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Sunday, September 3rd, 2017

AJC Project Interchange participant Palki Sharma wrote the following reflection of her experience in Israel:

There is an Israel beyond the gunfire

Carrot juice and gunfire

Israel is a country that stuns you with its beauty and incongruity. And that’s an understatement. Our chopper (called BDS, not weird at all!) landed on Mount Bental in the Golan Heights. It’s a dormant volcano where lava seeps from the base and not the top of the mountain, leaving the soil around it rich with minerals. There are lush vineyards as far as the eye can see. The Instagram happy lot had just turned on their selfie cameras when we were beckoned to the other side.

There was a UN convoy practicing a drill. The young Irish officers refused to talk. But a few minutes down the road we met more soldiers, men, and women, resting with their backpacks and machine guns, lying under olive trees, posing for cameras. War, perhaps, is just a state of mind for some.

We were headed to cafe Kofi Annan, packed with tourists and students. Kofi Annan in Hebrew sounds like ‘coffee on the clouds’. Apt. around tables laden with salads, coffee, carrot juice, pizzas and oranges, animated conversation ebbed and flowed. It was like any other cafe, except that you heard booming sounds intermittently.

It’s the ISIS fighting, said our guide. He passed on a pair of binoculars. In the distance, you could see the Syrian border. This is the only place in the world or one of the only since I don’t know better, where you can see the full theatre of war, live and unedited, perched on barstools.

After a while, the sounds ceased. It’s lunch break for the fighters, we were told. Of course. Ideology gives only so much sustenance.

The scene reminded me of Tom Friedman’s description of the Lebanese war in the 80s. An American friend of his was invited for dinner on Christmas Eve. Amid artillery salvos and machine gun fire that shook the neighborhood, the hostess put off serving dinner hoping that things would calm down. After a while, she asked, “Would you like to eat now or wait for the cease-fire?” I thought it was a bit exaggerated. Not anymore. It’s a coping mechanism.

For a country that has lived under the constant shadow of war when it’s not fighting one, this perhaps is the only way to survive and thrive. The Israelis have turned it into a fine art, complete with blooming hydrangeas in the kitchen garden and lace doilies on the window sill.

More power to Merav!

We were led into a fine dining restaurant with sparkling wine goblets and oversized lampshades. We were to meet a member of Knesset from the ruling coalition. Merav Ben Ari was to brief us on policy and politics. She walked in pushing a pram. Her three-month-old daughter gurgled greetings as the mother shook hands with us. She’s the first lawmaker in Israel to have conceived a baby with a gay friend and opted for shared parenting out of wedlock. At the risk of soundly too credulous and callow, I have to say I cannot imagine a politician in India, much less a woman, doing this and being cheered for it.

She discussed the corruption allegations against Prime Minister Netanyahu while burping her baby and forking her ravioli. The picture was almost inspirational - a working mother, unapologetic about tending to her baby while meeting a delegation, not expected to prove her dedication to her profession while balancing it with ‘life’. Envy.

All the exhortations about leaning in and claiming your space seemed fraudulent. It’s not really a choice for most women where I come from. It’s an offer with pre-conditions foisted on them. Most struggle to convince their bosses that they are committed professionals and to their children that they are committed mothers while living in the constant guilt that they might end up being neither.

Ben Ari gave me hope. But unfortunately, I did not follow much of what she said. My contemplative mood coupled with an overdose of cheesecakes that had me looking forward to a nap on the bus to our next destination.

Palki Sharma traveled to Israel for the AJC’s Project Interchange 2017.

PI Alumna Honored by AJC Berlin Ramer Institute for German-Jewish Relations

Thursday, May 4th, 2017

AJC Project Interchange alumna Düzen Tekkal received the AJC Berlin Ramer Award for Courage in the Defense of Democracy. She was honored “for her passion to protect democracy and human rights through her unremitting efforts to document the horrors of the ISIS genocide against the Yazidi people.”

PI Alumnus Speaks Out Against Anti-Semitism on Campus

Wednesday, August 31st, 2016

Richard Herman (University Presidents 2007) published an opinion piece in The Times of Israel, “Free Speech, the Bully Pulpit, and Contemporary Anti-Semitism.” Read More

PI Alumnus and Brazilian Defense Minister Announces Israeli Tech at Rio Olympics

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

Raul Jungmann (Brazilian Political Leaders 2015) announced that an Israeli high-resolution imaging satellite is strengthening security during the Olympics and Paralympic Games taking place in Rio de Janeiro. Read more

Miami-Dade College and Tel Aviv University Host Startup Nation Conference

Friday, May 13th, 2016

On May 17, Miami-Dade College’s Idea Center and Tel Aviv University’s Entrepreneurship Center are partnering together to host the inaugural Startup Nation Conference in Miami. This first of its kind conference is a direct result of last year’s Project Interchange seminar for Miami Entrepreneurs and the MOU between Miami-Dade College and Tel Aviv University that stemmed from Leandro Finol, a participant in the seminar.

Read more about this conference:

  • Miami Herald: “Miami Dade College, Tel Aviv University to Host Startup Nation Conference” and “How To Think Big: Israeli Entrepreneurs Show How It’s Done
  • Sun Sentinel: “Miami-Dade College Partnering with Tel Aviv University for Startup Nation Conference” and “Startup Nation Conference Considered a Success
  • Knight Foundation: “Miami, Tel Aviv Exchange Insights on Entrepreneurship with Startup Nation Conference
  • Check out the opening video!

    PI Alumnus Appointed as Brazilian Minister of Defense

    Friday, May 13th, 2016

    Raul Jungmann, PI alumnus from the 2015 delegation of Brazilian Political Leaders, was appointed as Brazil’s Minister of Defense in May 2016. More details of this announcement can be found here.

    Azerbaijani Ambassador Elin Suleymanov Discusses Nagorno-Karabakh Conflict and its Effect on Israel’s Region

    Tuesday, May 3rd, 2016

    Azerbaijani Ambassador to the U.S., Elin Suleymanov, discusses with JNS.org the current conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia and the possible ripple effects it could have on the Middle East. Full article can be found here.

    French Parliamentarian Alumnus Speaks Out Against BDS

    Monday, April 11th, 2016

    Claude Goasguen, member of the National Assembly of France, President of the Friends of Israel in France, and PI alumnus from the 2012 delegation of French Parliamentarians, spoke out against BDS and the marking of settlement products. Mr. Goasguen is quoted as stating, “Despite the decision of the EU regarding labeling, the French government is trying to test things and still is not in the implementation state. We do not know what will happen, but I think marking products in particular, and the activities of the BDS movement in general, are very problematic. There are other members of parliament trying to fight it.” Read the full Ynet article.

    Azerbaijan Ambassador Quoted in Jerusalem Post

    Thursday, April 7th, 2016

    Alumnus of Project Interchange’s 2015 delegation of Diplomatic Leadership, Azerbaijan Ambassador Elin Suleymanov, recently spoke with The Jerusalem Post about the similarities and differences in the Nagorno-Karabakh and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts as well as Azerbaijan’s relationship with Israel. Read the full article here.

    Alumnus Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

    Tuesday, March 8th, 2016

    Archbishop Thomas Wenski (alumnus from our 2000 Miami Clergy seminar) received the FANM Lifetime Achievement Award and a key to the city of Miami from Mayor Tomas Regalado. FANM is a non-profit organization empowering Haitian Women of Miami.