August 28, 2009
Learning by traveling
CFHU offers an intellectual journey to Israel.
There are many different ways to visit the Holy Land, but most organized trips just take visitors to the "must-see" destinations, leaving them with only snapshots of Israel, a small taste of what the country has to offer. However, Canadian Friends of Hebrew University (CFHU) takes people on a unique kind of journey.
CFHU offers an intense week- or week-plus trip that focuses on one specific subject, allowing for an in-depth exploration of that subject. Called Live, Learn and Explore, many community members have participated in the program several years running. Chuck Diamond is one of these people.
In the Footsteps of History: Berlin and Israel is the theme of this year's trip, which will take place in October. It will be Diamond's third time participating in Live, Learn and Explore and, on July 28, he gave an informational session at the CFHU office about his prior two trips.
The first journey Diamond took with CFHU, four years ago, was on the topic of Islam. About the level and depth of that trip, Diamond said, "From the time we got there until the time it ended, I couldn't believe it."
On that trip, there were generally two morning lectures given by Hebrew University professors. The professors seemed to get into the question and answer periods as much as the participants, said Diamond, with the professors often joining the group for lunch as well, giving people the opportunity to speak with them one-on-one about a variety of issues. In the afternoons, it was usually these same professors that took the group on a field trip to see what was discussed in the morning. "Most of them are full professors, department heads, assistant deans, deans, so you're getting the cream of the crop," said Diamond.
On the day they studied Islamic art, the group went to the Islamic Art Museum in Jerusalem in the afternoon. "Going with a professor is very different than going with a tour guide," Diamond said, explaining that professors study the topics at hand in such detail that one gains a different perspective learning from them.
Diamond spoke about the unique experiences of meeting people who one might not otherwise meet. For example, he said, one day the group had lunch with a Jordanian who grew up in Amman, taught for two years at Riyadh University in Saudi Arabia and is now doing his PhD at Hebrew U. At the time of this encounter, he was living with his family in the Jewish Quarter of the Old City. Diamond said that hearing this man's perspective firsthand was eye-opening. Though the Jordanian's wife was at first hesitant about living in Israel, said Diamond, the couple ended up finding life there to be good and neither was eager to return to Amman.
Two years later, Diamond went on a trip with the focus of Art, Literature and Music. One of the activities was going to three different kibbutzim that had regional art galleries. The professor of the day explained the culture of the art galleries and how each gallery adopted the culture of the area.
There is always a tour guide with the group, said Diamond, adding that the guide, Jeff Katz, is a former Torontonian and is very helpful. One of the things with which Katz helps is that, when a participant chooses to spend some time away from the group, he will help them figure out where to go during their time alone.
The next trip will take place Oct. 12-23, starting in Berlin, Germany, but those who are not interested in attending that part of the journey can meet up with the group at the hotel in Jerusalem five days later.
This year's accommodations will be at the David Citadel. There will also be one night in Tel Aviv and one night in Tzfat. Approximately 20 people usually attend, with a wide range of ages and backgrounds. Most are from Canada.
The trip is fully kosher and there is no travelling on Shabbat, which is spent in Jerusalem. Walking tours are held on Shabbat. People with different levels of mobility can usually feel comfortable on this trip, explained Dina Wachtel, executive director of the Western Region of CFHU. Also, participants can opt out of anything that seems too strenuous.
CFHU will help those interested in extending their trip plan out that extra time either before or after the CFHU portion.
For more information on CFHU or In the Footsteps of History: Berlin and Israel, contact Wachtel at email@example.com or 604-257-5133.
Deena Levenstein is a freelance writer from Toronto, Jerusalem and now Vancouver. You can visit her blog at deenascreations.com.