In May 2022, IU graduates in caps, gowns, and colored tassels lined up in the late spring heat. Between shifting peers, waves to smiling guests in the stands, and the swift exchange of degrees and handshakes onstage, it was hard to focus on one student in particular. But in that bustling line was Levi Gettleman, an award-winning graduate of the Borns Jewish Studies Program, one of the nation’s largest, oldest, and most comprehensive programs of its kind.
50 years ago, Jewish culture at IU took two great leaps forward that have defined the experiences of students, faculty, and international partners alike in the decades that followed – the first study abroad trip to Israel and establishment of the Jewish Studies Program on the Bloomington campus. From a group of IU students exploring the early stages of a budding partnership abroad, all the way to a student waiting for his name to be called at commencement, draw his time at IU to a close, and continue toward his future.
Though Levi was only at IU for three years, graduating early and beginning rabbinical studies the next fall, he reflects on the faculty and community that he grew alongside in his short but impactful time at IU: “There’s something remarkable about the feeling of belonging and having a place where I can be my true, authentic self.”
But how did IU get to this point?
In 1971, a handful of Indiana University study abroad students arrived at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HUJ), the first Israel-based exchange in IU’s history. They had few expectations; there was no handbook to guide them through the process as they grabbed their belongings and headed to their new home for the semester.
Part of signing up for study abroad is stepping outside of your expectations and seeing the world, but in the first few days of jet lag, culture shock, and adjustment, the reality feels overwhelming. Terry Hendin and her future husband Ron Hendin were among those first study abroad students in 1971, and despite—or perhaps because of—the difficulties of navigating an entirely new system in a new culture, they gained invaluable experiences that they took home and shared with others.(more…)