Jacob Meiner is a rising sophomore at the University of Pennsylvania studying Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations, with a concentration in Modern Arabic and Hebrew Studies, and Economics:
"There are moments in time that shape people forever. These moments can be fleeting or lengthy, individual or shared, but no matter what, they all have one common thread: they incite passion. For me, the 2012 Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Project provided over two weeks of these moments. I was fortunate enough to have these experiences as an Ibrahim Fellow that have fueled a passion for the Middle East and cultural understanding within me that I will continue to nourish for the rest of my life. I shared enriching conversations and discussions with leaders in their fields. I built relationships and connections with an amazing group of five other student-scholars and two remarkable mentors and guides who I will cherish as friends for years to come. I saw incredible sights and landmarks, toured unforgettable places, and experienced the Middle East firsthand in ways that very few people get to experience. I am proud and grateful to be a 2012 Ibrahim Fellow, and I think I speak for all six fellows when I say that our experience was truly life changing.
There are several moments throughout the trip that I can point to as defining experiences. Lunch on our first full day in Oman at HE Sheikh Abdulla Al-Rowas’ home with former U.S. Ambassador Richard Baltimore set an incredible tone for the rest of the trip. The hospitality that we experienced in that one meal was representative of the openness, inclusion, and hospitality that we experienced wherever we traveled in Oman. Spending time with students at the University of Nizwa only a few days later stood out as one of the most meaningful parts of the entire program. Interacting and talking on a very personal level with such a bright and honest group of true Omani young adults (much like ourselves) is something that I will not soon forget and that has pushed me to learn more about Oman and its culture. In the United Arab Emirates, our visit to the grand mosque in Abu Dhabi coupled with our time in the Dubai Mall and the Burj Khalifa helped to create a picture for me of the intersection between traditional Arab and Muslim customs and the modern developing world. In Israel and Palestine, our tours of East Jerusalem, settlements in the West Bank, and the Old City of Jerusalem helped to put Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a new context for me, and for that I am eternally grateful. The variety of conversations we had in Israel and Palestine with truly remarkable people such as Amnon Lipkin-Shahack, Yossi Alpher, Bayan Shbib, Sami Abu Roza, and Sufian Abu Zaida helped me to understand a more human side of the story of the Middle East that one can only gain from honest discussion and interaction.
As a Reform Jew from the New York metropolitan area, I embarked on this program with a rather lopsided understanding of the Middle East. I grew up learning all about Israel in religious school, but the rest of the region was relatively unknown to me. It was not until later in high school that I realized that if I truly wanted to understand the Middle East, this uneven knowledge I had would not be enough. I chose to study Middle Eastern history and languages at the University of Pennsylvania so that I could gain a clearer understanding of the region as we know it today, and I am grateful that in my first year at Penn, I was able to form the foundation of a broad knowledge of the Middle East. However, it takes an experience such as this to understand and comprehend the region on the level on which I had been hoping to learn. This program provided me with five incredible friends who could challenge my own views and help me form new understandings of the Middle East from their own backgrounds. Together, we exchanged ideas and opinions to form more complete understandings of the region. It is this exchange that makes this program so unique and special. The fact that a Reform Jew from New York, an Armenian Christian from Boston, and an Egyptian Muslim from Maryland can help each other to understand one another better and be more tolerant and accepting of one another’s opinions and views is a testament to how successful the Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Project truly is. On our first day in Washington, DC, I said that I was most looking forward to learning all the other sides to the story of the Middle East with which I was not familiar. Now, I can say with confidence that, although I am still far from being an expert, I am well on may to being a more knowledgeable, understanding, and well-rounded student of the Middle East...
This experience has lit a spark within me – a passion for the Middle East, for cultural understanding, and for mutual respect. The knowledge that I have gained and the friendships I have made through the program will continue to fuel my interest in the region and serve as incredible resources for the rest of my studies and experiences. I am confident that, because I was able to take part in this project, I am a more understanding and aware citizen of the world. It is my hope that everyone is lucky enough to have an experience such as this at some point in his or her life; I feel even more grateful that I was able to have this opportunity at such a young age. There is still much to see, much to explore, and much to learn. The Ibrahim Leadership and Dialogue Project is an unbelievable springboard and I look forward to many more years of seeing, exploring, learning, and understanding. This is just the beginning."
Jacob has always been passionate about Middle Eastern politics, history, and religion. This past year, he authored a paper on the development of early Israeli folk culture through folk dance, entitled Dancing Toward Zion. At Penn, Jacob is the School of Arts and Sciences Chair for the 2015 Class Board and a Tour Guide and Ambassador for the Office of Undergraduate Admissions through Kite and Key, Penn's largest service organization. Originally from New Rochelle, New York, he served in various leadership roles in the Reform Jewish youth movement throughout high school. Jacob was the Programming Vice President and then President of the North American Federation of Temple Youth - New York Area Region, overseeing the Reform Jewish youth movement in the New York metropolitan area that serviced over 75 congregations with 500 active participants. In this capacity, he also served as the co-author of two North American study initiatives for the North American Federation of Temple Youth. Aside from his interests in the Middle East and Jewish life, Jacob is an avid singer, a member of The Pennchants, Penn's premier all-male a cappella group, and a New York State School Music Association Conference All-State Vocalist.
See more stories