At 8:55 a.m. on Friday, Professor of History Paul Rahe received a call from Provost David Whalen about the opportunity for 45 Hillsdale students to visit Israel for only $500 each. Whalen asked Rahe and Assistant Professor of Religion Don Westblade to organize the trip. The next day at 11:21 a.m., Rahe sent an email to the entire student body announcing the opportunity and outlining in detail the necessary steps a potential applicant should take to apply.
By Monday morning, Rahe had received what he estimated to be near 100 applications. After handing those off to Westblade, he received another 41 by Wednesday.
According to Rahe, there is one main obstacle to the incredible opportunity — the time constraint, especially concerning passports.
“After 9/11, the State Department got very, very careful,” Rahe said. “If you go to the website, which I did before sending the email, it said four to five weeks. Assuming it takes a few days to get one’s act together, we’re not much more than six weeks away from January 3.”
While the GPA criterion for application consideration was set at 3.0, Rahe said the other factors of the decision are moderately arbitrary. Those interested in Christianity and politics, especially Middle Eastern politics, would be more seriously considered because of the trip’s applicability to their field of study. In addition, the accepted students would ideally be students who are leaders on campus.
Senior Mattie VanderBleek heard about the opportunity and started the application process immediately.
“I thought it was an amazing opportunity and was very thankful to Dr. Rahe and Dr. Westblade for being so quick to get out the information and put everything together so quickly to let students know about one of the best opportunities I’ve heard of since I’ve been in college,” she said.
Rahe said the trip will avoid the West Bank, not going into heavily contested areas for the safety of students.
“Going to Israel is like going to Chicago or going to Washington, D.C.,” Rahe said. “There are certain neighborhoods one would be ill-advised to go to. The likelihood of being on the receiving end of violence in Israel is rather like being on the receiving end of violence if you’re in the Washington Hillsdale Internship Program, which is to say, yes, it can happen. But it’s more likely to happen in some neighborhoods or at some times than at others.”
The flight will leave New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport on Jan. 3 and return on Jan. 15.
The Philos Project, which is funding the trip, is a Christian organization. It received a large amount of money from hedge fund manager Paul Singer, who is Jewish, which enables the organization to send students to Israel.
“The point of view that one is primarily going to encounter is the Israeli point of view,” Rahe said. “So one has to understand that and take it with a grain of salt. They’ll have a meeting with a Palestinian journalist at one point, so it won’t be entirely one-sided.”
Rahe said the list of accepted students for the trip will be released early next week.