More than 30 Canadian law students from the University of Toronto participated in Canada’s first iTrek trip to Israel this summer. The week-long excursion was designed to teach them about the country’s legal environment and political situation, as well as to help them gain an Israeli perspective on life.
The idea behind bringing Canadian law students to Israel began when Jordyn Benattar, one of the group’s leaders, was on the March of the Living. Benattar met a woman on the trip who pointed her in the direction of iTrek. The organization, whose professed mission is to “encourage and empower present and future leaders to visit Israel,” had previously arranged trips tailored for law students from elite American universities. Working alongside Routes Travel, an Israeli tour company, Benattar, supported by Jenna Glicksman and Rebecca Meredith, set out to do the same.
As well as taking in the sights and culture, the iTrek law trip also visited the Israeli Supreme Court, participated in a “dual narratives” Arab-Jewish guided tour of east Jerusalem and made a pit stop at the Peres Peace Center in Jaffa. The highlight of the trip, according to Glicksman, was a discussion with Canadian-Israeli journalist Matti Friedman.
Many of those who took part in the trip weren’t Jewish. “Most of the participants came in ambiguous on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. A few were critical, but not most,” Glicksman said.
In fact, the experience deeply resonated with the students. There was a debriefing session at the end of the trip and the feedback was “overwhelmingly positive. Everyone came away learning,” Glicksman said.
“Everyone wanted to use the private Facebook group to keep the learning going,” Meredith added.
In Benattar’s estimation, the experience was a “self-education trip.” No political position was advanced, nor were participants dissuaded from asking difficult questions, the leaders maintain.
One aspect of the trip that really gave first-time visitors to Israel a better understanding of the country’s complexity was the fact that they were accompanied by Israeli law students. “Becoming friends gave perspective to why Israel has an army and a secure border; that there is another side of the story,” Glicksman said.
As the first Canadian law school to participate in an iTrek law trip, they envision such initiatives spreading to other schools across the country. It is particularly important, in Benattar and Glicksman’s view, because these students will become the thought-leaders of tomorrow. “University of Toronto law students will become influential decison-makers and shape the future,” Benattar said.
“Leaving Israel with a broader, holistic point of view,” Benattar said, is part of their motivation for leading these trips.
The trio has struggled with funding. The trip was exclusively funded by American donors who covered everything but the flights. Seeking to build upon the success of this trip, Benattar, Glicksman and Meredith hope that some Canadians will step up to help alleviate the financial burden. At the moment, they have not decided whether to run another trip. Busy with their internships and preparing for the upcoming semester, Benattar, Glicksman and Meredith have a lot on their plates.
But they were really encouraged by the enthusiasm of the participants and would enjoy this becoming an annual event. The experience, Benattar said, “speaks for itself.”
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