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Sarah Sullivan pictured in jerusalem

International Affairs major Sarah Sullivan decided to minor in Jewish Studies after participating in this summer’s Dialogue of Civilizations trip to Israel.  Here she reflects on her experience in Israel, her interest in Jewish Studies, and her plans to enter the Methodist ministry.

How did you learn about the trip to Israel?

I had been on a Dialogue before to Jordan in the summer of 2012 and really loved the experience. I looked up which Dialogues were being offered, and thought it would be a great experience.

What made you interested in going? Had you been to Israel before?

I had never been before, but I had always wanted to. Ever since I was little, I always had been a big history buff; my first dream career was being an archaeologist. Going to a place with so much history immediately enticed me. Also, I grew up in a part of Miami that was very saturated with American Jewish culture, so I’ve always had a certain comfort and curiosity about Judaism. In my adulthood, I came to appreciate how important it is to be well informed about what’s going on in Israel. As an International Affairs major with a concentration in the Middle East, it’s crucial.

What Jewish Studies courses have you taken and how did they inform your trip?

I had never taken a Jewish Studies course before going on the trip. For my major, I had taken Middle East Studies courses, which inevitably covered Israel. I had gone to Jordan the summer before, and absolutely loved it, but I had only been exposed to Israel through the Jordanian-Palestinian lens. By going to Israel, I would be able to widen my perspective.

How did you come to the decision to attend divinity school upon graduating from Northeastern? Did your exposure to Jewish Studies play a role in that decision?

It took me a long time to decide that I wanted to take the plunge and apply to Divinity School. It took a lot of discernment and prayer to come to the decision, but now I’m very excited to start this new chapter in my life. The idea of attending graduate school classes on theology is just thrilling to me.

I had already made the decision that I wanted to go to Divinity School before going on the trip, but my experience in Israel was definitely very affirming. Since the majority of students on the trip were Jewish, a lot of people were interested in what I was doing post-grad, and would ask me questions about Christianity, which was refreshing. Visiting many of the important Christian sites was spiritually profound to me.

Where will you be attending divinity school? How did you choose that school?

I haven’t heard back from anywhere yet! But I’m applying to schools within the Wesleyan tradition because of my personal beliefs and intended career path. Wesleyan tradition just means the different denominations and movements who are founded based on the principles of the theologian John Wesley. These denominations include the many different forms of Methodism. I’m a United Methodist, so a degree from a school within this tradition would be helpful to me.

Can you describe the most moving religious experience you had in Israel?

One day we got to see the Mount of Beatitudes and Capernaum, places that are extremely significant in the Gospels. It was really moving for me, because the setting of these stories that I have studied and cherished suddenly became real. I would say these sites were even more moving than the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, because that church is so built up and adorned that you have no idea what the setting actually looked like in earlier times. Seeing things as they were in the first century is a lot more significant to me than seeing gilded crosses and ornate murals, although I understand the cultural importance of these things as well.

Can you describe the most fun you had in Israel?

I loved having Shabbat dinners together! It was a treat to participate in this tradition. We would all go to the market to buy fresh ingredients for our contributions to the potluck dinners. Some of my more patient classmates also took the time to teach me how to cook a thing or two. The friendships were really the best part of the trip.

How do you think the trip will affect your religious studies going forward?

I think I’ll definitely have some bragging rights in Divinity School, haha. But in all seriousness, I think interfaith relations are a really important part of ministry. By going on the Israel Dialogue, I was able to learn a lot about Judaism that I didn’t know before the trip. I think that will definitely help me be able to reach out to Jewish faith communities in the future. I also have a greater appreciation of the shared history of Judaism and Christianity.

Do you know what you want to do with a divinity degree? How do you imagine Jewish Studies and your Israel experience will play a part in your career?

Right now, I’m thinking I will try to become a member of the ordained clergy of the United Methodist Church. The two paths that are really exciting to me is being a pastor of a church, or a chaplain in a hospital or retirement community. As I mentioned above, I think my experience in Israel will help me better appreciate Jewish tradition and history as I work with Jewish faith groups in my future ministry.

Read the rest of the Haverim Fall 2013 Newsletter here.