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Posted September 22, 2014 by
Tags: Spiritual Life My Wheaton Global and Experiential Learning

Experiencing Jerusalem

At the start of this summer, I had the privilege of traveling with  Wheaton in the Holy Lands for three weeks in Israel, a week in Greece, a week in Turkey, and a week in Italy (this year was the program's 42nd annual trip abroad). The classes I took were with professors in Wheaton’s bible and theology department, but I myself am not a theology major—I study history and  international relations.

While I loved every minute of visiting churches and historical ruins, our visit to Jerusalem—one of the most relevant cities in the world with regard to International Relations—was my chance to engage with the sites of the modern-day State of Israel. 

As a student of history, I firmly believe that to understand anything about current affairs, one must understand the history behind them—too often, onlookers try and jump in and offer a solution without actually understanding the underlying historical roots behind the conflict. Thanks to classes we took with the Shalom Hartman Institute, we got the chance to engage with the culture, history, and identity of the Jewish Israeli community. Marci Lenk, a scholar at the institute, gave us an introduction to Jewish life from the past couple of centuries. 

These lectures helped pieces of the puzzle begin to come together for me. Suddenly, I understood what a Kibbutz was, why the streets were empty on Saturdays, and the explanation behind the variants of Jewish clothing. By learning about the past, we were able to better understand the present.

Not only did we engage with Judaism on a historical level, but the Institute also allowed us to engage with Judaism on a cultural level. For example, Dr. Lenk graciously hosted us for a Shabbat dinner. By participating with her, we were taking part in a tradition that has been practiced every Friday for thousands of years. 

As Shabbat continued, Dr. Lenk invited us to Synagogue for a Shabbat service. We were able to see for ourselves the differences and similarities in which both Christians and Jews worship. I was able to observe and engage with a Jewish community at large. The entire experience is not really something I can even put into words. 
The only thing I can say is I doubt that I will ever have the chance to witness and engage Jewish culture in that way again. The Shalom Hartman Institute gave me invaluable exposure—an integral part of my understanding of Jewish culture and identity—that will help me better understand the past, present, and future. No amount of books I have read, classes I have taken, or lectures I have heard could have taught me what I learned from the experience of engaging with the Jewish community of Jerusalem. 

Elena Miles ’15 is a senior studying history and international relations. Photo credits from top: Gini Pera ’16 takes a study break in Jerusalem from the roof of the Jerusalem University College campus; Students celebrate after they conquer a hike to a ridge in the Judean Wilderness between Jerusalem and Jericho.