Aug 9, 2017  By Professor Karen Markel  Category: Travel,

'I won the lottery' on Faculty Fellowship 2017, professor says

Professor Markel planting a tree during Faculty Fellowship 2017. 

Jewish National Fund, along with Media Watch International, sends a group of professors on the Faculty Fellowship Program in Israel for 10 days of touring, learning, and sharing ideas with Israeli counterparts. Look out for reflections from this year's recently returned trip. Applications are being accepted for next year's program now

Human Resource Management, Oakland University

I can’t believe it took me nearly 50 years, but I finally made it to Israel thanks to the 2017 Faculty Fellowship Program. Israel had always been part of the conversation throughout my early Jewish education, and I grew up planting trees in Israel to honor someone’s memory or a special event. And here I was, finally getting a chance to visit the Jewish state and not only learn about its religious history but to make connections to my profession as professor of human resource management. I have been studying how business organizations can become more inclusive to people with disabilities in the United States. I was now going to learn specifically how Israel has been making employment more accessible for all its people.
The author at Mt. Bental. 

During my trip, I was able to meet with academics and practitioners with this mutual interest. I was initially drawn to pursue the Faculty Fellowship because early on in my research I had learned of how the Israel Defense Forces were integrating people with disabilities with their Special in Uniform Program.  Historically, military service has been a leader in incorporating minority groups into successful employment and I wanted to learn more about how Israel was on the forefront of this work. I was able to meet with the director of this program, Lt. Col (Res.) Tiran Attiaand learn about the work and success of this program.

Another stellar example of inclusivity in a professional environment is Tulip winery. Tulip employs independent adults, living in a community of people with disabilities, in their packaging operations. A previously uncharted operation and an additional challenge at a kosher establishment such as this, Tulip nevertheless provides a wonderful setting for both those they employ and the visitors who pass through their vineyards. We traveled as well to LOTEM - Making Nature Accessible and met with a young woman who had suffered from a mental illness that made her ineligible to fulfill her required IDF duties. However, she was providing national service through her work at LOTEM in supporting programs designed to bring nature to people with disabilities, an oft-overlooked quality of life requirement.

LOTEM, making nature accessible to all. 

I had the pleasure of having breakfast with Oren Helman, who has been working on increasing the level of employment of people with disabilities both in his own workplace as well as through changes in legislation necessitating proactive hiring of this minority group. 

These legislative challenges are experienced in the U.S. as well, despite anti-discrimination and inclusion laws being enacted. It was wonderful meeting with a fellow colleague in my field and sharing our mutual struggles, successes, hopes and dreams for our respective countries. The activities and meetings throughout the fellowship planted the seeds for my return trips to Israel for possible data collection, collaboration with various colleagues and perhaps even a future teaching gig, if the opportunity arises! 

Personally, I was finally able to put the state of Israel in context with my own Jewish identity. I left understanding the importance of a state for Jews the world over to call home, as well as the challenges that exist in the political and religious conflict. As I repeatedly told the trip organizers, “I won the lottery” when I was selected to take part in this trip. 

Last, but certainly not least, I made some new friends among the colleagues with whom I shared this adventure. We were able to critically examine much of the information we gathered while in Israel and I know many of us will continue to engage with each other and Israel in the future. On the last day of the trip I planted a tree at the Neot Kedumim Biblical Forest – what a great ending to this amazing experience. 

We are now accepting applications for the inaugural Winter 2017 Faculty Fellowship Program. Contact Rene Reinhard at 212.879.9305 ext. 235 or Eileen Wedeen at (212) 439-7855 for more information.