College Faculty Find Inspiration in Bethlehem

Faculty from the Schools of Business, Engineering and Liberal Arts spent Jan. 1-9 forging research and other academic partnerships with students and faculty at Bethlehem University, Palestine, meeting prominent leaders and NGOs in Bethlehem, Hebron, and Jerusalem, including the Catholic Relief Services (CRS).

Eight Manhattan College staffers – six faculty and two administrators – spent the first evening of 2017 aboard a flight into Tel Aviv. On the morning of Jan. 2, their first day in Bethlehem, professors Gennaro Maffia, Ph.D., Kerri Mulqueen, Ph.D., Cory Blad, Ph.D., Jim Freeman, Ph.D., Aileen Lowry Farrelly, CPA, M.S., Marisa Lerer, Ph.D., Brother Jack Curran, FSC, Ph.D., and assistant director of study abroad Kevin Gschwend spent a week immersed in the culture and history of Bethlehem, a city that is significant to our Catholic heritage as being the birthplace of Jesus.

During their stay, the group toured the Old City of Jerusalem, met with Vera Baboun, the current and first female mayor of Bethlehem, and Hilary Dubose, the Catholic Relief Services (CRS) Country Representative for Jerusalem, Gaza, and the West Bank. They also marched in a parade on Orthodox Christmas Eve to welcome the Greek Orthodox Patriarch into Bethlehem, and swam in the Dead Sea.

Most importantly, though, the Manhattan cohort utilized its time in Palestine to further explore study abroad and summer research opportunities with students and faculty at Bethlehem University. In doing so, the College contributed to an academic history that dates back four decades — the institution’s second president, Brother Joseph Loewenstein ’50, FSC, is a Manhattan graduate who served in the position the year after Bethlehem was founded, in 1973. He and Brother Thomas Scanlan, FSC, the 18th president of the College, have both assumed the role of vice chancellor at Bethlehem, where Brother Jack Curran '80 acted as the vice president of development for a 10-year period ending in 2013. Currently serving at Bethlehem University are Brother Peter Iorlano '79, FSC, and Brother Henry Chaya '72, FSC.

Upon their return to Riverdale, the faculty outlined projects for the 2017 Bethlehem University-Manhattan College Summer Research Scholars Program, developed ideas for classroom discussion topics, and even material for a forthcoming course focusing on the political, racial, ethnic and religious culture of Palestine. The possibility of a future L.O.V.E. service trip to the West Bank has also been discussed after the trip, which was co-funded by the Manhattan College CRS Faculty Task Force, the offices of Student and Faculty Development and of Mission, and the Lasallian District of Eastern North America (DENA).

The experiences Maffia, Mulqueen, Blad, Freeman, Farrelly, and Lerer garnered in Bethlehem are described in the below reflections, which they shared upon their return to campus.

  • Cory Blad, Sociology

    Objective: To conduct my own research, which generally focuses on economic inequality, economic change, and political responses to both conditions. I am also facilitating a summer research program in which we bring several students from Bethlehem University to Manhattan College for two months. This year, we’re hoping to increase that number from two to four.

    Reflection: As far as how I might integrate the trip into courses — that's easy. During the spring of 2017, I’ll be teaching SOC 212: Migration, Globalization and Culture, a large part of which exposes students to restrictions and opportunities for movement into and out of respective societies. Given our ease of travel and ability to move from place to place without visa permission, actual examples of restrictions on mobility are somewhat foreign from an American perspective. The fact that many Bethlehem students and citizens have their mobility incredibly restricted provides a powerful example for classroom discussion. The fact that I was able to witness these restrictions and their effects will directly enhance my ability to lead these discussions.

    I'm also working with Jamil Khader, dean of research at Bethlehem University, on ways of facilitating research and teaching collaboration between our two institutions. The goal of the trip, from my perspective, was to deepen mutually beneficial working relationships between Bethlehem and Manhattan. In that regard, I'm optimistic about the future.

    It is impossible to communicate an experience in Bethlehem and Palestine with only a few words. Perhaps try to imagine your most beautiful, depressing, welcoming, restrictive, inspirational, and fearful experiences occurring at once and it is possible to get close. Rather than try to describe or convince anyone of what I experienced during such a short trip, I’ll simply note two deep impressions the people of Bethlehem made on me.

    The first is that I felt a warmth and hospitality in Bethlehem that I’ve rarely felt elsewhere in the world. The ability to sit, share tea, and talk with nearly everyone who smiled (and there were many) was a wonderful experience. I learned more in a week of listening than I have in quite a while. Conversations about common joys — family, friends, music — and common fears — jobs, debt, futures — reinforced for me the reason why travel is so essential to the human experience: we live in distinct circumstances, but we are essentially so much more similar than we are different.

    The second was the developing understanding I had that the people of Bethlehem could help me as much (if not more) and I could help them. The University of Bethlehem offered a perfect example of how capable, intelligent, and promising local students, faculty, and staff can be.

    To put it simply, my visit to Bethlehem did for me what it has done for many who visit — instilled a deep desire to return. If you have the opportunity to visit Bethlehem, please do so and take your time. Stay in this incredibly safe town where shops are often “closed” with a broomstick across an open door and get to know some of the warmest, strongest and capable people you’ll ever meet.

  • Aileen Farrelly, Accounting

    Objective: To introduce a summer 2017 research project that seeks to explore the financial literacy knowledge between Palestine and the United States. Through gaining a global perspective on financial literacy, the research of financial literacy and financial behaviors will be enhanced.

    Reflection: - Throughout the course of my week spent in Bethlehem, a few things struck me. The first, and one of the most important observations I made, is that the mission of John Baptist de La Salle is lived every day on the Bethlehem University campus. Also that the rich religious history of the town is present everywhere you turn and it’s equally significant for Muslim, Jews and Christians. I can honestly say that going to Mass there (sometimes more than once a day!) had never felt so powerful.

    While there, I also noticed that the goal of individuals living in Bethlehem is simple: they want to live in peace and work hard, and they respect one another.

    I also really enjoyed meeting Bethlehem University students and describing to them “Global Literacy,” the project I’ll be leading this summer as part of the Bethlehem-Manhattan Summer Research Scholars Program. Through their research, students will analyze current financial literacy literature, mandates and reports for both countries, and broaden the financial literacy of students from both institutions. They will also explore the cultural and financial differences between financial institutions, financial literacy knowledge, behavior and issues between Palestine and the U.S.

    Inspired by the trip, Mulqueen and I are laying the groundwork for a L.O.V.E. trip to Bethlehem. During the mission-based experience, participants will contribute to the Joint Advocacy Initiative’s Olive Tree Campaign, an initiative that plants olive trees in occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip areas where fields are threatened to be confiscated by the Israeli military Occupation, or where the trees have already been uprooted or destroyed. We are hoping to see this come to fruition sometime in 2018.
  • Jim Freeman, Sociology

    Objective: To gather material for SOC 150 Roots of Sociology: Comparative Sociology: Society, Culture and Institutions in the United States and Palestine, a new sociology course that studies the political, racial, ethnic, religious and cultural aspects of Palestine. Offered in the fall of 2017, the course will include a reflection on the social history of the United States.  

    Reflection: If we look closely at our own social histories, we might gain insight on how the struggles facing Palestinians can be understood and mitigated. I can’t wait to begin the process of creating this course.

    Manhattan College, as a Lasallian institution, deserves real credit for facilitating a trip of this significance. Over several busy days we had meetings with Bethlehem University faculty, staff, administration and students to discuss our individual projects, as well as the mission, history and challenges facing the University and community.

    We took a long, circuitous walk to the Palestine Museum of Natural History for a presentation and discussion on the ecological evolution in Palestine on the people, birds, snakes, fruit trees and butterflies struggling to survive amidst rapid change. We drove to meet with members of the Temporary International Presence (TIP) in Hebron, whose mandate is to observe the tense relations between the Israeli and Palestinian communities as they coexist in a fragile peace. We met with parents, both Jewish and Muslim, who lost their children to acts of terror and listened as they reminded us that if they could put their differences aside and respect one another, it was imperative that others do as well.

    In the evenings, we dined with students and faculty from the University and struggled to unpack much of what we heard and saw during our busy days. The hospitality and patience of our hosts — who listened to our endless questions and concerns about the Palestinian occupation — were gracious and kind. The experiences that will stay with me overall were threefold: walking the old city of Bethlehem at sunrise listening to the prayer calls from the minarets while being greeted with a warm welcome from every passerby; going through the open air markets with current and former students of Bethlehem University talking about their classes, challenges and career aspirations; and finally, being reminded, through meetings and informal discussions with every person I met that the values and actions that create more peace, good will and optimism, are the only way to reduce tensions and increase coexistence for future generations in this fragile part of the world.  
  • Marisa Lerer, Visual & Performing Arts

    Objective: To study the current process of 20th and 21st century memorialization and conduct separate research on how the political situation in Palestine and Israel is affecting the work of artists in these countries.

    Reflection:  Resilience, creativity and generosity were the words that continuously sprang to mind as we met with faculty and students from Bethlehem University. The campus is a beautiful, serene, and dynamic space for learning and exchanging ideas, and hearing the personal stories and perspectives from students about life in the West Bank was riveting. Their drive, dedication, aspirations and purpose were also moving and inspiring, which made my sharing meals and walking through the streets of Bethlehem and Jerusalem with them one of my most cherished memories of the Middle East.

    Being surrounded by and immersed in historic and sacred spaces often shared by Muslims, Jews and Christians was affecting. Also, meeting with members of human rights organizations such as the Parents Circle, whose mission is devotion to resistance and tolerance under extreme personal loss, shed a very personal and profound light onto the struggle for social justice in the region. This insight coupled with collecting responses from viewers on the sanctioned and unsanctioned artwork and commemorations of victims of the political conflict in the public sphere highlighted the significant process of 20th and 21st century memorialization. Meeting with artists in Israel and Palestine to understand their responses to the political situation has laid the groundwork for my future research and collaborations on investigating public commemorative practices in the area.

    The hospitality and generosity of the people in Bethlehem and Jerusalem touched me deeply. I am enthusiastic about this initial fruitful dialogue with the University of Bethlehem and looking forward to it flourishing into a lasting partnership between this institution and Manhattan College.

  • Gennaro Maffia, Chemical Engineering

    Objective: To ignite research involving the conversion of natural gas to liquid fuels, and the manufacturing of artificial tissue from waste bovine corium that is converted into collagen nanofibrils.

    Reflection: Students from the science division expressed an interest in this work along with several faculty. The next step would be to further develop the relationship and to scope out a project.

    I have been to the Middle East about 10 times in the past decade, always to deliver week-long training classes to a variety of clients including Aramco, Sabic, and mixed groups in Dubai and Abu Dhabi. I have been to Israel and the West Bank once before, in 1980 when I had a plant assignment in Acre, Israel, which is north of Haifa and about eight miles south of Lebanon.

    Overall, this current trip with my Manhattan colleagues was very enjoyable. We were offered the chance to meet new people and present our research and academic interests to the students and faculty at the University of Bethlehem. It was an eye-opener to see firsthand the challenges of day-to-day living in the West Bank. We are all hoping to extend our new relationships via Palestinian student visits, joint research programs, shared scholarship for journal publications, and other creative programming.

    My most poignant memory occurred on our visit to the refugee camp in Bethlehem. There were many children playing in the streets within the camp and professor [Aileen] Farrelly was handing out coloring books. This was a big hit. My left knee was showing the signs of age and one of the little children came up to me to express sympathy for the way I was walking. I thanked her and offered a fist bump which she returned along with a big smile.

    I have my fingers crossed for some new colleagues going forward.

  • Kerri Mulqueen, English

    Objective: To create an online writing course centered around themes of how identities are constructed across the world, available to Manhattan College and Bethlehem University students.

    Reflection: I went to Bethlehem with this goal in mind, but now, while I still do believe the project is viable and hopefully something we can bring to fruition, I feel that bringing Bethlehem students to our campus — where they can take advantage of the resources available and explore New York City — would be an equally or perhaps even more vital initiative. I’d also like to bring students from Riverdale to Bethlehem so they can experience, as I did, the warmth and welcome of the Arabic residents, the awe of entering the site of Christ's birth, and the shift in perspective that can only come from first hand experience. The name "Palestine" conjures in most Americans images of conflict and violence, due to our narrow exposure through mass media, but the full picture of Palestine includes hospitality, history and thriving social justice work.

    It was remarkable to have had access to historic and religious sites from which millenia of history have flowed. Proximity to history really humanizes those stories we have all heard since childhood, and I can only describe as inspirational the commitment and ingenuity of grassroots and committed local activists, educators and public servants working to engineer peace, sow seeds of national identity, and raise one another up in the face of great odds.

    Traveling to Palestine with the Manhattan College cohort was a rare experience that can rightly be called life-altering. After five days of nonstop education and immersive experience, I found not only that my global perspective changed, but my professional aspirations as well.

    This deeply meaningful experience, I hope, will be the first step in establishing a long term and mutually beneficial relationship between our institutions.