Reflecting on the 2023 Alumni Conference: Building Connections and Empowering Change

may2023 alumni conferenc

The 2023 Alumni Conference at the end of May was an extraordinary gathering of 170 participants from around the world, the largest conference to date. Alumni came together from Palestine, Jordan, Israel, Turkey, Morocco, Sudan, China, Europe and the US, for community, thought-provoking content, serious conversations, fun, support, and meaningful networking. The annual conference is a testament to the ongoing community of the Arava Institute—over 1,800 alumni across the world who dedicate their time to community, environment, social change, and shared society. It is a celebration of shared values, lifelong friendships and an opportunity to appreciate the profound impact the institute had on the personal and professional journey of each graduate.

This year’s engaging lectures and workshops, pool time, comedy show by Noam Shuster, and unforgettable jam session were organized by an Alumni Coordination team made up of Hala Barahme, Hoda Barakat, and Barak Talmor. With a range of activities and discussions, the conference aimed to foster connections, inspire collaboration, and empower alumni to drive positive change in their respective communities. Below are some highlights of the experience.

The conference kicked off with the help of amazing alumni volunteers, who assisted with registration. The evening continued with a grand dinner ball, where plant-based food was served as alumni reconnected with old friends. Following the dinner, the opening ceremony began with Arava Institute Deputy Director Eliza Mayo and Cathie Granit, who provided an update on the Arava Institute’s recent developments and projects. To break the ice and initiate networking, the alumni coordinators led a “Speed Dating” activity, sparking engaging conversations. The evening concluded with a side-splitting tri-lingual comedy show by Noam Shuster, finding humor in common issues faced by the community.

The second day of the conference began with a morning yoga session led by Miya Gill, followed by a hearty breakfast. Facilitated by alumni coordinators, an open mic gave participants 60 seconds to introduce themselves, share their current careers, projects, aspirations, and seek connections. Alumni delved deeper into specific fields of interest in breakout groups that included Education & Community, Political & Activism, Technology and Science, Entrepreneurship, and Art & Music.

2023 alumni conference

The conference featured insightful workshops throughout the day. Jeff Halper, an Israeli anthropologist and activist, delivered a lecture on the “One State Campaign,” challenging the viability of the two-state solution and exploring the potential of a democratic civic polity. Ashraf Ghandour conducted a workshop on the theory of change, focusing on proper solution-building for local needs and addressing pain points. Professor Uri Shanas introduced the “Time to Save Earth (TiME)” initiative, engaging alumni in conservation decision-making and innovative communication strategies for specific biodiversity hotspots.

Open Space time allowed alumni to lead their own workshops and activities, showcasing their unique perspectives and ideas, from brainstorming sessions on making AIES events vegan to discussions on activism burnout. The day concluded with a communal dinner and a jam session, where participants showcased their musical talents and joined in a night of music, singing, and dancing around a bonfire.

The final day of the conference began with a group photo, of course. Workshops and Open Space sessions continued to provide valuable insights and discussions. Ashraf Ghandour’s workshop on solidarity in performative times shed light on the potential of Jewish–Palestinian partnerships for positive change. Diana Spinrad facilitated a workshop on fundraising, equipping alumni with the necessary skills for successful grant writing and project design.

The closing activity brought the conference to a thoughtful conclusion: Alumni were split into groups and invited to envision a collaborative dream for a village that could address pressing environmental and social challenges, and then share with each other their vision for the Arava Institute in five years. Each group presented their ideas, fostering inspiration and potential partnerships among the participants.

We hope the 2023 Alumni Conference left a lasting impact on all participants and facilitated new connections, knowledge, and inspiration. Alumni left the conference with a renewed sense of purpose and determination to make a positive difference in their communities. Thank you to everyone who made it a resounding success and we hope to see you in the next event, workshop, gathering or conference!

Submitted by the Alumni coordinators team:

Hoda Barakat (Jordan)
Hala Barahmeh (Palestine)
Barak Talmor (Israel)

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