I traveled to Israel over winter break with paid airfare and lodging on a ten-day college leadership program hosted by the Jewish National Fund (JNF). I found out about the JNF and their Caravan for Democracy program through a listserv email to Central Student Government Assembly representatives. This program, however, is not intended only for those who participate in student government, nor should it be. I want to share my experience with the program so the University of Michigan can continue to be represented with students applying and attending the program, and the student body can reap the full benefits of this program, and in turn that the program can benefit from future Wolverines.
The program was a once in a lifetime opportunity and the experience was nothing short of awesome, in the purest sense of the word: inspiring great admiration. I traveled across the country on a bus with thirty other college students who attend colleges and universities across the United States. We flew from New York to Tel-Aviv, and traveled from North to South, finishing our journey where it began in Tel-Aviv. Along the way, we stayed in Kibbutz’s, dined with Druze and Bedouin people in their homes, and learned about Israel in the context in which culture should be learned – through experience and immersion. We visited the Sea of Galilee, the Golan Heights, Haifa, Masada, Jerusalem, and Beersheba. We had the unique opportunity to speak to our Israeli peers, students at Ben-Gurion University. We saw holy and historical sites, alongside growing modern cities. So much of what Americans know about Israel comes from the media within the context of conflict. It was special to see the country from beyond this one-dimensional coverage, where it snowed in the Golan Heights, was dry and arid in the Negev, and hot and sunny on New Year’s Eve when we floated in the Dead Sea. The country was beautiful.
The other crucial aspect of the experience were the people I met. Our tour guide— more of a mentor, teacher, and educator than anything else—made the trip more rewarding than I could have imagined. The Jewish National Fund organizers who traveled with us were helpful with travel coordination, aiding in the educational experience, and ensuring that everyone was fully able to enjoy the trip by even supplying medications for students. My fellow students, or “Caravan-ers”, would define my experience. It is not a mystery as to why we so enjoyed our time together. We were all open to learning, meeting new people, and perhaps most importantly—were comfortable in ourselves and with one another. We came from all over the country, from different academic disciplines, and some even from rival schools. Not one of our differences pulled us apart as we all appreciated the uniqueness of the opportunity before us. Our differences in experience, political ideology, and social background only added to the experience. I brought my own unique perspective, as did everyone else. I had earned a seat on the bus, and I was not going to let it go to waste by being anyone but myself. I believe we all shared that mentality, creating a close bond between all of us. It was not just the country, nor the Israeli people that we met that made the trip what it was. It was not just the people I traveled with. It was a combination of all these factors, experiences, and people that inspired great admiration in me. It is my hope that I have done justice to my experience and the people I had the pleasure and honor of meeting along the way. It is also my hope that future Wolverines will consider this opportunity. Now that I have graduated, I hope that this can be part of my legacy I leave, increasing awareness, interest and participation of high quality individuals in such an outstanding program.
Christopher McDonald is a guest writer for the Review, studying Industrial & Operations Engineering and is a Second Lieutenant in the United States Army from Bloomfield Hills, MI. He can be reached at email@example.com.