology which we now both use and provide.
Coming from a frigid, record-breaking winter in Waltham, nothing was more exciting to me than visiting the warm region in the Middle East...or so I thought. As my first meeting grew closer news came that Jerusalem was expecting a major snow storm. Just my luck! As the temperatures dropped and the snowflakes began to fall the country shut down. Offices, restaurants, you name it, closed up shop. Friday when people are usually hustling and bustling in the marketplace in preparation for the Sabbath, people were doing all the could to stay bundled up inside, as Israel and her citizens are not equip to whether a snowstorm. That put me in an odd position for I had a meeting at that time, which could not be rescheduled due to both my other meetings lined up along with the person I was meeting's work schedule.
As I left my hotel in the center of town, I cozied up as best as I could and walked about a mile in the freezing snow. As I was not prepared for the terrain, I was wearing my sneakers and with each step I took the sneaker front absorbed the water making my walk beautiful yet, toe numbing and uncomfortable. 45 minutes later I arrived at the home of Jason Weiss, Principal & Dealflow Manager at Axis Innovation, a boutique corporate advisory firm which "provides emerging startup companies the tools and contacts needed to successfully complete investment rounds and identify strategic business partners around the world." Several years prior, Jason was a co-founder and director of a program I took part in connecting young professionals with Israel’s business and entrepreneurship culture. We met in his Jerusalem apartment, discussed all that had happened since we last met three years prior, and immersed ourselves in deep conversation about on the future of the Start Up Nation, Israeli incubators and cyber security. After a few rugalach and a lot of warm coffee, the trek had to be made back to my hotel. On the way back, the sun started to come out from behind the clouds enabling some scared Israelis, along with seminary students to come out and do their pre- Shabbat marketplace shopping. It was then that I ran into old friends, who were spending the year studying Jewish texts in the Holy Land. We shopped together, laughed together, and somehow made it back to our destinations before sunset on that frigid Friday afternoon.
02.17.2015 Emily: "I have been lucky enough to have had professors who advised prime ministers, represented Israel in the United Nations and in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority."
February 17, 2015:
Ever since my senior year of high school, I knew I wanted to study abroad in Israel. It was then that I visited Israel for the first time in my life, and felt a combination of fascination with the political, economic and social aspects of the country as well as a profound, emotional connection with the land and the people. Throughout my time as a student at Brandeis, my ties to Israel have grown stronger. Last year I served as the president of TAMID Israel Investment Group and led lobbying missions with BIPAC (Brandeis Israel Public Affairs Committee). Discussing the innovation brought about by Israeli entrepreneurs with Brandeis students and bringing groups of students to meet with local representatives in Boston to discuss Israel’s safety and security prepared me well for what would be the most enriching and exciting experience of my life.
This semester I am a member of the Harvard spring honors program and am interning at the Hebrew University Faculty of Law. This means I am taking courses both at the Rothberg International School and at Hebrew University, alongside Israeli students. Before classes begin, most study abroad students participate in an intensive Hebrew ulpan course at Rothberg. The following post will describe my experience in ulpan and my first days of classes this semester.
On Thursday January 23rd, I arrived at Hebrew University for my first day of ulpan. Despite the fact that I attended a Jewish day school throughout high school and learned Hebrew for many years, the language was always a challenge for me. I was never able to speak fluently or confidently. Our Hebrew teachers spoke to the class only in Hebrew. This Hebrew course was nothing like what I had experienced in high school. We learned grammar and vocabulary but we also found ourselves in real life situations where we needed to express ourselves in Hebrew. On one occasion, our teachers asked us to act out a scene in restaurant. I found myself acting out the role of an Israeli waitress, talking to customers, taking orders and giving compliments to the chef. As the weeks progressed, I noticed that I felt comfortable speaking to Israelis in Hebrew, whether in the shuk, taxicabs, restaurants or asking for directions. Hebrew class ended at 1:30 each day, so there was always plenty of time to travel and explore Israel. Since I’ve been here I have visited the Bahai’i Gardens, Haifa, visited the Israeli Knesset and visited Herzliya. The intensive ulpan program has recently come to an end, but I will continue to take Hebrew classes throughout the semester.
On Sunday I will attend my first classes at Hebrew University where I will be studying economics and politics. I am very excited to sit in a classroom with Israelis and discuss the current elections, economic issues and the politics of the Middle East. My experience with the professors thus far has been amazing. I have been lucky enough to have had professors who advised prime ministers, represented Israel in the United Nations and in negotiations with the Palestinian Authority and been involved in the Oslo peace process. I look forward to meeting my professors at Hebrew University next week!
I am so grateful that I received the Frances Taylor Eizenstat grant, which has made my study abroad experience here in Israel possible. I look forward to sharing my experiences from my internship and the rest of my semester in the coming weeks and months.
Until next time,
02.15.2015 Ohad: "I decided to fly back to Israel this past July to serve with fellow military reservists in Operation Protective Edge."
March 14, 2015: After-thoughts
Upon returning from Israel this past July and subsequently being invited to speak at the “Stop the Terror” rally about my service in Operation Protective Edge, I started out with the intention of simply sharing a message - a message inspired by my experiences in Israel, and by my endeavors here in the United States. However, upon recognizing the impact of my speech, I decided to devote my energy to finding a format in which articulate young Israeli and Palestinian leaders could mobilize and bridge the gaps between our two communities.
I came to realization that Israelis, Palestinians and Americans are deeply frustrated by the ineffectiveness of current political initiatives to secure a peaceful, prosperous, equitable future for people on both sides. Extreme voices and opinions dominate the discourse, while reason and substance are ignored or pushed to its fringes. While discussion naturally becomes polarized during military operations—as Israelis and Palestinians know too well—optimism with respect to reconciliation becomes synonymous with weakness. The future of the region is being determined by those who have long lost faith in negotiation but will not live to witness the corrosive and destructive consequences of perennial military conflict. At the same time, the best minds of the younger generation are dedicating themselves to revolutionizing the high-tech, academic, and commercial sectors.
I determined to build a platform enabling young leaders - Israeli and Palestinian - to pursue this goal and to develop their leadership skills in the process. The concept I chose to adopt would veer away from traditional approaches to coexistence, but rather focus on prompting Israeli-Palestinian collaboration towards goals students and young professionals care about (networking, job opportunities, etc.), triggering an integral collaborative process.
Through the Frances Taylor Eizenstat ‘65 Undergraduate Israel Travel Grant, I was able to meet with various potential sponsors and leadership to seek their support for our program. What struck me throughout my travel in Israel over the winter break was the overwhelming support and enthusiasm I received for our initiative from leading societal figures from all walks of life. Earlier this fall, when I proposed to Brandeis University the idea of bringing together Israeli and Palestinian graduate students in a program we now call Our Generation Speaks (OGS), we could not predict the overwhelming support we received from leaders from the business, political, and intellectual worlds who agreed to commit to using their talents, experience, and resources to help a younger generation make their voices heard and their constructive energy felt in the region.
February 11, 2015:
As a Slifka Scholar I have been fortunate in joining a pursuit to foster coexistence and to promote greater understanding across sustained divides. To shed some light on the context for my activities in Israel as a recipient of the Frances Taylor Eizenstat ‘65 Undergraduate Israel Travel Grant, I would like to begin by providing with a background of several very specific events that prompted me to pursue my endeavors towards establishing a coexistence initiative based around the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
I decided to fly back to Israel this past July to serve with fellow military reservists in Operation Protective Edge. As an active reserve Combat Intelligence Officer in the IDF, with a younger brother currently in service and with my hometown under rocket fire, I did not feel that my residence in Boston should exempt me from reserve duty. Upon my return from Israel, I was invited to speak at the “Stop the Terror” rally at the City Hall Plaza of Boston to share my perspective. I spoke of the fact that: “The terrorist infrastructure is not only Hamas. It is also poverty, ignorance, desperation, hopelessness, and the lack of a political horizon. Addressing these factors is not the job of the IDF. The IDF cannot fight incitement in textbooks or target high unemployment rates.” My message went viral, and has been shared nationally in the states and in Israel. As such, I was invited to engage in a number of prominent public speaking endeavors, thus resulting in exposure to a wide variety of influential community leaders, businessmen, and policy makers. Through these engagements, I came to realize that there is a deep desire to listen to the voices of my generation regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — that those who have long lost interest in the fruitless conversation regarding the conflict still retain hope in the potential of our generation to engender change. Based on this realization, a group of passionate students and young professionals, supported by the senior leadership of Brandeis University, were spurred to establish Our Generation Speaks (OGS). OGS seeks to construct dynamic projects demonstrating the potency of collaboration between Israeli, Palestinian, and American university students, and to promote a productive conversation surrounding the conflict.
I spent my time in Israel meeting with potential sponsors and leadership, as well as visiting a number of relevant academic institutions. I met with several MKs and mayors who respectively shared their visions with me and further agreed to support our program by serving on our Leadership. I was provided the opportunity to delve into the programs of a number of academic institutes, such as Shalem College, where I was provided with substantive background as to how the college had been founded by one of the directors. I further had the opportunity to visit IDC Herzliya and speak to relevant individuals in their leadership, as well, regarding different programs in the institution and opportunities for cooperation. Having attended the university for a year before transferring to Brandeis, I found it enjoyable to see the familiar grounds of the campus and community.
A particularly inspiring aspect of my trip to Israel was an opportunity to embark upon a personal tour of Rawabi, the first Palestinian planned city and cornerstone of what is being constructed to function as the basis for a new, entirely modern, and thriving Palestinian society; this project is the largest private sector investment in Palestinian history, at a cost of around $800 million. It is truly awe-inspiring that an entirely new city can be built from scratch. With signature restaurants, vibrant nightlife and a cutting edge IT hub, Rawabi is expected to become home to 40,000 resourceful Palestinians. Should the entrepreneurs behind this venture succeed, history will remember them as those who contributed more to the peace process than any contemporary politician.
01.06.2015 Ilana: "Isra-ACE - an application that we built that would measure anti-Israel activity across regional and global platforms."
This past week, Innovation Africa (iA) was invited to participate in the Reut Institute’s “Israel Legitimacy Hackathon,” bringing activists and thinkers together with cyber and technology experts to build a network and design technological tools to combat the delegitimization of Israel. I had the special opportunity of joining iA’s Community Development Coordinator in participating as a part of one of the teams for this hackathon. It was truly incredible to see how within just three days, activists and thinkers collaborated with tech experts to create groundbreaking innovations and develop thorough and comprehensive plans about how to implement these creations.
Our “Heat-Map Discourse” team designed the system and business plan for “Isra-ACE,” an application that we built (within three days!) that would provide a system to measure anti-Israel activity across regional and global platforms. Here is just a short introduction of what “Isra-ACE” is all about as described in our proposal:
Members of the global pro-Israel community lack the ability to assess delegitimization activity and the predictive tools needed to base assumptions on how to respond. The Isra-ACE system helps to create data analysis at multiple levels allowing our application to give metrics that measure the velocity, variety, volume, veracity and severity of anti-Israel activity mapped regionally and globally across a digital platform. In addition, our system creates a connected community of pro-Israel activists so that they have a common space in which to collaborate and respond proactively through a uniform ability to access information.
After our proposal was well-received, we actually were awarded $3,000 for our application by the Reut Institute at the end of the hackathon! Truly an amazing experience!!
Sitting around our table at the hackathon just speaking with one of the women on my team, I had one of the most memorable conversations I can recall. The woman was telling me about her favorite quote that “you make a living off of what you get, but you make a life off of what you give.” This hit me in an extremely profound way. Looking around the room, watching so many brilliant thinkers put their minds together for three days (barely sleeping, eating as we worked…), it was truly moving beyond words. So many prominent leaders and talented activists and experts took three days out of their tremendously busy lives for no reason other than to improve Israel’s image worldwide and expose the lies, anti-Semitism, and anti- Israel rhetoric in order to portray what Israel truly is. This was so poignant for me because I have always felt that Israel is in my blood and is such a major element of my identity, but I have never felt that my peers necessarily shared the same depth of commitment and connection as I felt inside. The 100 or so people invited to attend this hackathon definitely changed that feeling around for me. I was profoundly moved and inspired by so many like-minded, hard-working, deeply committed and devoted professionals with whom I had the privilege of working for three days. The quote that this woman shared with me truly epitomizes the entire experience, in addition to encapsulating exactly what guides and drives me in my life. You may make a living off of what you get, but you make a life off of what you give.
Earlier in the week, I had spent a day on the beautiful beach of Herzliya after enjoying the delicious wine of Israel at a local boutique winery. Later that evening, on route to Jerusalem I hopped onto the light rail to be stunned by the picture you can find below. The outside walls of the light rail, although bullet and stone proof (Thank G-d) had countless marks from stones and rocks being thrown at them everywhere you turned. This was just an average day for me in Israel, eye-witnessing the juxtaposition of total peace, serenity and enjoyment on the one hand, and total terror, violence and hatred on the other. It is not even reported on the news every time stones get thrown at innocent citizens just making their way into work because it has become so commonplace, but it afflicts the inhabitants of Jerusalem on a constant basis. Standing on the light rail with this sobering thought, I began suddenly to cry. After such a wonderful day reaping Israel’s fruits and beauty, I was now seeing the heartbreaking hardships Israelis must live with daily. The craziest part of this all is that, at the end of that day, my unwavering desire to move to Israel and spend every day in my homeland only grew stronger. I cannot wait for the day when the people of Israel do not have to live in fear of their lives anymore and can send their children to school without worrying about sirens or stabbings or terrorism, a day when Israel can live in peace with her neighbors.
Preeminent leader Mahatma Gandhi famously declared “the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” After just one day of starting to intern with Innovation: Africa (iA), there is no quote to better encompass my feelings about taking part in this organization’s seminal mission. Even though TAMID Israel Investment Club (for which I am VP Fundraising) has been involved with proposing projects for iA throughout the year, the fact that I was granted the opportunity to personally work with iA in Israel overwhelmed me with utmost excitement, passion and drive.
I went to my first iA lecture last night and was moved beyond words. iA is a non-profit organization that brings Israeli solar and agricultural technologies to African villages to improve the lives of rural African people and, in doing so, improves the image of Israel around the world. iA has 85 different projects in 6 countries sponsoring villages by bringing Israeli technology to power health clinics, light schools and orphanages, pump clean water, provide drip irrigation, refrigerate vaccines and so much more. Talk about Tikun Olam and Israel being a light unto the nations!!
Later that night, in culmination of its Chanukka campaign, iA brought together many young professionals and prominent leaders in its “Share the Light” event at one of Tel Aviv’s top rated bars. Joining together with iA to share the gift of life with thousands living in darkness was profoundly meaningful. I am honored and inspired to be contributing toward this purpose.
The following day, I began my formal internship and planned my projects for the next three weeks with the Executive Assistant in iA’s office in Herzliya. I will be working on evaluating past campaigns and designing a template to use in future ones, assisting in preparing for several group lectures and events, attending the three-day long “Global Israel Legitimacy Hackathon” at the Reut Institute in which participants work with focus and energy to create new tools to combat delegitimization of Israel and lastly, designing and preparing a campaign for the Spring semester to bring back to TAMID National on North American campuses to raise $10,000 in an effort to sponsor a village and power a school, orphanage, or medical clinic.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon asserted that 585 million Africans live without electricity and that “more people die from unsafe water than from all forms of violence, including war.” iA understands that without energy, there is no chance for a better education, no way to pump clean water, and no opportunity for proper medical care. To me, the work in which iA engages epitomizes the essential role of Israel and the Jewish people in the world today. This is what it means for Israel to be a beacon of hope and light in a region with such turbulent violence, communities at risk, and lack of democracy and freedom.
Ever since the age of 8 when I first visited Israel, Israel has been my whole life. It is the driving force with which I wake and I would live and die for it. People ask why? THIS is why. Organizations like iA, people like its staff, communities dedicated to helping others and repairing our broken world – that is why Israel is my everything. While we face many of our own social and political issues, we are resolute in helping others. Whatever struggles and challenges come our way, even at the existential level, we never abandon the core purpose of Tikun Olam and we unwaveringly commit our time, passion and dedication in order to bring good into this world. After the terrible war this summer and so much bloodshed and terrorism in recent months, the paramount importance of focusing on Israel beyond the conflict is urgent, and iA is a great tool to broaden world perspective and attitude toward Israel.
I am filled with gratitude and appreciation to Ambassador Eizenstat for providing me with the opportunity, through the Schusterman Center for Israel Studies, to intern with this incredible non-profit. It is no less than an awe-inspiring honor to continue in the legacy of Frances Eizenstat’s love and devotion for Israel.
Until next time,