Some 25 years ago, Irish Friends of the Hebrew University established the Clem Esses Travelling Scholarship designed to enable an undergraduate student from Trinity College Dublin to attend a Hebrew University’s summer course. This year, for the first time, the award was won by an American student. Oliver Neale shares his story:
As I write this email, I’m sitting in Ben Gurion Airport awaiting my flight home! My time in Jerusalem has really flown by, and sitting here now it’s truly crazy to me to think that I just experienced this. Studying at the Hebrew University was the most incredible experience of my life. Not only have I never been somewhere like Jerusalem before, but I’ve never had the opportunity of being involved in a programme such as this.
When I chose to study the Politics of Planning in Multicultural Cities I never anticipated how intertwined our surroundings would be in the curriculum; while in class we learned of the many specific neighbourhoods and areas of controversy around the city, we were actually able to visit all these places during our field trips (whether we actually visited the areas or went to a higher area that we could view it from). I feel like I’ve spent a substantial amount of time learning about the situation in Jerusalem throughout my schooling, but actually seeing the places and speaking with the people it affects gave me a greater understanding I didn’t think possible. And my professor truly made sure we saw it all! (Some field trips included 6+ hours of constantly loading on and off our bus, no rock was left unturned!).
In the end we held a simulation where we attempted to divide the city, which was a lengthy process but being able to identify crucial finite details such as small neighbourhoods is a skill I never could have obtained on my own.
Although I came expecting to learn lots and fill the many gaps in my understandings of religions and the region, Jerusalem taught me that I wasn’t even aware of how much I still had(/have) to learn! I think I was mostly shocked by the way religion really plays into every vein of the city, whether I was the only non-orthodox person on a bus or having trouble sleeping through the prayers playing all night on Eid (the student village was perched upon a hill that allowed for a perfect echo from all around the city, and I was too busy listening with awe to care about the loss of sleep!). Jerusalem not only feels like another world, but the different parts of Jerusalem feel like different worlds from each other!
I think I could probably write a novel about all my experiences and the things I’ve learned here (and I think my grandmother would appreciate that as she can’t seem to hear enough about it!), but my biggest takeaway is that this opportunity has undoubtedly changed the way I view the conflict in Israel, its role in the Middle East, religion, and any culturally or ethnically divided city around the world.
I thank the Irish Friends of the Hebrew University for making this trip possible, I’ve learned so much and I’m going to treasure my time in Jerusalem for the rest of my life.