Trip to Middle East Puts Religion, Politics and Education in Perspective

An unforgettable two-week trip to Israel and Palestine provided a group of education majors with a look at schooling and culture halfway around the world.

This summer, a group of 14 students and faculty from Manhattan College toured the Holy Land during a two-week service-learning trip to Israel and Palestine, sponsored by the College’s chapter of Kappa Delta Pi, the education honor society.

Led by Brother Raymond Meagher, Ph.D., assistant professor of education, Karen Nicholson, Ph.D., associate professor of education, and William Merriman, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education and Health, the trip provided an unforgettable look at the religious, political and educational cultures of a conflicted area.

For Michael Dugan, a sophomore elementary/special education major from Haverstraw, N.Y., the trip was full of firsts — first plane ride, first time traveling abroad and a firsthand look at the Israeli-Palestinian struggle.  

“I guess I was blissful not knowing about what was really happening over there,” he says. “Seeing it for what it really is, the actuality of what’s going on is incredible.”

Dugan and his classmates visited three schools in Bethlehem — SIRA School, a school for learning-disabled children, as well as SOS School and The Creche, both residential homes and schools for orphaned or abandoned children. Learning to work with few resources, the group taught a memorable lesson to the children about the American flag.

“I loved watching our students interact with the students there,” Nicholson says. “To see how, even though they didn’t speak the language, there was universal, nonverbal communication, and how they showed respect and compassion for them.”

See photos of the group in Israel and Palestine:

For many on the trip, the most striking revelation was the proximity of war and peace. In the same week they visited the beautiful biblical sites of Galilee, Nazareth and Cana, the students also witnessed the consequences of political unrest at the Aida and Dheisha refugee camps in Palestine.

“What we saw in Palestine didn’t take away from how nice it was in Israel,” Dugan says. “You just feel for these good people on the other side of the wall.”

While in Bethlehem, the students also had a special opportunity to meet pen pals from Bethlehem University, a fellow Lasallian college.

Sometimes we change by just putting new wrapping paper on ourselves, but we’re hoping that our students opened up their minds and hearts and will continue to do some interior redesigning about who they are.

-Br. Ray

After dining and shopping with their new friends, with whom they had corresponded before the trip, the Manhattan students were invited on campus to the Brothers’ residence to learn more about the university’s mission and history.

“Lasallian schools around the world have a common foundation but different missions,” Nicholson says. “We wanted to show our students that they’re part of a bigger family.”

Before they departed for New York, the group made time for camel rides, a swim in the Dead Sea, and lunch with a Bedouin family in the desert. They also seized a poignant, once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be re-baptized in the River Jordan.

“Each one of us was born with a spark and often we lose sight of that,” says Br. Ray, who performed the baptismal ritual. “That experience was a reminder that we need to find that spark again, fan it into the flame, and be teachers, beacons of hope for others.”

Although they’ve been home for a month, the group continues to blog about the trip and to reflect on their experiences and the problems that plague the West Bank.

“It was a life-changing experience,” Br. Ray says. “Sometimes we change by just putting new wrapping paper on ourselves, but we’re hoping that our students opened up their minds and hearts and will continue to do some interior redesigning about who they are.”