Texas Hillel sends 23 students to Israel, Palestinian territoriesTexas Hillel sends 23 students  
Photos: Courtesy Texas Hillel
Rising junior Nick Grammer, rising senior Trinity Dow and Jewish Agency Israel fellow Aviva Mangista in Jaffa


Thanks to a generous grant from the Maccabee Task Force, from May 10 to 21, Texas Hillel ran its second-ever Perspectives Trip to Israel and the Palestinian territories for a group of 23 students holding campus leadership positions at The University of Texas at Austin. The group consisted of four Jewish students with previous Israel experience and 19 non-Jewish students from several faith backgrounds serving across a variety of student organizations, including Student Government, Forty Acres Scholars, University Panhellenic Council, Interfraternity Council, Black Students Association, the Clements Center for National Security and Central Texas Model United Nations. Participants were carefully chosen through an application and interview process and demonstrated a great deal of maturity, compassion and eagerness to dive deep into the work of having productive and respectful dialogue about an issue that is often hotly contested on campuses across the country.

Texas Hillel’s assistant director, Jordenne Parker, and Jewish Agency Israel fellow Aviva Mangista led participants through a 10-day journey with visits to Mount Ben Tal, the Syrian border in the Golan Heights, Capernaum, the Mount of Beatitudes, the Sea of Galilee, the Dead Sea, Jerusalem, Efrat, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Tybeh, Sderot, Holon, Tel Aviv and Jaffa. Participants had the opportunity to hear directly from a number of Israeli and Palestinian speakers — from journalists to activists to diplomats and government officials — with the aim of learning more about the history of the region, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and everyday life in Israel and the West Bank. Though the group visited a number of sites in their 10 days of travel, highlights of the trip were taking a jeep tour along the Syrian border as well as visiting the Temple Mount, the Kotel and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

They also experienced beer tasting at Tybeh Brewery in the West Bank, touring Yad Vashem and hearing from a Holocaust survivor, volunteering at Save a Child’s Heart, learning about LGBTQIA+ culture in Tel Aviv and exploring Shuk Machane Yehuda.

The underlying goals of providing such an experience for student leaders are to allow them to experience the region firsthand, to challenge their assumptions and preconceived notions and to build a more thoughtful, supportive and caring campus community where students understand the importance of being able to have difficult conversations about complex and nuanced issues. Additionally, the hope is that participants will use their influence on campus to create more dialogue and understanding among their peers if or when movements like Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) arise in student government or when groups on campus denounce normalization of relationships between Jewish and Muslim students.

The group’s consensus is that they are leaving with more questions than answers, with an understanding that things are not so black-and-white when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and a sense of excitement to bring their experiences back to campus and share with their peers about the importance of continuing to push for constructive dialogue.

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