Middle East Fellowship Forever Changes Nursing Professor

“I expected to learn a lot about Israel on this trip,” Dr. Jennie Ryan writes. “I didn’t anticipate learning so much about myself.”

Anthony Bourdain once said, “The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you left something behind.”

After two-plus years of a pandemic, we’re eager to journey again. We’re eager to put our feet on distant soils, taste foods mysterious to our palate and hear languages foreign to our ears. With this sense of (pent-up) wanderlust, I embarked on a two-week trip to Israel this summer with the Jewish National Fund Faculty Fellowship Program.

The program seeks to foster collaboration between U.S. professors and their Israeli counterparts, building international partnerships in science and research. It aims to introduce U.S. academics to the “startup” nation of Israel and to break down stereotypes.

I expected to learn a lot about Israel on this trip. I didn’t anticipate learning so much about myself.

Jennie Ryan in Israel

Assistant professor of nursing Dr. Jennie Ryan spent two weeks in Israel as part of the Jewish National Fund Faculty Fellowship Program.

We started in the north, visiting Nazareth and the Church of the Annunciation. The enormity of being in the Holy Land quickly enthralled me. That night, we traveled to a rural kibbutz and met Efi Talbi, the first Israeli prisoner in the Lebanon War. We talked about the Israeli Defense Forces and the many conflicts Israel has seen in its short history as a nation. For the first time, it struck me how much violence this country has experienced, but it wouldn’t really set in until we went to Galilee Medical Center.

Like many hospitals in Israel, Galilee Medical Center has multiple underground floors where staff move patients during missile attacks. As a seasoned nurse, I’ve practiced in many stressful environments but never in an active war zone.

Later, we visited Ben-Gurion University of the Negev. Its simulation center holds large rooms to prepare students for chemical warfare and mass casualties. Here, I learned what everyone in Israel knows: You have 90 seconds to reach the bomb shelter before the missile hits.

Jennie Ryan at Masada

Dr. Jennie Ryan traveled throughout Israel, including Masada, an ancient fortress.

We moved to Haifa and rode the gondola to the beautiful University of Haifa and Technion University. After academic meetings, we made our way to Jerusalem and the Temple Mount, one of the holiest sites in Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I was overcome by how these religions, and this consecrated place, have shaped our world.

I thought I couldn’t be stunned more, and then we went to Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center. Here, we met Rena Quint. She was taken into a concentration camp at age 6, and I will never forget her story of resilience. I asked her how she overcame such trauma in her life. “Love,” Quint answered. Love always will be more powerful than hate, more prevailing than violence.

While we experienced many intense moments on the trip, we also shared much laughter and joy. We met chefs and musicians. We ate Shabbat dinners and lit candles. We floated in the Dead Sea and climbed to the top of Masada. We arrived in Tel Aviv during Pride and spent our last night dancing in celebration.

The fellowship ended in Tel Aviv during Pride. Over 30 faculty members from around the country participated in the program. Here, Dr. Jennie Ryan is with Nicholas Metheny from the University of Miami.

Throughout our trip, we saw the diversity of modern Israel. We met Jews, Arabs, Druze, Palestinians, Ethiopians, Bedouins and Christians. I was taken aback by the diversity in an area the size of New Jersey.

Over these two weeks, I often thought of my students and my role as a teacher. Immersed in learning, actively asking questions and quietly reflecting, I came back eager to share not just about Israel but the importance of constructing your own opinions. In a world often shaped by social and popular media, we sometimes lose our own views. I want my students to form their own opinions based on their experiences, and I will continue to encourage their individual thought and development.

Israel is a country of unfathomable complexity, layered in history and culture. Its duality can be seen in the mingling of minarets with menorahs, in the observance of traditions coupled with progressive values. It’s both the center of ancient religions and a world leader in innovation. The Faculty Fellowship was a journey through the heart of Israel that has forever changed me. I took so much with me, and I hope I left something behind.

Dr. Jennie Ryan is an assistant professor at the Jefferson College of Nursing.

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