Excited to be chosen for the EDI GSL Experience in Israel

Thursday, July 26, 2012

It's Not Goodbye, It's See You Later

By the Sea of Galilee
Goodbyes are hard, and when you’re leaving a place like Israel it is especially hard. So to fix the problem, I decided in my cab ride to the airport back home that I would be back in Israel someday soon. Having chilled by the picturesque Sea of Galilee, hung out with friends in Tel Aviv, and experienced historic Jerusalem, the hardest thing to leave behind was probably the schawarma, a meat preparation usually stuffed inside pita with hummus and fresh salad, so of course I had no choice in the matter. 

The past six weeks were an amazing time of growth, both in a professional sense and in helping me broaden my perspective on the world. Sitting in Professor Adler and his wife Ruth’s house in Jerusalem for an evening meal my last week in Israel, it was hard to imagine that only a year earlier I had signed up for his class on Israeli Labor Law at Cornell and here I was twelve months later seeing it in action and helping to shape its implementation. 

Being the first Cornell Global Service Learning Interns in a country that is mecca to three of the world’s major religions as well as the site of conflict between multiple competing interests has its quirks. On the surface everything looks naturally normal: it is hard to imagine sometimes that this is the country that I often see in the news, in the context of ethnic conflict and suicide bombs (I have a theory that among its other distinctions, Israel generates the most news per capita in the world). But the quiet resiliency that pervades the culture of this land is a sight to behold: the Show Goes On as an artist once said. On a typical morning, children head to school. Tourists amble among sites that have existed for millennia. Vendors at the slightly smelly, but always bustling suq, announce their obnoxiously overpriced olives and cheeses and meats and sweets for sale, waiting for a passerby to bargain.  

Inside a Coffee Shop in the Old City
But in another sense, this relative peace is not as normal as it seems: it is a result of the constant vigilance of elite security forces preserving this tiny sliver of a country amidst a sea of often-unfriendly neighbors. We spent a weekend in a kibbutz, or community, overlooking Gaza with a bunch of kids fulfilling their two or three years of mandatory military service.  The calm, nonchalant way guys and gals my age talk about war and death, as well their role in it, belies the fact that it is their very service that keeps this country together. They all have different opinions about military service, of course. Some are resentful that the prime years of their life are being wasted away when they could be attending university or getting a job instead. Others have made aliyah from countries ranging from Australia to the United States, knowingly realizing that it would mean transitioning into military life and learning the language and culture all within the span of a couple months. According to a popular book titled Start-Up Nation: The Story if Israel's Economic Miracle, it is the fact of mandatory military service that has been one of the key drivers in making Israel the thriving, entrepreneurial hub that it is. 

All this goes to say, of course, that the regardless of the way you look at it, security is a carefully guarded premium in Israel that allows the engines of government and private enterprise and non-profits to run on a daily basis, which is what we were in Israel to study in the first place. Interviewing over twenty individuals at the forefront of all three sectors helped us to capture a multi-faceted perspective of disability policy in the country, which is constantly evolving and moving forward. Despite its relative youth, the country has shot ahead to implementing legislation modeled after the United States and countries in Europe. As always, work remains to be done and our job has involved putting together the puzzle of how policy in Israel compares with the United States, best practices that are already being implemented, and how the two can be merged to maximize employment for the nearly one-fifth of the working-age population that is disabled. 

Flowerboxes in Jerusalem
So as we wrap up not only our trip to Israel, but our research for the summer, we would like to thank you, our readers, for following our blog and can’t wait to share more in person! A special shout-out to all the staff at the Employment and Disability Institute at Cornell and our co-workers at the Commission for Equal Rights of Persons with Disabilities in Israel, as well as Professor and Mrs. Adler and Cornell Abroad Coordinator Rivka Sillam for your support throughout this internship and making our stay better than we could have imagined. 

So until next time, and hopefully next year in Jerusalem,
Shalom from Sarah and Danny

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