This week, I was given the opportunity to speak at an American Jewish Committee event in Seattle. It was their annual reception and campaign event, meant to inform donors about recent AJC action and advocacy. I was sent on a weeklong free trip to Israel about a year ago by a group called Project Interchange, which is a division of AJC, so AJC was looking for some testimonials from people in the area who had taken this trip in the past year.
I did not get an opportunity to share much about my trip while I was editor in chief of the student newspaper at The Evergreen State College, so it was nice to be able to talk about it at this event. I’m always pretty cautious when I’m approached for things like this. I have told AJC and Project Interchange that while I wrote positive things about the trip, I do not want those things published in promo material for either organization.
The event last night did not receive media coverage and I was not able to stay for the duration, but it primarily centered on environmental education, recognizing AJC’s and Israel’s progress in reducing oil dependency and finding alternative energy resources.
I was one of three “testimonial” speakers; I spoke second and for only two minutes. My speech is after the jump:
Hi, my name is Jo Sahlin. I was the editor in chief of the student newspaper at the Evergreen State College last year. I was asked to attend a free weeklong AJC Project Interchange trip to Israel for campus media editors, but I have to confess that I didn’t jump at the chance. I was waiting for the catch, sure they would use this opportunity to push a pro-Israel agenda on me. In the limited time I had to accept the offer, I did tons of research. I talked to people who had taken the trip before, did some online sleuthing, and consulted with the newspaper advisor and my staff. Apart from being encouraged to blog about our experiences, there really was no catch, and I couldn’t very well say no to an experience I knew would be thought-provoking and educational, if not life-changing.
I was continually impressed with the organization of the trip, the speakers, the range of ideas we were exposed to, and the beauty of the country in general. I was also grateful that they did not, in fact, use the trip to convince us of a pro-Israel agenda. But it was most meaningful to me to be on the trip with other students from the US of similar backgrounds. It proved to be immeasurably important that we could collectively have this experience, both examining our trip through a journalistic lens, and studying journalism through the lens of an unfamiliar country and culture.
I had made a pact with the rest of the student newspaper members back at Evergreen that I would not write any stories for the paper about Israel or divestment after taking the trip, to minimize bias. So I did not directly use my experience for journalistic purposes. But it turned out to be those connections with my peers that I took home with me. I could have met other journalism students and editors from across the US, but without having the context of this trip, our discussions about human nature and my advances in critical thinking would never have been so powerful.
So I thank AJC and Project Interchange for giving me that invaluable experience! And for giving me the chance to speak about it here today. Thank you!