Of laughter, learning, travels, and teammates

As usual, there has been a lot happening here at the Arava Institute in the last few weeks! On February 24th, Bryan and Elise Bartosik-Velez, and Andrea Lieber, came to the Arava Institute for a short visit over Shabbat. Bryan and Andrea are faculty members at Dickinson College in Carlisle Pennsylvania and were in the region doing recruiting for the second summer of the “Across Borders” program. While last summer brought N. American students to Israel, the Palestinian Authority, Jordan, and Egypt to learn about natural resource and water management in the Middle East, this summer young environmental professionals from the Middle East  (including some Arava Institute alumni) will travel to the US to learn about natural resource management of the Chesapeake Bay. Before coming to Ketura, the Dickinson crew was in Amman interviewing Jordanians interested in the program. Read more about Across Borders at blogs.dickinson.edu/acrossborders/.

In addition to the Across Borders program, Dickinson College will be offering, for the second year, a four week summer program this July at the Arava Institute to learn about global sustainability and community.  Please click on the following links to apply or read more about the summer program: blogs.dickinson.edu/globalsustainability/.

Introducing Linah, a new team member who joined the AIES crew on February 26th! Linah is a visiting lecturer that will be working with Hanan Ginat and the Dead Sea and Arava Science Center on Pleistocene lakes. Part of Linah’s research will be to analyze the importance of how humans settled in such an area, and she looks forward to bridging the gaps of research between countries within the Southern Levant region. Linah believes that “this region will not develop unless we have cooperation,” and her research will help create stepping stones for future research between countries. For anyone that wants to send her a welcoming gift, Linah’s favorite food is Volcano Sushi with avocado and spicy tuna! Welcome on board, Linah!

On Wednesday February 29th, The Peace Building and Environmental Leadership Seminar held a Laughter Yoga and Jibberish Therapy workshop hosted by Alex Sternick. Alex has traveled around the world to conflict areas spreading his idea of how a happy outlook on life can positively affect others. As the students learned on Wednesday, laughter is contagious! Laughter plays a key role in peace building and conflict management, and gibberish can be used to release anger while minimizing our over interpretation which can lead to conflict. During the seminar Alex stressed the importance of laughter and smiling during times of crisis, both in a national and individual level. Whether laughing a real laugh or a forced laugh, the immune system is boosted and stress levels are cut down. Laughing is also a great workout! Alex mentioned that ten minutes of laughing is equivalent to spending one hour on a rowing machine! Go ahead, try it!

The student-run Improvisational Theater group is once again going strong this semester! If you don’t know, Improv Theater is unscripted theater – the actors make everything up as they go along. Each week eager students meet to practice their acting and improvisational skills through different exercises and games. Last week was the highest turnout yet, with about 15 students participating!

AIES Culture Night was held on Wednesday February 29th. It was an entertaining and enlightening night full of presentations, skits, dances and songs from our diverse campus community. “The All-American Road Trip,” Debka dancing, Brazilian Folha, Canadian landscape photos, Swiss Yodeling, Lithuanian folk songs, and a spoof about Israeli humor were among the highlights of this wonderful evening. As you can see, our group is quite diverse this semester! Thanks to all of those who performed and watched!

Nine alumni attended a meeting of the Arava Alumni Peace and Environmental Network (AAPEN) held in Jerusalem last Saturday March 3rd. They discussed several options of activities to take part in as well as visiting places that “live” the conflict in the area of Jerusalem. Several ideas were discussed including: taking part in the community garden project in Gabel Muccaber, visiting El Walage near Har Gilo, and meeting with settlers who work together with neighboring Palestinians in Eretz Shalom (Land of Peace).

As you can see, the students enjoyed the Purim Holiday last week, in spite of the rain and sand storm.

As for me, I just returned from the United States. I spent the first four days in Los Angeles at the Friends of the Arava Institute annual Board of Trustees meeting were we discussed fundraising strategy for 2012.  I am delighted to report that we now have four eager N. American alumni sitting on the board of FAI. These alumni Muhammed, Moriah, Zack, and Shira (who couldn’t attend) presented their plans for organizing and galvanizing the N. American alumni to help with outreach, recruitment, and fundraising for the Institute.

Thanks for tuning in, and make sure to check back in a couple weeks to see what else is happening here in the middle of the Arava Valley desert! Thanks to Meital Sapir, Linah Ababneh, Lindsey Zemler, Shannon Wade and Brian Hoefgen for their great photos.

Miriam Sharton, Director

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