at top, Wesleyan students and staff walk down a street in Istanbul on
their way to the mosque during a trip to Turkey and Israel March
Pictured at right, the group takes a break in
the Teldan Nature Preserve in Golan Heights, Israel with their tour guide.
The Wesleyan students are Ben Sachs-Hamilton, Avi Smith, Phil
Zegelbone, Jamal Ahmed, Mike Figura, Kulsoom Hasan,
Maggie Mitchell, Tussy Alam, Rachel Berkowitz, Aaron Tabek, Jessica Eber
and Joel Bhuiyan. Wesleyan Rabbi David Leipziger Teva and Abdullah Antepli,
pictured in center in purple and black shirts, coordinated the overseas
Breaking Down the Barriers: Trip to Middle East Provides Examples of
Wesleyan Jewish Chaplain Rabbi David Leipziger
Teva, wanted to prove to his students that Jews and Muslims can peacefully
coexist with one another.
But Leipziger Teva, who also goes by Rabbi David,
admits that for students to understand this complex co-existence, they must
couple classroom knowledge with real life, personal experiences.
So Leipziger Teva and former Wesleyan Muslim Chaplain Abdullah Antepli chose five
Wesleyan Muslim students and six Jewish students, out of 23 who applied, and
set out for an 11-day spring break excursion of Istanbul, Turkey and
“The trip was very intense,” admits Leipziger Teva, who says he was most moved
after seeing Palestinian and Israeli Christian, Muslim and Jewish children
learning together in one classroom at the K-6 Hand-in-Hand School in
The group also visited Kibbutz Metzer, an Israeli socialist commune, where
member Dov Avital shared his story about living peacefully, just yards away,
from a Palestinian-Arab village.
In November of 2002, suicide bomber from a radical Palestinian terrorist
group broke into this Israeli Kibbutz and killed five people. Leipziger Teva says
that despite the terrorist attack the two communities remain committed to
dialogue and friendship.
“Dov told the story with tears in his eyes and we were all moved by it,”
says Leipziger Teva. “This is just one hopeful example, despite the violence of
how Jews and Muslims are trying to co-exist with each other in peace and we
wanted the students to see this.”
Jamal Ahmed, a Pakistani freshman from New York City, was also moved by
“On the trip, we learned that there was a sense of hope, a hope for peace,”
says Ahmed. “Despite terrible hardships,
there are still great strives towards peace and beautiful co-existence. I
learned more about the Jewish culture, religion, and Israeli society than I
thought possible in such a short time."
The group also met with journalists, lobbyists, human rights activists and
political leaders, including Vatican
Representative of Istanbul, George Marovitch and Chief Rabbinate and Rabbi
of Turkey Isaac Halevo. They also visited popular landmarks including the
Temple Mount, the Western Wall as well as other mosques, synagogues and
visited with Jewish and Muslim religious leaders and families.
Rabbi David says that during their trip, he witnessed a progressive
transformation among the students.
“I saw a deepening of their individual religious spiritual identities,” he
says. “They were all challenged and I was constantly motivated by the
dialogue that was happening.”
Rachel Berkowitz a freshman from Trumansburg, NY, says the trip helped her
gain a strong desire to learn more about Islam, Judaism, interfaith dialogue
and about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“I think the difference I have made has been internal, rather than
external,” says Berkowitz. “I have learned and changed so much. I feel I now
have a broader perspective.”
Leipziger Teva hopes that one day this Spring break trip will spark these
students into making strides towards peace in the Middle East.
“Someone from this trip might one day become a senator, a Fulbright Scholar,
or eventually may help draft future peace plans for Israel,” says Leipziger
who feels that both the Israeli and Palestinian sides need to demonstrate
compromise before real peace is established.
Next month Leipziger Teva, who is hoping to raise more funds in order to repeat
the trip next year, will start showcasing a DVD documentary of the trip to
mosques, churches, synagogues, and to high schools. He also plans on
introducing the documentary at the Muslim Student Association Annual
Conference and Hillel, the conference of Jewish College Communities later
“No other school has ever taken Jews and Muslims together in one group to
the Middle East,” says Leipziger Teva. “Wesleyan is unique and we hope we can
help jumpstart dialogue and peace among all the children of Abraham – Jews,
Muslims and Christians.”
|By Laura Perillo,
associate director of Media Relations