From ‘Seeing There’ to ‘Being There’ - 06/20/2017
Onward Israel as Strenuous Travel
Onward Israel participants are arriving in Israel. I am excited to meet them, to greet them, to watch them take their first steps in Israel as Onward Israel participants and interns.
When I meet them, we do not know each other. They are still getting oriented and acclimated. I am the last thing on their mind. Taking that into account, when I do meet them, what do I want to share with them towards the summer. What kind of message sums up the Onward Israel ethos in a few short words? What are the opening words that I hope will help them through the summer?
Beyond my hope that all will finish the summer safely and securely, I want them to finish the summer, look back, and say – “I did things this summer that I could not have done in another place, with other people, at another time. This summer I stretched myself.”
Daniel Boorstin, in his pioneering work on tourism, presents conventional tourism as mainly about the pursuit of relaxation, about escape from everyday routines. In contrast, Boorstin offers the ideal of strenuous travel – travel that encourages us to move beyond comfort to better ourselves through tackling challenges of various sizes and shapes.
I like the notion of strenuous travel for Onward Israel – and for Israel travel education in general. A conventional bus tour keeps people comfortable. From the air-conditioned sanctity of the cushioned double bench, the visitor is largely guarded from the back streets and behind of the scenes of the place visited. The height of the bus provides a birds-eye-view without the chance to encounter the people and the places where they live at eye level. Conventional tourism tends to encourage a detached sense of ‘seeing there,’ and in that mode the view from the window, the vista, the look-out point, and the camera snap shot are all so central.
The Onward Israel experience is about strenuous travel – about ‘being there’.
- Riding the bus in a foreign city
- Learning to live with new roommates
- Making your mark and making the most of a short-term internship experience
- Encountering issues and voices on central issues in the Israel public discourse
Strenuous travel is not mainly about the comfort. It is about the challenge – trying to do something that I have not done before, taking a risk that I might not succeed, and going beyond my comfort zone to learn from new tests and experiences.
Whether the pursuit is in academics or athletics, becoming a master demands stretching; moving beyond the comfortable to the strenuous. A marathon runner begins with one step. In the course of time, and through a regimen of pushing incrementally through comfort, the runner eventually is able to run a mile, ten miles, and beyond.
One of the greatest bluesmen of the ‘classic’ Chicago period – Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Burnett) was an inspiration to an array of younger musicians like the Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Eric Clapton. His booming voice, monumental presence, and musical mastery were the result of years of hard work, dedication, and passion. Howlin’ Wolf learned guitar from Charley Patton – a seminal artist in the pre-WWII blues era. The story is told that during one particularly heated guitar session, Patton asked. “Your fingers sore?” Howlin’ Wolf responded, “Not really… good to go…” Patton chided, “Oh man – if they ain’t sore – you ain’t playing it right!”
I wish that Onward Israel participants enjoy their summer in Israel with us. I also wish that their fingers are sore, that the summer is a source of challenge, that people stretch themselves to try all manner of things that they have never done before, and that each stretch helps them to learn and grow, and build pride in who they are and what they can accomplish.
Hopefully Onward Israel encourages people to ask themselves about how they want to mold their own futures. Hopefully, summer experiences in Israel are not a ‘get-away’ but rather offer participant’s ways to imagine how they see themselves as they consider future hopes and plans.
Vice President for Education, Onward Israel