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I was struck by this glowing account of Israel and Israeli academia from a doctoral student who visited here:

Everyone I contacted or met with in Haifa was genuinely welcoming and extremely helpful. The graduate student who shares my research interests received me - a complete stranger - in her home, helped me to settle down in Acre, and supported me throughout my stay with contacts, interviews, and so much more.

Something to think about, perhaps, for those insisting on boycotts of Israel. There is more:

The professors at the Technion met with me, provided official and technical support for my research, linked me with professors and students with similar research interests all over the country, and invited me to present my work in their department. The professors at Haifa University were no less welcoming or generous with their time, advice, and offer of support.

It was simply overwhelming. From the gentleman at the train station that first night, to Arab and Jewish cab and sherut - communal taxi - drivers, to students at the Technion and Haifa Universities, everyone was simply nice.

I PARTICULARLY enjoyed a trip from Haifa University down to the city, where the gregarious voice and contagious laughter of the Arab sherut driver, combined with the mix of Arab, Druse and Jewish students (probably more, but that was all my inexperienced eye could detect) bewildered me. All smiled and helped, offered advice on the best transportation back to Acre. Some even went out of their way - despite my objections - to take me literally by hand to the train station.

Similarly, and after a trip to the Technion, a student, also unaffected by my answer to his question about where I was from, went off the bus with me and walked me to my next stop. While waiting for one of my meetings at a small local caf in downtown Haifa, I observed how Arab owners interacted with their wide mix of clients. Everyone smiled, acted cordially and respectfully to each other; something - unfortunately - I thought other cities lacked.

Looking back, I realize that Haifa was the only place where people sincerely smiled, where the air was not thick with tension, and where there existed a wonderful mix of all backgrounds, religious and ethnic. Not only was there diversity - Israel is generally diverse - it was how people enjoyed the mix that distinguished Haifa.

One might speculate more about what makes Haifa so special, and propose theories that range from geographical compositions to demographic ones. What is important is that, like many other visitors, I will always cherish my Haifa memories.

So don't miss Haifa when you are in the Middle East, even if you belong to the UCU or some other academic union that boycotts Israel. Oh yes, I forgot to mention the nationality of this doctoral student. Perhaps it matters. She is Luna Khirfan, a Jordanian architect-planner, doing her doctorate at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning in the University of Michigan.

I will add that I felt the same warmth and willingness to reach out and be helpful when we visited Amman.

Ami Isseroff

Original content is Copyright by the author 2006. Posted at ZioNation-Zionism and Israel Web Log, http://www.zionism-israel.com/log/archives/00000136.html where your intelligent and constructive comments are welcome. Disributed by ZNN list. Subscribe by sending a message to ZNN-subscribe@yahoogroups.com. Please forward by e-mail with this notice, cite this article and link to it. Other uses by permission only.

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