Reflections on My Time at Hebrew University
By Evelyn Tauben, Toronto
I boarded a plane to Israel on the first day of 2001. We woke up on January 1, following the Y2K hysteria, to find that banks had not shut down, computers kept working and all was well in snow-covered Montreal.
So began a new year and the most thrilling, enriching semester in Jerusalem. My parents met while living in Israel – they actually met on the ski hills of Mount Hermon – and I always wanted to spend immersive time living in Israel; feeling the rhythm of the weeks, hearing the Shabbat siren, experiencing the holidays and doing simple things like sitting on the mirpeset and buying groceries. It was a natural destination for me to study abroad.
I still remember sitting in Professor Yoram Bilu’s class at Rothberg, learning about pilgrimage practices among various religious groups while hearing the call to prayer echo across the Jerusalem hills and waft into our classroom. Later in the semester, we would leave the classroom to follow pilgrims in Tsfat and on Har Meron on Lag Ba’Omer – an unforgettable, eye-opening experience; and just one of many connecting history to the landscape, lessons to present-day practices, language to people and practical situations.
During that semester, I was able to dive more fully into my knowledge of and fluency with Hebrew. In the process, I discovered a more complex, more interesting understanding of Israeli history and culture than the one I was raised on. I was able to have a truly embodied experience of my studies as the changing of the seasons and rituals around me mirrored what we studied together.
This expanded perspective served me well as I went on to curate Jewish cultural programming in my future career, seeking to foster honest, nuanced conversations about contemporary Israel through film, literature, music, art and more.
About one month into the semester, after a rare snowfall made for a magical Shabbat in Yerushalayim, it really registered that this was my first time in Israel in the winter season after many trips in the summertime. I began surveying my fellow classmates at Rothberg to see who knew how to ski. Once I found enough friends to fill a rental car, we headed north and skied on the same mountain where my parents first met. Sometimes mi dor l’dor happens in the most unexpected of places.
- Evelyn Tauben is a curator, producer and writer based in Toronto. Originally from Montreal, she is a recognized expert in contemporary Jewish art and culture with over 15 years of experience in museums, galleries and arts organizations.