A Strong Semester for a Pandemic Time (or Any Time!)
From learning cohorts to a Purim stand up comedy show, Harvard students have opportunities for Jewish learning, Israel engagement, and social interaction this new semester — no matter where in the world they are. Here are some highlights so far:
- A new Student Board, elected at the end of last semester, has begun its term, and amid the usual challenges of coordinating seven Harvard students’ schedules to meet, they must also coordinate time zones! The Student Board includes students on campus and remote, and even first year students who have become part of our community through our online activities and have yet to experience the usual life of our Rosovsky Hall building but are helping to guide and shape programming for their peers.
- An online Tu B’shvat Seder focusing on Judaism and sustainability; a Tikkun Olam project in which students are delivering Shabbat meals to Holocaust survivors; a peer-to-peer Shabbat Squad, helping students to create meaningful Shabbat gatherings (online or socially distanced on campus in accord with Harvard policies), and a reboot of our popular Shmooze in Twos initiative are some highlights of the start of this semester, and a PurimPalooza Comedy Night, and an Israeli Politics Crash Course are upcoming. Some of the learning cohorts meeting regularly are “Rituals That Sustain Us,” “Israel Book Club, and “Jewish Adulting,” (alumni and staff supporting our College seniors with wisdom and best practices for life post-graduation).
iExplore:Visions For Peace
Harvard students frequently report that a trip to Israel through our Harvard College Israel Trek or our Birthright with ‘Trekstension’ programs is a highlight and a most meaningful experience of their time at Harvard. With travel impossible this year, iExplore:Visions For Peace, at once a virtual seminar, a guided “tour,” and a vibrant conversation with Harvard peers, has provided a 12-day, online Israel experience enabling our students to engage with Israel during the pandemic. Participants were guided through the nuances of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through meetings with Israelis and Palestinians who shared their personal stories, thoughts, ideas, and hopes.
“Over the course of two weeks, I was able to gain a variety of fascinating perspectives from both Israelis and Palestinians. This consisted of local government officials, activists, business leaders, and citizens of all walks of life sharing their perspectives on Israeli-Palestinian relations. We also ended each day with discussions in order to dissect — and often simply process — what we had just heard and how one might utilize such knowledge in potential peace talks going forward. My peers and I came away wishing the program was two weeks longer.”
— Grant Schwartz ’23
“iExplore offered a rare opportunity to dive into discussions around Israel and Palestine with extraordinary intensity, depth, and breadth. Hearing from a diverse speakers list (Jerusalem to Jaffa to Gaza) shed unparalleled light on the nuances of this complex situation. The program has informed my understanding beyond only the intricacies of Israel and Palestine. I feel a greater confidence in undertaking analyses of global challenges from a variety of perspectives.“
—Tobias Benn ’23
Our IACT Director of Israel Programming and iExplore creator, Mikhael Kesher, says: “Though iExplore lacked the intensity of a tour bus driving through Israel and the West Bank on one of our ‘Trekstension’ programs, it compensated by putting in dialogue voices from all over Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. It was hugely rewarding to spend more than twenty-five hours, spread over two weeks, with two tour guides, over 20 presenters and panelists, and an enthusiastic group of Harvard students.”
The Israel Summit
Earlier in February, Harvard Hillel was co-sponsor and organizational home base of The Israel Summit, an event first created by Harvard students in 2017 with logistical support from Harvard Hillel staff and now embracing 120 colleges and universities from around the world. The program now shifts and shapes conversation surrounding Israel on campuses far and wide.
This year’s Summit featured over 20 keynote speakers in the five day conference, including “Fauda” star and co-creator Lior Raz, Moderna Therapeutics Chief Medical Officer Tal Zaks; Isreali Journalist Ankie Spitzer; and U.S. Senators Cory Booker and Mitt Romney, among many other politicians, entrepreneurs, and changemakers.
Online Speaker Series and “Harvard Torah” Podcast
Though the doors to Rosovsky Hall remain closed, Harvard Hillel has kept busy during the pandemic creating content for our community of students, alumni, parents, and friends. Whether you have tuned in yet or not, we encourage you to explore all the sessions of our Online Speaker Series and our Harvard Torah podcast.
Our Online Speaker Series engages leaders from many fields in interactive sessions on issues of the day. From Basketball legend Larry Brown to author Michael Pollan’s experience with psychedelics, thousands of students, alumni, parents, and friends of Harvard Hillel have enjoyed the variety of these virtual events. Speaker Series sessions are archived here.
Our new Harvard Torah podcast brings a student and a faculty member together each week to discuss a theme of the weekly Torah reading. The illuminating perspectives these interlocutors bring to our ancient sources have been enjoyed by listeners since the beginning of our 5781 scriptural cycle. Harvard Torah episodes are archived here.