For three months I studied at the Masa Israel-accredited Hebrew University in Jerusalem, doing a semester exchange during my third year of law school at the University of Windsor in Canada.
From the time I first learned about the opportunity to spend a semester abroad, I knew I would choose Israel. There, I would be able to explore the field of international law, understand how Israelis my age approach their academics post-army service, and immerse myself in Israeli society. I also knew that I would benefit from a taste of the traditional and infamous Israeli chutzpah.
The campus of Hebrew University is like no other. Situated on Mount Scopus, one of the highest points in Jerusalem, the entire city, both old and new, is in full view.
The campus synagogue overlooks the Old City with the Dome of the Rock as its centerpiece, surrounded by the modern parts of the city, with Arab and Jewish neighbourhoods painting the horizon. Standing in the almost-century-old campus amphitheatre on a clear day, you can see across the eastern part of the country: an Arab village is followed by a Jewish settlement, then the Judean Desert, the Dead Sea, and finally Jordan’s red mountains.
With these surrounding in mind, studying international law in Jerusalem went far beyond the typical classroom experience. I learned about the legal status of Jerusalem while sitting in a room on Mount Scopus, which is technically an island within the West Bank.
My professors, immigrants from Britain, France, Uruguay and Argentina, spoke about border issues with the security barrier and Green Line right outside the window. We learned about rocket attacks and self-defense with the directions to the nearest bomb shelter posted at the front of the class. Situated in the midst of the Arab-Israeli conflict, while studying law and its practical applications, provided unrivaled learning opportunities.
I did still face challenges during my semester in Israel. Israel is notorious for its bureaucracy; It took 9 different kinds of photo ID to get my bus pass, 7 attempts at registration to get my final class schedule, 5 sets of directions to find the law building, and 3 attempts at pushing my way into the bus (elbows up) without knocking over the elderly rabbi and his wife—who were also trying to get home for Shabbat.
Yet, at the end of the day—with my newfound sense of chutzpah intact—I felt a deep connection to my surroundings, and appreciation that Israel is the one place that any Jew can call home.
Now, back in Canada where I am articling at a law firm in Toronto, far from the history and falafel stands of Jerusalem, I continue to apply the academic and professional lessons I gained in Israel —and the life lessons learned there too. I know my new “elbows-up” aggressive maneuvers may serve me well in court—but I apologize, in advance, if you’re standing next to me in line for the bus.