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Immersed in Israel

  • Mallory Kahn-Johnston '12 hiked around Ein Gedi, an oasis on the shore of the Dead Sea.
    Mallory Kahn-Johnston '12 hiked around Ein Gedi, an oasis on the shore of the Dead Sea.
March 21, 2011
This article first appeared in the Spring 2011 edition of Washington College Magzine.

The first time Mallory Kahn-Johnston ’12 went to Israel, her visit coincided with the 2006 war with Lebanon.

“It was amazing to be there with the country in crisis,” says Kahn-Johnston, who was traveling with a high school youth group. “We had Israeli students staying with us whose homes were in danger. One kid had a rocket hit a field near his house, and he said Americans are always asking ‘What if?’ but Israelis just say, ‘Thank God nothing bad happened. Now let’s move on.’

“It’s something I try to live up to.”

This spring, she had her first opportunity. A month after she’d arrived in Beersheba— the largest town in the Negev Desert—to spend a semester at Ben-Gurion University as part of the College’s study abroad program, two rockets from the Gaza Strip landed near the university.

“We heard the siren, then two loud booms. It was really scary. But that night everything was back to normal. It was nice to see that same attitude: ‘Thank God nothing bad happened. Now let’s move on.’”

An international studies major and member of Hillel, Kahn-Johnston knew she wanted to return to Israel. She was torn about missing spring soccer (she’s a goalie). “But there’s no way I would have passed this up.”

She studied Hebrew intensively—three-and-a-half hours a day for six weeks—then dove into classes, including Holy War in Judaism, Christianity and Islam; and What Would You Have Done?: German Experiences and Memories of the Holocaust.

She and her American friends cook for themselves, shopping for fresh fruit and vegetables at the shuk, or open-air market. “It’s either chicken and pasta, or chicken and salad, and I’ve fallen in love with tea.”

There are weekly lectures and frequent trips—she recently observed Shabbat (Sabbath) in Prague. “Everyone I’ve met in Israel is aware of what’s going on in the world, much more than at home,” she says. “And people are opinionated. So if you say something, you’d better know enough to back it up.”


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