The reflection below comes to us from Bevin Branlandingham. Bevin is a REALITY participant and recently returned from the REALITY Israel Matters Deep Dive event, a two-day, discussion-based gathering that focused on issues affecting modern Israel and U.S.-Israel relations. See photos.

On December 4th and 5th, the Schusterman Foundation piloted their first REALITY Israel Matters Deep Dive. Drawing on alumni of previous REALITY trips, they gave us more Israel content, building on what we learned and experienced during the REALITY trip to Israel—a not a lot of sleep, jam packed schedule, leadership building, social justice focused, lifetime friendship making summer camp type experience on a tour bus.

The Deep Dive took place at the Whittemore House, which was not a house so much as a big ol’ mansion. Antiquey, homey and full of paintings of First Ladies since it also serves as the Woman’s National Democratic Club. (Once I saw that on Instagram, the quantity of Hillary Clinton art made more sense.) Our small facilitation group had a couple of conversations about which of the fancy antique chairs were okay to sit on.

They used all parts of the house, we moved around every hour or two. This made the time go by quick. By day two going up and down the stairs/elevator together we created that group-in-motion-discovering-new-things mentality that we had in Israel. Suddenly, it is as if we were on the tour bus again. Learning stuff, traipsing somewhere else pairing off to have conversations as you moved, learning more stuff, changing rooms once again and devolving into conversation, then a new modality for learning more stuff, then an epic lunch. The pace of the REALITY trips is part of the program's culture and by repeating it during the Deep Dive, it dropped us in where we left off on Day 8 of our trips, only this time with different people.

In my experience, a Schusterman event is a thoughtful gathering that facilitates connection, intimacy with Jewish culture, themes of social justice and exceptional food. It did not surprise me that the Deep Dive was so thoroughly and thoughtfully orchestrated, and the staff rose to an impressive level creating a truly special experience.

Congresspeople, journalists, commentators, scholars, Schusterman grantee organizations, artists and many more were on our agenda. A strong theme was how to be both vocally pro-Israel and pro-justice. We talked a lot about moving forward in a Trump America, especially working collaboratively across minority groups, how to vet news sources, and which outlets are creating trustworthy content.

In one session, we could choose our own adventure with Israel 101 or 201. I chose 101 for communications assistance talking about my experiences in Israel. It was an interactive seminar about values with deep emphasis on our experience on the REALITY trip.

Nearly all of the REALITY trip participants at the gathering had a leadership role, which deepened the community experience. Some led seminars on storytelling, performed, emceed, facilitated panel discussions. One alum even led partner yoga and a dance break. My assignment was in line with my curiosities post-trip—I was the panel moderator for the breakout session on minority experiences in Israel.

There were also lots of un-facilitated experiences, including an Israel Library with all of these books you could take and a station for taking an Instax—that’s what they’re calling polaroids now. Everyone wrote a paragraph about a memorable moment on the REALITY trip for our event registration and the stories were up on a poster with our pictures, which provided a great way to get to know folks from the different cohorts. There was an installation art shuk with heaps of dates, tangerines and Bamba (an Israeli peanut butter puff snack I discovered on REALITY and was delighted to reunite with at the Deep Dive)! Bonding over the Shustershuk was an easy way to connect with folks.

There was an optional Sunday morning program at the Newseum with panelists from Politico and The Atlantic. We talked about journalism during the U.S. election and the vitality of conscious news and media consumption. The Deep Dive ended on Monday evening. Some folks left but I was excited to keep hanging out with the REALITY mispucha and have a great meal with even more of the alumni! The Schustermenu was dreamy, of course. A bunch of additional Storytellers met up with us and we held it down extra loud. We couldn’t help it, we’ve only known each other for three months but already feel very embedded in each others’ lives. It was very exciting to reunite!

This event was a Deep Dive into Israel and each other. Deepening existing connections and creating a bunch of new ones. I was curious about Tech, Global and all of the other trips, it’s been so cool getting to know them. With all of our different strengths we have such a unique opportunity to collaborate to create change, and Tikkun Olam—repairing the world—is our common value. People on my trip had some amazing life transformations as a result and I was excited to hear that the ripple effect was happening for alumni of other trips. Since the election I’ve been really bummed and it has been hard to feel positive, but being around all of these change-makers helped energize me. Knowing people who are working to make the world better gives me hope that we can repair the world.

With twelve new REALITY trips slated for 2017, the alumni group is about to get booming. We have such fertile ground to create a really special community! I am so excited to learn more about the projects of fellow REALITY alumni—especially collaborations among us and Schusterman grantee organizations because so far they’re all really cool. I want to deepen my understanding of minority experiences in Israel, and develop more dimension to my understanding of the pathway to peace in the Middle East. I’m energized by these gatherings and I can’t wait to see what’s next!

The Charles and Lynn Schusterman Family Foundation is proud to empower emerging leaders to explore their values, identity and new ways to strengthen their communities. We believe that as we work together to repair the world, it is important to share our diverse experiences and perspectives along the way. We encourage the expression of personal thoughts and reflections here on the Schusterman blog. Each post reflects solely the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the views of the Foundation, its partner organizations or all program participants.