Heading for Homeland

By Cheryl Fogle
Arizona Daily Wildcat
January 22, 1996


Visitors to former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin's grave light candles and place stones in honor of his memory. Rabin's grave was one part of a student tour of Israel over winter break.


Rather than heading home for winter break, 11 bus loads of Jewish American college students traveled to their homeland.

Twenty-three University of Arizona students got the chance to see Israel, its capital city Jerusalem, the Dead Sea, and the Golan Heights over their December vacation. The United Jewish Appeal sponsored 450 students on the tour. The Hillel Foundation gav e the UA students scholarships which covered all of their travel expenses.

While in Jerusalem, the students visited the stone and flower-covered grave of former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who was assassinated Nov. 4.

"It's a Jewish tradition to put a rock on a grave to show respect, and Rabin's grave had a pile of stones on it," said Aaron Avery, marketing sophomore. He said that the grave will be encased in onyx, a shiny black stone.

The students also toured many historic sites in Jerusalem, including the Wailing Wall and the Dome of the Rock.

"Jerusalem is a gorgeous city with the gold Dome of the Rock that stands out in the middle of it," said Atasha Avery, creative writing senior .

The Dome of the Rock is a mosque built on a hill where the original Jewish temple stood. Israeli law states that Jerusalem's buildings be covered with white limestone because it is the most naturally occurring rock of the area.

"I've never seen a place with so much history," said Jodi Tilsner, psychology senior.

Harley Greenberg, optical engineering sophomore, added, "Jerusalem is such a holy place, but it's so divided because Jews, Muslims and Christians are separated."

The city is divided into quarters: Jewish, Arab, Christian and Armenian. During Saturdays the Jewish quarter observes the shabbat, which is the day for prayer at the synagogue.

"In the Jewish quarter, shops aren't open on Saturdays, but the market place is open in the Arab quarter around the corner," Tilsner said.

The students also traveled around Isreal to the lowest point on Earth - the Dead Sea, just south of Jerusalem. There they noticed the high salt concentrations in the water produce some unusual effects.

"I've never been so buoyant in my life," Tilsner said. "I couldn't swim under the water because it kept pushing me back to the surface."

The students also visited Tel Aviv and northern sections of Israel.

"The northern part of the country reminded me of northern Arizona because there were mountains and trees," said Gregg Woodnick, philosophy senior.

The group then went four-wheeling on the Golan Heights, a ridge of land disputed by Israel and Syria.

"We looked on one side, and that valley was Israel, but we could turn our heads to see Syria and Lebanon," Greenberg said.

The Americans talked with high school seniors who live near the Golan Heights.

"Some girls were saying that there's a bomb pointing at them all the time," Atasha Avery said. The town got bombed two days after they left. Avery said when the Israelis hear the bomb sirens they immediately put on their gas masks and go to their basemen ts because it's so routine.

"If someone bombed America, we'd think that would be the end of the world."