Travel to Israel Brings Insight and Knowledge About Jewish Culture to BUS Leader
A recent trip to Israel gave a leader of Kent State’s Black United Students (BUS) a deeper understanding of the Jewish culture and insight into the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Senior Brian Johnson traveled to Israel Jan. 3-13 with a group of 19 student leaders with the Student Leaders Trip to Israel sponsored by Hillel, a Jewish campus organization. The trip takes Jewish and non-Jewish students of various religious and political beliefs to travel the land and talk with influential leaders there.
Before traveling to Israel, Johnson had no previous exposure to Israel’s culture or people. He signed up for the trip because he wanted to gain more insight into what the conflict between Israel and Palestine was all about.
“The trip to Israel was such a fun and insightful trip,” said Johnson, a public health major who aspires to become a pediatric nurse practitioner and work in minority-centered areas. “I had no prior knowledge of the State of Israel and Palestine before going. Now I am a huge advocate for bringing peace to both parties.”
Hillel has been sponsoring the annual Student Leaders Trip to Israel since 2017, said Adam Hirsh, executive director of Hillel.
The trip is important because it gives the student leaders an opportunity to talk with people from all walks of life, religions and backgrounds and with allegiances from all sides instead of just experiencing Israel from what the media reports.
It also enhances the campus experience for Jewish students by enhancing the understanding of Jewish culture, beliefs and identity with Israel.
“Israel is the homeland of the Jewish people, the sole state of the Jewish people, it’s really important for us to have friends and allies of the Jewish people and for them to see Israel through their own eyes,” Hirsh said.
The students visited Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus, as well as Dome of the Rock, one of the most holy places in Islam, and the Western Wall, the most holy place in Judaism.
“It’s not a religious trip but there ends up being aspects of spirituality for folks,” Hirsh said.
Johnson's travels in Israel and the knowledge he has acquired have helped him form opinions about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and empathy for those on both sides of the conflict.
“In my opinion there is no right side in regard to the conflict. I feel that there is a fear of each culture being erased and that's why the issue has grown to become what it is today.”
Johnson also learned quite a bit about the diversity that exists within the Jewish community, something that he was not aware of before the journey.
“I learned that within the Jewish community there are many different groups,” he said. “For example, you have Beta Israel (Jews of Ethiopian origin), Ashkenazi Jewish people (descendants from Jews who lived in Central or Eastern Europe), and Orthodox Jewish people. It also has so many beautiful religious sites and regardless of your religion you’re able to still experience the beauty of it. Also, the architecture of Israel is just amazing.”
Johnson and his peers even had the opportunity to experience customs and cuisines. And the night life seemed amazingly similar to that in the U.S.
The trip was impressive, but 10 days wasn’t enough time to partake in all that Johnson wanted to experience. BUS, Center for Pan-African Culture and Hillel extended their cultural connections by collaborating on an event in late February at Oscar Ritchie Hall called Ethiopian Jewish Shabbat. It was an outgrowth of the trip to Israel.
“I would definitely go back to Israel,” Johnson said. “I would like to experience more of the different kinds of cultural customs. We got to try Ethiopian food and even learned a dance.”