Immersed in Israel
by Lauren Davidson
January 1, 2011
During her gap-year program in Israel before coming to Dickinson, Emily Weiner '13, president of Hillel, took this photo of Jewish men praying at the Western Wall.
Two Jewish-centered partner programs—at Hebrew University and Ben-Gurion University (BGU) in Israel—are among the new options available to students interested in Judaic studies and Middle East studies.
Hebrew University is regarded as the premier academic institution in Israel. Rothberg International School, Dickinson’s partner within the university, emphasizes a more traditional curriculum focused on Hebrew language, Jewish history and rabbinic texts.
“Personally, as a Jew, studying in Jerusalem lets me explore my Judaism in a meaningful and unique way that I could not find anywhere else,” says Terri Soifer ’12, a Judaic-studies and Middle East-studies double major currently in the program. “I’m hoping to pursue a master’s in community education for Jewish nonprofits, and Hebrew University is expanding my Jewish education and lets me network with peers and professors in the field.”
Andres Israel ’11, an international-studies major and Global Campus Scholar from Montevideo, Uruguay, joins Soifer there this academic year. “My concentration is Israeli security studies, so the opportunity of studying in one of the best-known universities in Israel seemed ideal. Due to this amazing experience, I’m considering coming [back] to do a second degree in Israel after I graduate from Dickinson.”
BGU, on the other hand, is “for students who want the feel of the Middle East, more of the culture,” says Carla Maranto-Arnold, study-abroad coordinator in the Office of Global Education. It’s a rural setting, ideal for the study of the environment, which is one of the institution’s hallmarks.
Middle East-studies and international-studies major Zach Steinborn ’12 from Maryland took courses there this fall in Israeli Film, Israeli History, History of Terrorism and Guerrilla Warfare and Hebrew. “I also found a course with an internship component, which allowed me to be a research intern for a scholar here,” he says. “My time at BGU made me realize that doing my master’s in Israel is a viable option, especially considering that BGU offers two master’s programs in my field of study.”
While these universities have distinct differences, both teach Hebrew as part of the required curriculum, which plays to one of Dickinson’s strengths.
“Hebrew language is what has really distinguished us,” says Andrea Lieber, associate professor of religion and Sophia Ava Asbell Chair in Judaic Studies. While most small liberal-arts institutions offer limited classes taught by adjuncts, Dickinson boasts a full-time professor who teaches several levels.
Closer to home, Dickinson also has a partnership with the Jewish Theological Seminary at List College in New York City, which was initiated in 2004 and allows students to study there during the spring.
Opportunities to study abroad in Israel received a big boost recently when Fred and Ann Streger Price P’01 pledged $100,000 in tribute to Ann’s father, David Streger ’39. Their gift will assist Dickinson students who want to study in Israel and will support faculty from Israeli universities who visit Dickinson.
“Our view is that the fostering of better relationships is always a good thing,” Fred Price explains. “There is great room for improvement in understanding how the world looks at Jews in Israel, and additional interaction between students of all stripes—Jewish or not Jewish—always has a positive outcome.”
A $500,000 U.S. State Department grant procured by Middle East studies’ Doug Edlin, associate professor of political science, and Ed Webb, assistant professor of political science and international studies, also will foster deeper connections between Dickinson and Israel.
“It’s a two-year program that will bring together 34 emerging young professionals from the U.S. and the Middle East,” explains Lieber, director of recruitment for the program. “The overall goal is to study the relationships between politics, geographic boundaries and management of natural resources. It’s an exciting and innovative opportunity.”
This summer, 17 emerging young professionals from the United States will travel to the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies in Israel to research the Jordan River Valley, which is the water boundary where Israel, Jordan and Egypt meet. Next summer, 17 young professionals from the Middle East will be based at Dickinson and study the Chesapeake Bay watershed.
Also starting this summer, Dickinson will offer new programs at its abroad sites to college students nationwide. Students can study economic sustainability in Yaoundé, Cameroon; social sustainability in Ketura, Israel; and coming in 2012, environmental sustainability in Bremen, Germany.
All the new initiatives combined add up to “great collaboration here between Judaic studies and Middle East studies, and we’re doing things that no other institutions are doing,” Lieber says. “We can really prepare our students for grad school, and we focus on connecting our coursework to the broader liberal arts and the overall intellectual focus of the college.”