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Tag: Student Stories

Building Community during Crisis

When COVID-19 broke, hundreds of students who participated in “TAU Impact,” the University’s flagship community leadership program, were forced to abruptly terminate their field work.

In response, the TAU Impact team, run by the Dean of Students, transformed their roster of community service programs from hands-on to virtual “overnight,” according to TAU Impact director Rachel Warshawsky. This involved guiding schoolchildren who were learning remotely, as well as online and phone work with the elderly, blind, mentally ill and other groups, among other activities. The popular TAU program offers accredited courses integrating academic knowledge with community service and will soon be a requirement for all undergraduate students.

Ravid Yehezkely, a medicine and life sciences student, had been teaching a movement class for physically disabled adults for her TAU Impact course when the pandemic started. She was immediately recruited by Warshawsky’s team to tutor high schools students. In addition to assisting them with schoolwork, she helped them cope with the hardships of the lockdown.

In another successful TAU Impact project, students in the course “Ethics of Big Data in Smart Cities” created an app called TAU-Walks, which helps the blind and visually impaired navigate TAU’s campus.

“We succeeded in carrying out meaningful social projects which helped many people in the community—even if from a distance—as well as the students themselves, who were gratified that they could contribute to society during this difficult time,” concludes Warshawsky.  

During the Fall 2020 semester, TAU Impact students continued to carry out their field work remotely.

Featured image: Student Ravid Yehezkely. Photo: Moshe Bedarshi.

Souvenirs of Sand and Sun

Sugandh P. Ojha, an international student from India, shares insights from her time at TAU.

It was thrilling to receive my acceptance letter from Tel Aviv University. As an International Relations graduate with an interest in global security, it was a dream-come-true moment. At 25 years old, with two years of work experience under my belt as a journalist in my native India, I saw it as a perfect plan: to explore an often misinterpreted country such as Israel. I already had a great impression of the country through articles I’d read and YouTube videos.

Upon my arrival, I rented an Airbnb for my first few days with a classmate from the U.S. By chance, the owner had cousins from Russia visiting as well. My very first interaction in Israel started with a conversation about the World Wars, the reunification of Jewish families, and how these folks found each other later in life, each assuming the others had died in the War! From that moment, I knew I was going to have an enriching global experience in this country.

Israel hasn’t disappointed me in that regard. After a week, I moved into a beautiful studio apartment in the Millie Phillips Student City complex on the TAU campus. Our welcome session was organized by the TAU International Student Life Team and held at the Sarona Beer Garden —an absolutely breathtaking bar which epitomizes the Tel Aviv lifestyle.

The grass is always greener at  the Millie Phillips Student City complex at TAU.

Israel is where the Bible took place. Even if a person is not religious (which I am not), it is a very mystical experience to live in a place that is a holy land for the three Abrahamic faiths. Beyond religion, Israel is a melting pot of cultures where Jews from over 80 countries made aliyah to settle in their homeland, importing their diverse traditions and recipes with them. I see this diversity as I walk Tel Aviv’s streets: I witness food vendors serving different cuisine including Syrian, European and Moroccan; people dressed in different traditional styles wearing kippas and headscarves; and people of different nationalities speaking mostly in Hebrew.

I also often witness Arab and Jewish Israelis eating the same food at the same place, which shows more than anything how they coexist in this tight-knit society. These people of multiple identities are united by the strong emotion that they belong in this country; I know this because of the many conversations I’ve had with different Israelis. Even members of the younger generation feel attached to this land and feel safer here than anywhere else.

“People of multiple identities are united by the strong emotion that they belong in this country”: Jerusalem

Tel Aviv is an amalgamation of old-world culture and next-gen lifestyle. You see traditions such as Shabbat—wherein Orthodox Jews refrain from using electricity and gadgets on weekends—alongside modern nightlife. Clubbing is a favorite Israeli pastime, for example.

My first semester courses included field trips which gave us a comprehensive understanding of Israel’s culture, politics socioeconomic structure and regional threats, as well as people, food and most important, wine from the Golan Heights! From these experiences, I can attest that the best way to learn about a country is to visit places and live like a local.

The most memorable experience I had was a Shabbat dinner at Israel’s first kibbutz, Deganya. The community functions as a family. As I entered the kibbutz’s dining hall, the room felt like a museum, adorned with old pictures showing the community’s establishment and its first inhabitants from more than 100 years ago. Israelis are very close to their history, and it was touching to hear the kibbutzniks share their stories! The way people welcomed me in the community made me feel at home; eating with everyone at the same table full of countless dishes was a heart-melting experience. The dining hall was a huge room with tables seating 20 people each which means around 100 people can eat there at once. Sounds crazy during the COVID-19 era right? I’m glad I could experience it before the virus ruined the beauty of togetherness.

Israel is a very eco-friendly country. Compared to Indian cities such as Mumbai and Delhi, the pollution level is low. Electric scooters and bicycles are very popular. The buses, trains and cabs are also excellent modes of transport, and the country is well-connected by an easy-to-use transportation network.

“I’ll miss the amicable people, with whom you can talk in any situation.”

Living on campus, the Carmel Market and the Jaffa Flea Market are nearby, must-visit places to buy cheap products and beautiful souvenirs; these markets also have the best collection of mamash taim (truly delicious) spices and candies in town!  Even if you are not buying anything, visiting these places on Fridays before Shabbat is a fun experience, watching people singing and playing instruments on the streets.

What will I miss most about Israel? Tahini and shawarma; hummus and lip-smacking Arabic desserts—knafeh to name one! Most of all, I’ll miss the amicable people, with whom you can talk in any situation, whether you are stuck in an elevator or enjoying the beach—it doesn’t matter if you know them or not!

The author graduated with a master’s degree from TAU International in 2020.

Featured image: Sugandh P. Ojha. Photography: Moshe Bedarshi

What’s it like to study at TAU?

Petr Pesov, a student at the International B.A. in Liberal Arts program and founder of the Youth Innovation Forum, Petr has found Tel Aviv to be full of surprises.

Where are you from?

I was born in Russia and then moved to Latvia during high school.

What are you studying at TAU?

Currently I’m a third-year International B.A. in Liberal Arts student, majoring in Psychology. I’m also interning in the Boris Mints Institute for Strategic Policy Solutions to Global Challenges. Petr Pesov

Did anything about studying at TAU surprise you?

Israel is really not what it seems, from what you initially hear from people and how they describe it. Especially when it comes to Tel Aviv, which is perhaps one of the most progressive and flourishing places I’ve ever been.

What’s been your favorite class at TAU?

I really enjoyed one of the classes in my first year: Post-Truth, Post-Politics and another class last year – Business Ethics, which were both philosophy classes, but with a real-life application of the philosophy of information flow and the ethical implications of corporations and different schools of ethics.

What do you do when you’re not studying?

I’m the co-founder of a new student-initiative project on campus: the Youth Innovation Forum. YIF encourages the exchange ideas in a variety of academic disciplines in our weekly meetings.  We host presentations on various topics (given by experts) to complement the degrees of students who are part of the Forum, and broaden our horizons. We also share various projects with our students and encourage them to start their own, for example we are currently forming a group of students working on an AI household farming project.

What was the first word you learned in Hebrew?

I believe it was “slicha”, which means “sorry” and always comes in handy when you want to pass someone or something in the wonderful and busy streets of Tel Aviv, or when you want to grab someone’s attention.

What’s next for you?

After I finish my BA I’m hoping to do my MA in Conflict Resolution, move to Israel and pursue my PhD, with aspirations towards a mix between an academic and a practical career in the field of Public Policy.  


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