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Nine high-ranking Israeli officials mingled last night with Harvard undergraduates at a dinner sponsored by Hillel's Harvard Students for Israel.
Topics of discussion among the 60 in attendance ranged from Israel's national security to the inner workings of the John F. Kennedy School, where the officials are studying this year under the Wexnor-Israel Fellowship Program.
"I found it very informative," said Shlomtzion M. Shaham '01 of her casual dinner conversation with one of the fellows. "I feel like I got the inside scoop on the Kennedy School as well as an outsider's view on America."
The fellows, six men and three women in the second week of regular classes, said they already felt the rigors of learning at the Kennedy School.
Eli Shermeister, a Lieutenant Colonel in the Israel Air Force with multiple degrees, said his experience has been "exciting [and] very loaded."
Shermeister is studying economics, international security and strategic management.
"Having a freshman workload, I can better appreciate what these people are going through," Michael A. Kay '01 said after listening to a fellow describe the extent of his curricular reading.
All of the fellows attributed the richness of the academic environment at the Kennedy School to the caliber and diversity of those who study there.
"The great asset of the Kennedy School is the students [who represent] an international community; the professor only has to let students speak between themselves," said Ehud Amir, head of the Education, Culture and Youth and Sports Department of the new Modi' in municipality.
Several fellows lamented their distance from Israel during the tumult of the last few weeks. They said they feel their access to news is limited by dependence on the American press.
"In Israel, every half-hour we get news. Here you can't follow so closely," said Hannah Himan-Pessah, head of the Strategic Planning and Information Unit in the Dimona Municipality. "Our impression is that we're not getting the full picture."
Many of the fellows spoke about their areas of expertise as policymakers in Israel.
Esther B. Bitton, an administrative and counseling health officer in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), noted the IDF's low suicide rate relative to that of the U.S. armed forces, a surprising statistic given that Israel's military is "much more stressed."
Bitton joined several other fellows in opening the conflict between the Orthodox and secular communities in Israel today. As an IDF official with a strong religious background, she offered a unique perspective on the rift.
Bitton explained that devout youth may join the Hesder, a program that sponsors a year of training in a Yeshiva in return for two years of military service.
"There are no better soldiers [than those of the Hesder]," she said. "If they can serve, anyone can."
Before the meal, Bernard Steinberg, Hillel's executive director, stressed the importance of student ties to Israel.
"Harvard-Radcliffe Hillel will foster dialogue with Israel to define the Jewish future. Together Israel and the Diaspora write the Jewish story of the next century," Steinberg said, quoting Hillel's recently-adopted mission statement.
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