Jerusalem…and its university

January 22, 2019 by  
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Jerusalem, one of the most beautiful cities in the world, was a fitting home to Australian students who took part in the Mishpatim program in Israeli and International Law last month…writes Mandy Blumenthal.

Mandy Blumenthal

The program is under the auspices of The Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

After all, this is a city that has, over the years, been fought over by many peoples and religions and it always seems to be at the centre of the world’s attention. In the month before our group assembled there to start our course, United States President Trump controversially announced his country’s recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and the United Nations voted to reject this move.

We consisted of a diverse range of hard-working and interested arts and law students, both completing undergraduate, or Juris Doctor courses. Coming from different religious backgrounds and cultures, and holding different religious beliefs and philosophies on life, the group learnt much about Israel, its society and its problems through the help of numerous notable academics at the Hebrew University, who boasted impressive resumes. We also learned much from each other.

As a third year art/law student, it was a privilege to be able to study part of my degree in a country in which I have a strong interest and connection. With the beautiful backdrop from Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus campus, and views of the whole of Israel’s capital city, we studied controversial political, religious and historical topics, taught from both left and right wing, and neutral viewpoints. This was combined with excursions to Masada, the Dead Sea, Yad Vashem, the Knesset and the Supreme Court of Israel.

The experience was made even more meaningful, as I along with a colleague, had to fight to partake in Mishpatim, as part of our degree because our university initially would not recognise the course, despite every other Australian University recognising and encouraging their students’ participation. Through the help of Australian Friends of Hebrew University who provided scholarships for many of us, students who took part in the program, we were able to experience university life in Israel and have a taste of what life is like, living in Jerusalem.

Moments away from the smell of Marzipan rugelach at Machane Yehuda, we lived together in serviced apartments in the heart of Jerusalem, with fridges filled with ‘Shuk food’ consisting of fruits, baked good, halva, and an abundance of hummus.

For me, it was special to be part of a group that had strong religious connections with Jerusalem. From Protestant Christians, who experienced their religion by going to church, to Jews who prayed at the Western Wall, it was exceptional to be able to come together and teach each other about our different beliefs. I loved being able to show those that had never experienced Israel before, the beauty of the country, people, and culture.

There were many questions raised in the course. If a grandmother bakes bread for the soldiers to feed them, is it okay to attack her as she is aiding in the war process? What is the place of the Arabic language in the Israeli society? Should Jewish shops be closed on the Sabbath?

These questions were the tip of the iceberg – a smidgeon of the issues covered in the intensive three-week course that made the Mishpatim seminar so highly informative and educational.

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