MSU students on the David Project mission to Israel (Ari Chesterman is third from the right.)
MSU students on the David Project mission to Israel (Ari Chesterman is third from the right.)

Over the past year, I have worked as a student intern with an organization called the David Project, which focuses on Israel advocacy on college campuses through building friendships and relationships among various student groups and by sharing personal stories and narratives. Its goal is to develop an integrated and valued pro-Israel community.

During winter break, as the David Project intern from Michigan State University, I was invited to participate in “Israel Uncovered: Campus Leaders Mission,” a 10 day, all-expense paid trip to Israel. The mission brings Jewish and non-Jewish student leaders to Israel, giving them firsthand experience with Israel’s dynamic and complex society.

I met remarkable individuals, representing universities from across the Midwest — University of Michigan, Ohio State University, University of Cincinnati, Pennsylvania State University and University of Pittsburgh.

The 39 students on my bus came from different faith backgrounds, representing the religious and political diversity found on college campuses today.

My prior experiences in Israel had been with family or traveling with Jewish groups, so this trip was dramatically different. Along with the usual tourist stops, we visited many eclectic communities and learned about the struggles of the region from a variety of perspectives, including Israeli and Palestinian leaders representing diverse views of the small country they live in.

This experience altered my perspective of Israel because I could see Israel through the eyes of non-Jewish American college students. Each participant arrived with his or her own preconceived notions of what life in Israel was like, and they were very open about sharing their thoughts and beliefs.

Every day we were pushed to think differently and to examine our lives, feelings and ideologies. We were asked to consider how similar or different we were to the people living in Israel, and to try to see life from another’s perspective, putting ourselves into the shoes of an Israeli. This is what made the mission such a unique experience.

The extraordinary speakers, our excellent tour guide, the staff and especially the “ordinary people” we met along the way helped us connect with the culture and develop a sense of what life in Israel is truly about.

Eye-Opening Visit

A highlight for me was visiting Bethlehem, going to the Church of the Nativity and learning the city’s history. What affected me the most was listening to a Palestinian Authority representative.
Many of the people in the room became upset as he described their feelings of oppression and the lack of equal rights in the country. He went so far as to compare the actions of the Israeli army in the West Bank to the actions of Nazis during the Holocaust. As the grandson of Holocaust survivors, I didn’t believe that was an appropriate comparison, and I felt compelled to say so in our group setting that evening.

On the other hand, my eyes were also opened to how difficult life is for many Palestinians. I realized that without some sort of resolution to the current situation, too many people will continue to suffer — on both sides. It strengthened my conviction that for everyone’s sake, there needs to be peace in the region.

I joined the David Project Mission for the opportunity to return to Israel and share my knowledge of the country with my college peers. I left with a deeper understanding of the multiplicity of cultures that exists within such a tiny country and the continuing challenges of the region.

Ari Chesterman } jewish@edu writer

Ari Chesterman of Huntington Woods will be a junior at Michigan State University. He spent a gap year in Israel on the Young Judaea Year Course program.

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