Jewish Students Visit Israel Through Birthright Israel 2001
This was the third Birthright Israel tour since the program’s beginning last winter. The program sends thousands of Jewish students from around the world on a free trip to Israel, and was designed to connect them to their heritage. The founding chairmen, Charles Bronfman and Michael Steinhardt, believe it is every Jewish person’s “birthright” to have the opportunity to visit Israel. After meeting each applicant, Liebschutz uses a lottery system to determine who goes on the trip.
Liebschutz is the head of Chapel House’s Jewish professional staff. He coordinates Jewish activity for colleges in the Albany area, including UAlbany, Russell Sage, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, and Union; he provides resources, program ideas, and other types of support for the Jewish groups on campus. Liebschutz says, “Birthright Israel is a real tool to strengthen our community.” The tour is not a pilgrimage; rather, it’s “a much broader sense of connecting to your heritage.”
Rebecca Charhon is the University’s Jewish Campus Service Corps Fellow; she has direct contact with the students and their programs. “Birthright Israel gives them the chance to go because they would not have been able to go for years. To experience Israel with these students who have never been there before was a connection you can’t get anywhere else,” said Charhon, who herself was a first- time visitor.
Birthright Israel incorporated the spiritual, religious, cultural, and physical aspects of Israel. Students visited the Western Wall, the Dead Sea, Masada, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, and the Golan Heights.
Liebschutz says, “Hillel has an educational component that other programs don’t.” The group held regular “conversations,” group discussions about how different sites affected them.
The students had fun on the trip, swimming in the Red Sea, hiking through the Galilee Region, floating in the Dead Sea, and riding camels. At the same time, they were encouraged to keep journals. Charhon says the idea of the conversations and journals was to keep the trip and its purpose in perspective so the students were not simply touring or vacationing in Israel but “really taking it in.”
The trip was nearly canceled due to the present conflict between the Palestinians and Israelis over Jerusalem. Duke University canceled its tour; UAlbany had 40 openings, but six students dropped out because they were concerned about Israel’s situation and their safety. Liebschutz was in charge of the logistics and made sure the students’ safety would not be compromised.
Freshman Richard Wachtel of Great Neck said, “I was a little nervous before going, but they (tour organizers) were very cautious about how and where we went. Security was always around us; we had a medic and a gunman from the Israeli Army.” Since all Israelis are mandated to serve in the army - at least three years for men and two years for women - once they turn 18, the bus driver and the tour guide also had military training.
Birthright Israel 2001 was a success; many of the students left the trip with stronger bonds to their religion and heritage.
“I got a real sense of what is going on there. I’m getting more connected with Judaism; I wasn’t (as connected) in high school and I was really annoyed with that,” said Wachtel.
Mike Seilback of Dix Hills, a recent UAlbany graduate with a bachelor’s degree in political science, is now studying public administration at Rockefeller College. He says he read about Israel in Hebrew School, but to actually see it “was absolutely amazing, the most unbelievable experience. I feel much more connected as a Jewish person; when I see people from the trip on campus or out, I’m reminded of the experience.”
Hillel Vice President Arie Lipnick, a sophomore from Brooklyn studying political science and English says, “I was raised an orthodox Jew, and still am. I wanted to see where all the values I was taught came from and understand them. I don’t want to follow it (Judaism) blindly; I wanted to have a greater grasp of it. Golan Heights made me feel a deep love for Israel, and the Western Wall made me feel a deep love for Judaism.”
The students also visited Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum. Visitors were able to retrieve from a database scanned images of authentic handwritten identification of Jews who were saved or killed during the Holocaust.
Junior Rachel Harrison of Plattsburgh says, “The part that made me break out into tears was seeing the names of my grandfather’s first wife and daughter. To see his handwriting when he just passed away was really sad.” As a resident of a town with a small Jewish population, Harrison said, “It was neat to see how many Jews out there my age cared about learning about their heritage.”
The next Birthright Israel tour is scheduled for June 2001. For more information or to apply, click on www.BirthrightIsrael.org.
Doctoral Student on SUNY Board of Trustees
After being accepted into UAlbany’s doctoral program, Holland was elected president of the Student Assembly. As president, he serves as the student trustee on the State University Board of Trustees.
“I am different from my predecessors because higher education is what I want to do,” said Holland. “So I take a personal interest in the issues before the Board of Trustees.”
A native of Machias, a small town in western New York, Holland earned an associate’s degree from Jamestown Community College, and bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Fredonia. He has been active in student government since his days at Fredonia, where he was vice president of the statewide Student Assembly.
Holland said development of a rational tuition policy is critical to the future of SUNY.
“Campus services can deteriorate when tuition is suppressed for a number of years,” he said. “And when tuition is allowed to increase, the students have already been deprived of the quality of services they expected.” He also wants to look at how fees are used and why some campuses have higher fees than others.
In addition, Holland is intent on improving the quality of student life, which he sees as inseparable from student retention.
Toward that end, he is expected to visit 30 community colleges this year to assess the status of student life.
Research Anxiety Disorders
Louisiana native Connie Veazey, a fourth-year student, aspires to a career “as a professor at a university, where I can continue to do research and clinical work with people.” To that end, she has embarked upon a study, with Albany Medical Center emergency department physician Dr. John Broderick, of accident victims with non-traumatic brain injury. “I’m assessing them within a month of their accidents - and following up after three months, six months, and a year - to see if the stress they experience develops into Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).”
The University of Southern Louisiana graduate became interested in working with this particular population after participating in research conducted by CSAD director Edward B. Blanchard. That program involved the study of motor vehicle accident victims one to four months post-accident. By reaching out to these people sooner, Veazey hopes to determine how their initial reactions will predict their progress over a longer period of time. In turn, she would like to be able to ascertain how early intervention might help to alleviate or avoid problems.
Nearly all the available research on this subject, Veazey pointed out, indicates that “60 to 80 percent of people having noticeable problems in one week will be having acute stress symptoms later.” Those symptoms include jumpiness, sleep disturbances, re-experiencing the accident through traumatic memory and dreams, and avoidance of driving. “There are some dissociative symptoms, too. These include the victim’s sense of being ‘out of body’ - of seeing the accident happen, but as if the individual were watching it from the outside - and of time distortion, as if it were being replayed in slow motion. Often, accident victims may lose their peripheral vision, or develop hazy or fuzzy vision. Those symptoms are the mind’s way of protecting a person,” noted Veazey.
They also may indicate who is likely to have difficulties later on. Thus far, Veazey has seen 27 accident victims through what began as “a pilot study” last summer. She plans to base her dissertation on her findings.
For his dissertation, third-year student and certified social worker Brian Freidenberg of Buffalo plans to continue his work with people who suffer from tinnitus. Commonly referred to as a ringing in the ears, tinnitus is “the perception of sound in the absence of actual sound,” according to Freidenberg, whose past work with CSAD has included the assessment and treatment of pathological gamblers.
Most of its sufferers describe tinnitus as “humming, hissing, and cricket-like sounds loud enough to disrupt people’s lives. Since tinnitus is difficult to ignore, it can interfere with concentration, which can be very distressing,” Freidenberg said.
Tinnitus has other repercussions, as well. Many of the afflicted report that it stresses them so much that “they aren’t able to be around a lot of people because the sound level increases,” he explained. Hence, they avoid parties and other social gatherings. For many, “it’s especially problematic at night; it disturbs their sleep.”
A common accompaniment of hearing loss, tinnitus is most prevalent among those aged 40 to 80. It is rarely found in the young adult population. One question that remains to be answered, however, is whether the tendency of young people during the past three decades to crank up the volume on their car radios and home sound systems will cause an upsurge in the number of tinnitus cases in years to come.
Freidenberg’s immediate goal is to complete this study, “then do a larger scale project with this population for my dissertation.” Currently, he works with 17 members of the Capital Region chapter of the American Tinnitus Association, a national non-profit organization that seeks to advance tinnitus research, and educate both patients and professionals. He has been invited to Washington D.C. to present preliminary findings of his research at the Eastern Psychological Association’s 72nd annual meeting in April.
Freidenberg, who “proudly” earned master’s degrees in clinical psychology and social work from UAlbany, is developing “a treatment that involves muscle relaxation, the use of imagery, and education to help people cope with their tinnitus.” Long term, he would like to pursue a career in higher education and continue conducting research on the populations he has worked with thus far.
While working with motor vehicle accident victims at CSAD, Kristin Tatrow also discovered an interest in a particular population: people afflicted with chronic headaches.
Tatrow, who has worked with that particular group for three years, now works also with people whose chronic headaches are “sports related; work related, such as falls; and related to head injuries resulting from other causes.” She pointed out that it is common for people who have been involved in accidents that result in such injuries to develop PTSD, “along with depression and other psychological symptoms.”
Currently in charge of Blanchard’s National Institute of Mental Health-funded headache grant, Tatrow decided to conduct a study of headache sufferers because “it is in line with my interest in headaches and pain management. It also fits with the other work I have conducted at the center - specifically, with MVA survivors.”
The fourth-year student became interested in chronic headache sufferers for another reason. “There has been a lot of research on tension and migraine headaches,” she observed, but little, if any, on “headaches caused by trauma to the head and neck.”
Tatrow, of New Jersey, now works with people who were involved in the motor vehicle accident study at CSAD; “I’m also placing ads for doctors’ referrals.” Through her work, “I hope to get a better understanding of psychological treatment for these people,” she explained.
At this point, Tatrow is focusing her efforts on developing a treatment that combines “relaxation, biofeedback, and stress management” specifically for the headaches, “as well as for any associated symptoms, like post-traumatic stress disorder.”
Polish Language, Culture to UAlbany Students
Piotr Pienkowski, who teaches at Jagiellonian University in Krakow, arrived at Albany last fall on a Kosciuszko Foundation fellowship. This spring, he is teaching Polish 102, a continuation of the language course he taught during the Fall 2000 semester. In mid-March, he will introduce a fourth-quarter class, Modern Poland in Literature and Film, that will explore the nation’s “political and sociological points of view” as expressed in prose, poetry, and drama. He also plans to teach a similar course during the summer.
In the Modern Poland class, Pienkowski will introduce his students to such literati as science fiction writer Stanislaw Lem; Tadeusz Konwicki, author of The Minor Apocalypse, a 1980s work about the wane of Communism in Poland; and dramatist Janusz Glowacki, whose black comedy Hunting Cockroaches reflects his own experiences as a Polish expatriate in New York two decades ago. Other writers to be featured include 1980 Nobel laureate Czeslaw Milosz and Wislawa Szymborska, winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize for Literature. In addition, class participants will preview films by such noted Polish filmmakers as Krzysztof Kieslowski (The Decalogue, the trilogy Red, White, and Blue) and Agnieszka Holland (Europa! Europa!).
Pienkowski professes being “surprised at how much interest there is in Polish studies” at UAlbany. Many of his students, he points out, have no connection with Poland, either by birth or by ancestry. Still, “they are interested in my country for a variety of reasons. Some have read a book about Poland or studied its history. Others have expressed interest in going there to study or find a job. There is a great demand for teachers of English in Poland now. And many companies, such as IBM and Motorola, are expanding in Eastern Europe, particularly in the industrial centers - Warsaw, Krakow, Gdansk, and Poznan,” says Pienkowski.
He seeks to promote student and faculty exchanges between his native land and the United States. However, he feels that it is very important for students considering careers or study in Poland to become grounded first in the nation’s language and culture before relocating. “In 1989 and 1990, a lot of Americans were sent to Poland by their companies, but they had no understanding of Polish culture,” he says. “They did not know the language or anything about that corner of the world. From the point of view of American business, it makes sense to educate American students about Poland.” Pienkowski sees his mission at Albany, in part, as “helping my students to learn the language and culture so that they won’t be paralyzed or disoriented by Polish reality.”
That reality has changed a great deal. Ravaged during two world wars and oppressed by Communism for nearly 50 years, Poland is now addressing the challenges of a free market economy. Hence, many second- and third-generation Americans of Polish descent “have an idea of the country, but sometimes the idea differs from the reality,” Pienkowski contends. “Modern Poland is totally different.” Often, for example, “I am really fascinated when [my students] speak Polish. They speak a language nobody speaks any longer in Poland, except, perhaps, some villagers who live outside the large cities.”
Reality is a two-way street, however, as Pienkowski himself has found. A veteran of 18 years as a teacher of English and of American literature at Jagiellonian, he has also taught at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. In Poland, he observes, elementary and secondary schools “everywhere” teach the same curriculum, so there is “a common frame of reference, a general orientation to the world. There is a canon. Here, it is different. Boards of education in different cities determine what will be taught.”
Thus it was that Pienkowski was caught off guard one day in North Carolina. “I was teaching Faulkner, one of my favorite American writers,” he recalls. “I mentioned that he had received a Nobel Prize - and one of my students raised his hand and asked who Nobel was! In Poland, every kid in school knows who Nobel was.”
Happily, no such misfortune has befallen Pienkowski in an Albany classroom. Although his students “sometimes complain that I demand too much from them,” he says, he refuses to use “different standards for my students here” than he does for the ones at home.
Currently living in Guilderland with his wife Joanna and their 12-year-old son, Jas, Pienkowski enjoys his profession regardless of the venue in which it is practiced. “I like teaching,” he says. “It is a challenge; it is exciting. I hope what I am doing will help the young people here to acquire some Polish language and culture.”