CSE History major Nicole Rizzuto, ’13, went to a war-torn country, Israel, and came back with a new view of the world. “In Israel, there is a interweaving of history with the present that creates a sense of eternity, not in a sempiternal way, but so that every moment seems to be lived simultaneously,” the Linden, N.J., resident explains. She was one of only 18 college students and the first from CSE to be selected nationwide to participate in the 2012 Anti-Defamation League Campus Leaders Mission to Israel that took place August 6 to 16, 2012. The program provided an incredible experience for college student leaders to travel to Israel to learn firsthand about the country, its history, culture, and people. Participants on the mission were selected based on their leadership positions on campus in areas such as journalism, student government, and political activism. The other 17 students were from colleges such as Georgetown University, Boston University, and the University of California in Los Angeles and in San Diego.
Back home as New Jerseyans were struggling with the humidity of August’s weather, Rizzuto was basking in the climate of 107 degrees. “It was very hot but, luckily, it wasn’t muggy,” she said as she smiles. “I packed clothing that I knew would be comfortable in the hot environment. I was drenched from head-to-toe in sweat, but I got used to it.”
It was 10 days of once-in-a-lifetime experiences, as Rizzuto traveled a country the approximate size of New Jersey. Among the places she visited were a Druze (a monotheistic, religious minority) village; Jerusalem and Tiberias, two of the four holy cities of Judaism (the others are Hebron and Safed); Tel Aviv; and Jaffe, reportedly the oldest port in the world. She visited Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Center, where she listened to a lecture from Holocaust researcher, Professor Yehuda Bauer, toured the facility, and heard survivor testimony.
She made stops at Little Jerusalem: The Anna Ticho House, a public art center; West Bank settlements; Masada, the alleged site of a first century Jewish mass suicide; and the Dead Sea.
During her trip, she learned about Ethiopian airlifts and the importance of absorption centers called Uplans, where people studied Judaism. She went on a geopolitical tour of Jerusalem, “Sometimes, the Israelis get quiet when they tell these stories, and their voices crack like they’re talking about long ago lovers and nostalgic childhood years. Sometimes, you wonder if the Jews and the Muslims remember that they were brothers, once upon a time, and if that makes it hurt all the more,” she recalls.
All the while, she was busy making memories. She met with journalist Daniel Eisenbud, who made a Aliyah, the Hebrew word for Jewish immigration to Israel. She stood atop the Golan Heights and saw Syria. She learned about the Yom Kippur War. During her visit to the Druze village, she learned about the loyalty difficulties they have with Israel. She spoke to Israelis while in Jaffa. “So much of the visit was about politics and geography, that the trips to the markets were almost necessary because they allowed for a look into the human side of the situation,” says Rizzuto. “The humanity we found in Israel was the same that can be found in every time and every place. Enemies are only friends you haven’t made yet.”
“The Israeli people take great pride in their homeland,” says Rizzuto. “People who claim that there is no metaphysical or existential connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel have obviously never stood at that point, seen how close Israel stands on those who pray for her to fall, and understood that she will continue to struggle for her right to exist, where she knows she belongs.
This feeling is reflected through the attitude of Israel’s soldiers. All Israelis have to serve the military during their lifetime; men for three years, women, two. “Unlike the United States’ soldiers, Israeli soldiers are drafted because they are fighting within their homeland. They know they will have to protect the people they love when the time comes,” explains Rizzuto. Most Israeli teenagers she spoke to are against attacking Iran, but there is a constant fear that Israelis are on the edge of extinction. “Israel lingers in a time where martyrdom, self-sacrifice, and protecting the ones you love are still a part of everyday life.”