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Category Archives: Honors Program

This past Tuesday afternoon represented the culmination of a lot of work on my part, and additional motivation to go the last few miles and finish my Hell paper strong. Yesterday was the Honor’s Program Research Symposium, where the 5 students in the program were supposed to present the research they had done for their papers.

I opened the event with my presentation; I encourage you to watch the video of my speaking below, as it is a minor miracle. The week leading up to yesterday, I didn’t get to sleep earlier than 4 AM on any of those nights due to multiple assignments and my application to lead a trip to Vietnam this coming winter (hence the existence of an Exploratorius Vietnam, to be filled come January). As a matter of fact, I was up until 6:45 AM the morning of the presentation, finishing up bits of it and getting things done, so the fact that I gave the presentation without going into a coma was surprising, to say the least.

Other than my presentation “From GeHinnom to Hell: An Etymological and Conceptual History,” there were four other presentations given. After my talk was Micah, who hadn’t written a paper but instead presented preliminary research for his intended undergraduate thesis; a look into race relations and the Spanish Inquisition. After him, we got to hear Angela’s presentation on mainline Protestant churches (i.e. ELCA, PCUSA, and the Episcopalians) and their theology regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The fourth presenter was Keenan, who had a fascinating talk on the constantly-evolving state of religious law (his two examples were excellent: 1) the thousand-year absence of the special blue die for tzitzit; and 2) an inquiry into just how and why the Pope of the Catholic Church has managed to attain Papal Infallibility, and the implications therein. Soly, who hadn’t originally planned on presenting, decided to go to the front and do a short impromptu presentation on the general methods of governance in Islamic states and why, which although short, was quite interesting.

Here is the PDF of my paper, for those people interested in reading it. The photo gallery will eventually be expanded to include a photograph of the cover of the publication my paper ends up in, as has been explained to me by Dr. Knafo of the Honor’s program.

(you need to right-click the link, and then choose “Save link as” in order to get the PDF to download properly)

From GeHinnom to Hell

Creative Commons License
From Gehinnom to Hell: An Etymological and Conceptual History by Michael A. Repas is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.

(embedded youtube videos from Keenan will be here in the near future)

Here are a few photographs taken by Yoni Kaplan, head of the Rothberg School (drawn from here, so go check out the rest):

At the end of the week when I visited Nablus and so forth (the preceding 3 posts here), I attended the second talk put on by the Honor’s Program here. One of the professors in Rothberg is a psychologist who focuses on creativity as one of her primary teaching topics, and thus she was the ideal candidate for a presentation for us, given our Program’s theme of creativity for the semester.

As it turns out, much of what she taught us I had previously learned in two courses at AU: “Psychology as Science,” and “Language and the Human Experience.” Therefore, the lecture part of the event was less intriguing to me, but the papers she handed out were fascinating. The best of the papers she handed out had multiple sets of three words, and we had to come up with a fourth. As drawn directly from the sheet’s instructions and contents, have a look at what I mean:

Directions: Find a fourth word that is related to all three words listed below. For example, what word is related to “cookies, sixteen, heart?” The answer is “sweet.” Cookies are sweet; sweet is part of the word “sweetheart” and the phrase “sweet sixteen.”

Do this in 10 minutes.

1) surprise, line, birthday
2) base, snow, dance
3) rat, blue, cottage
4) nap, rig, call
5) golf, foot, country
6) house, weary, ape
7) tiger, plate, news
8 ) painting, bowl, nail
9) proof, sea, priest
10) maple, beef, loaf
11) oak, show, plan
12) light, village, golf
13) merry, out, up
14) cheese, courage, oven
15) red, star, house

And, now a short poll so there is a space between questions and answers:

1) party
2) ball
3) cheese
4) cat
5) club
6) dog
7) paper
8 ) finger
9) high
10) sugar
11) floor
12) green
13) make
14) Dutch
15) light

Last Thursday, the Honors program took us to the Bloomfield Science Museum in Jerusalem, as part of the semester’s theme of creativity. We took a chartered bus over to the museum, which is across the street from the other Hebrew University Givat Ram campus.

Arriving, we instantly noticed that we were the oldest people present to tour the museum by at least 9 years, which was slightly offsetting. We eventually made our way into the museum, and met our British tour guide. We started off the afternoon with logical puzzles, requiring us to solve problems of making several smaller non-uniform shapes into a bigger one (randomly-shaped pieces of wood into the letter ‘T’ for example), which my buddy Keenan and I were all over. For me personally, it was a pleasant and unexpected immersion back into Program Challenge (PC) from elementary school, and thus the day instantly became more enjoyable.

We got to tour much of the museum in terms of exhibitions, and got the much more intensive explanations from our guide, with a focus on creativity. It is a science museum, so most of it isn’t necessarily worth mentioning, but there was one odd point in the first part of the tour: the one exhibit was a series of different metals, with a low voltage and amperage current flowing through it to allow people to connect the circuits with their arms and see how much electricity was passing through them. The other people around me were getting readings of about 35/-35 from the meter, whereas my completing the circuit was literally off the scale (which only went up to 90/-90). Apparently, I am Iron Man.

The high point of the tour was the linguistic portions, as our guide is a student of linguistics and it fascinates me personally. We did an activity where he read a real word in English and then everyone had to try and write the proper definition. “Psychopomp” ended up meaning “a device used to send souls to the afterlife in the ancient world.” “Merinome” ended up referring to “the midpoint between two objects” (and not some sort of reference to Hobbits). We also did an activity where 9 pictures represented 9 ideas/things, and then a speaker read them out randomly in a random language, and we had to guess what was being referred to. Things like a cat, ice cream, and a symbol for needing help (a hand reaching out of water) were read and our best was 7 out of 9. We then had to solve the same images using a language called Bliss, which has been developed to use symbols to describe ideas and words in a way that would make sense to a child (and is used to help kids who have been sexually abused talk about their situation).

Finally, we got to do one last linguistics game, which involved a few volunteers. Each person stood up at the front of the group, and then our guide selected three obtuse words from several lists. He also randomly selected a background story, and then the volunteer had to instantly embark on an improvised tale which started with the short background tale, and then worked in the obtuse words. The object of the game was for the rest of the group to try and guess which of the words were forced into the story, by paying attention to body language and verbal cues from the person speaking. I volunteered, and my story had to include “radishes,” “igloo,” and “Camembert.” My background story was, somewhat ideally, that I was at dinner with my boss and he introduced a young lady eating with us as his daughter. I got up and gripped the podium (can’t have any shaking of the hands when it comes to stealth insertion of words into stories, can we), and started off with my tale of woe and renewal; of danger and regained safety; of cliches and original content. That introduction aside, my story basically turned into a purported anecdote of all the places I have been able to dine, as I allegedly relayed to the daughter. This allowed me to work in radishes as part of the salads being offered, and Camembert as an accoutrement. Igloo was the most difficult to work in, and thus I made the snap decision to explain that my various dining places have included boats in the ocean, tiki huts on islands, mudbrick homes in Africa, and even igloos in the Arctic. How did I do? I am happy to report that no one was able to guess all three of the words I had to put into my story, but a few people were able to guess two (igloo being one of them, as that is a fairly obvious candidate for not belonging in most sentences).

All in all, it was an entertaining day.

Check out a few sample photographs taken by Mr. Kaplan, of the HU faculty:

Keenan, Angela, and I, having successfully completed the Da Vinci bridge riddle:

Yours truly, arguing about something (Mr. Kaplan is a good candid photographer):

The Honors group, and some invited guests, all looking on as our British guide explained how optical illusions go about fooling one’s eyes:

Go check out the other photographs taken that day, all by taken by Mr. Yonatan Kaplan of the Hebrew University (and posted here with his explicit permission), at this site.

Earlier this week, on Tuesday, I got to go to the first Honor’s lecture while here at the Rothberg International School. Not a very big or old program, we number five this semester; Micah, Soly, Keenan, Angela, and myself. We also represent a huge amount of backgrounds; respectively, we include liberal reconstructionist Jewish, modern Orthodox Jewish, Muslim, raised Catholic, and Lutheran. We make up the fairly uncommon abroad student honor’s program (I had never heard of such a thing before I got here and applied for it), and as such we have been asked to attend as many of their events as possible.

In any event, our small group was brought to the huge lecture room 300 in the Boyar building for an hour long lecture and discussion of the water issues facing Israelis and Palestinians. The professor, whose name escapes me, teaches geology here at Hebrew University, with his specialty being in water issues (of particular importance here in mostly arid Israel). He explained a lot of the issues at hand, and I thought I would try and relay this fascinating information here. Obviously, there are a lot of facets to the problems facing the Israelis and Palestinians, namely that they aren’t willing or able to get along. Well, allow me to spread a few more rays of sunshine for you: the water issues here are extremely complicated, and haven’t been solved even though they were a clear portion of the Oslo accords.

First of all, the aquifer (underground natural reservoir where water naturally percolates after rain) for Israel is predominantly under the territory of the West Bank, so all of the water which gets into the aquifer is affected by whatever chemicals and waste-water exists on the lands of the West Bank. This is compounded by a few factors: 1) the Oslo accords hold that all changes to water infrastructure in the West Bank have to be unanimously agreed upon by Israel and Palestine (so basically can never happen); 2) the Palestinians are unable to afford proper waste-treatment facilities and therefore are forced to let the waste-water contaminate the aquifer of the rest of Israel; and 3) their agriculture-based economy is dependent upon water, so Palestine can always claim to need more water that is rightfully theirs as it is under their lands and Israel can always claim it needs additional water because [as the professor relayed the argument to us] “Palestine should develop a ‘real’ economy which isn’t so dependent on water.

Leaving that series of issues where they lay, without any extra contemplation on my part, I relay the other side of this: beyond simply a huge need for water by all people here, the aforementioned waste-water has become a huge issue, beyond how it is described above. So the Palestinian waste-water isn’t treated and simply flows either into 1) the aquifer (as previously explained) or 2) towards Israel, and infects the ground water there. Therefore, Israel has engaged in something I hadn’t heard of before, “unilateral environmentalism.” Specifically, they have constructed waste treatment plants near the borders of the Palestinian lands, and treat their waste-water at Israel’s cost. Then, the lovely issue of where to redirect that contested- but now-clean water arises: to the nearby Palestinian communities who need it for agricultural uses, or to nearby Israelis, who paid for the process and the processing plants? I have no easy answer to this, to be sure.

And then comes a facet of this issue that I am personally involved in, as it turns out (had no idea of this before Tuesday, actually). The city of Jerusalem, beyond being visibly walled off between the east [Arabic] and west [Israeli] portions, apparently also segregates simply infrastructure that all of economics has deemed best should be run by one company (a natural monopoly): there exists what one might call two separate water infrastructures, at first glance. Then, upon closer inspection, the truth comes out quite a bit differently. West Jerusalem has the normal Israeli waste-water treatment facilities and pipelines to reach them. The east part of Jerusalem has a “system” for dealing with waste water too… it flows into the ground, outside the city wherever it can. And, due to the fact that Mount Scopus/Hebrew University is a veritable outpost of the Israeli part of Jerusalem within the eastern partition, it turns out that our waste-water also simply flows out of the city, without ever being treated at all. And, following this line of reasoning, it turns out that the watershed that Jerusalem naturally falls within drains into… the Dead Sea!! Hooray, its just like Lake Eire at home, with waste getting dumped into it… except the Dead Sea is actually a popular tourist location for people to go… swim and float around…. Yuck.

In any event, I am no expert about all of this, but finding out the level of complexity to this problem as only one component of the lovely cornucopia of issues here in Israel/Palestine certainly served to make my day brighter… 😦

That said, I do have to commend Israel’s environmental mindset in one way. For the past few decades, Israel has been the only country in the world to annually (and actively) increase the number of trees within the nation. Keeping in mind that water is so expensive here and that trees need quite a bit of water, that is quite a commitment (although, Israel did pioneer the extremely resource-efficient drip method of irrigation years ago, which assists in keeping resource usage down). Here’s hoping that they can make some more breakthroughs in this regard in the very near future… it seems as though a lot of places in the world would benefit.