Spring Summer 09

The Core


Portrait of a Painter

Where the Squirrels Are Cuter than Dante

The Secret History of Butternut Playlot

Hallowed Hall


Editor's Note

Seen & Heard

Bizarre Bazaar

Top Ten: Course Adoptions

Suited Up

Strongly Disagree/Strongly Agree

Bring It On


Try Not to Bite Your Partner

Street Smarts

Roscoe Park 8 Takes Over

Go Ask Alumni

Beyond the Quads

Jerusalem As Text

The Civilizations Abroad program branches out to the Holy Land.

When the College launched a new program, Jerusalem in Middle Eastern Civilizations, this spring, the students who stepped forward to participate were as diverse as the city itself. The inaugural group of 22 undergraduates is about one-third Jewish, one-third Muslim, and one-third Christian, by coincidence rather than design. Their majors range from religious studies to public policy and computer science. And each has a unique motivation for enrolling in the program, the University’s first-ever in the Middle East.

Third-year Talia Hurwich lived in Israel as a child and later spent a gap year volunteering there with a Jewish youth organization. Although familiar with Jewish history and nearly fluent in Hebrew, she says, “My knowledge about the country was limited.” She hopes to broaden that base by studying Arabic and other subjects. Another participant, Nadji Allan, is a second-year whose Palestinian family has ties to Jerusalem. “I am deeply aware of its importance to a just peace in the region,” he says of the city. “For someone studying international relations in 2009, Jerusalem is a fine place to be, and I hope to make the most of it.”

In 2007 a $1 million gift from Marc Fenton, AB’70, and his wife, Gail McClelland Fenton, helped to get the Jerusalem program up and running. The College now offers the Civilizations Abroad experience in ten cities worldwide. Because students fulfill their civilization studies requirement in one quarter instead of three, coursework is intense. The Chicago faculty who teach in the program work to connect rigorous classroom readings to immersion in local surroundings.

In Jerusalem students enroll in three back-to-back courses that present a historical survey of the holy city and its “topographies of monotheism” from ancient to modern times. They also take ten weeks of language classes in Modern Hebrew or Arabic. Beyond the classroom, excursions to the Dome on the Rock, al-Aqsa mosque, a kibbutz, and other sites are designed to make 2,000 years of religion and culture come alive. “The students are told in pre-departure advising that they will be expected to treat the city as a text and to actually study it, read it, observe, and learn from it,” says Erika Mercer, the College’s study-abroad program coordinator.

Pre-departure sessions also focused on safety and security to prepare students for what they might encounter. “Certainly with the recent events in Gaza, there were questions from the students and from their parents. We’ve been monitoring the situation closely,” Mercer says, through constant communication with on-site program staff and the State Department.

Living and studying on the Mount Scopus campus of Hebrew University will put participants close to the political and social crossfire—but in a good way, according to Ariane Weisel Margalit, AB’04, the program’s on-site coordinator. Jerusalem is a vibrant city that embraces art, music, culture, and students from around the country and around the world, “but it all happens within this antiquated space where everything is really bumping up against each other. You also feel the political situation very clearly,” says Margalit, “so it’s a complex, interesting intersection of history, modern life, and the difficulties of modern life all mixed up. It will be very exciting for the students to experience how closely the old and the new exist here together.”
Elizabeth Station