100 Alumni We Love

Reflections on My Time at Hebrew University

By Tal Elharrar, Montreal

Tal Elharrar

Timing really is everything. I attended the One-Year Program at Hebrew University in 1998, when I was 20 years old. More importantly, I was clueless and changeable. Sure, I had grown up in a Zionist environment in Montreal, walked around the city during the March to Jerusalem, ate falafel at times, would listen to my dad talk about his army service and understood, generally, that my people had a long history in this faraway land. But until that year, I cared a lot more about the Montreal Expos leaving the city.

The first few weeks in Jerusalem were so frightening I was sure I had made a mistake. Then, slowly, that annoyance of waking up at 5 am to the Muslim call to prayer became beautiful. I made friends. They were Canadian, American, Israeli and, yes, some were Palestinian. It’s remarkable how many of my experiences I still remember so vividly. They include playing basketball on a hilltop overlooking the Old City of Jerusalem at sunset, visiting the Western Wall by myself at midnight, taking a cab with friends to Tel Aviv in the middle of the night to see Ehud Barak and thousands of others celebrate an election victory.

Yet, there were other memories that had just as much impact on the direction that my life would eventually take. Getting awoken by my frantic mother calling when a bomb went off Jerusalem, finding out that my co-worker at a restaurant would not be returning to work because his arm was broken during a rock-throwing riot with Israeli police, and playing video games with the 8- year-old son of a rabbi who would be brutally murdered in a cave a few months later.

My passion for understanding and respecting this conflict grew incrementally during that year, and would eventually lead me to spend the next few years figuring out what role I can play to support people who simply want to be happy and live normal lives. I have no doubt that had I not overcome my fear and stayed for what was the most impactful year of my life, I would still be watching old Expos clips on YouTube.

  • Tal Elharrar currently works at Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship Canada as a Director for the Settlement and Resettlement programs helping new Canadians integrate into society.