The smell of fresh notebooks

In an atmosphere of uncertainty, students turn out for the new academic year.

Students of all stripes pose with inspirational messages on opening day (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Students of all stripes pose with inspirational messages on opening day
In the traditional Hebrew calendar, four different dates make claim to the title of the Jewish New Year, each with a historic and cultural significance of its own. Yet for Israeli university students there is a fifth date to be celebrated in the annual cycle, which marks none other than the beginning of the new academic year.
The excitement in the air now felt around Jerusalem in no way falls short of the holiday spirit surrounding Rosh Hashana.
As students from all over the country, both new and veteran, flock to the capital to begin the fall semester at Hebrew University, the smell of fresh notebooks and the sight of confused young newcomers trying to make their way around Jerusalem’s unfamiliar streets and alleys all add a new flavor to the city’s atmosphere.
Like the first rain and the autumn leaves, so too are these the harbingers of the new season.
“I chose [to study in] Jerusalem first and foremost because Hebrew U is consistently the top-ranked university in Israel for my degree,” proudly declares Danielle, a first-year law student at the Mount Scopus campus. “But having spent most of my life up north in Haifa, I also wanted to experience a new city. Many friends have told me Jerusalem has turned into a great place for young people, with good night life and many cool things going on all of the time.”
Indeed, the Jerusalem Municipality under Mayor Nir Barkat’s governance has invested much thought and resources in recent years into making the capital attractive to a younger population; the Hebrew University, central to such efforts, has followed suit, with a similar vision in mind.
On Monday the university kicked off the new year with a bustling Kaveret concert with hundreds of students attending, a brief moment of respite before the rigorous academic workload grinds into full gear. A short outburst of rain early during the performance barely seemed to bother the golden-aged rock artists, who instead jammed on harder still, sending the crowd into a true frenzy. As the drops shimmered in the limelights above the stage, energies were at their peak and the whole scene looked like a modern-day rain dance.
Many such routine-breaking events are still due to come. In a few weeks’ time, the annual Einstein in Azza event will see dozens of professors and other researchers from Hebrew University lecturing to the public in bars and restaurants around the Rehavia neighborhood about a variety of cutting-edge subjects – another in a long line of such novelties that have spiced up city student life.
Recent developments in the political sphere, with a string of terror attacks hitting Jerusalem in recent weeks, have soured this sizzling atmosphere to some extent. It would not be difficult to imagine that some newly admitted students experienced second thoughts about committing to life in the often tumultuous capital under such circumstances, yet it seems that ultimately, most refused to allow such notions to alter their decision.
“The same incidents could easily happen in Tel Aviv,” points out Avi, a first-year chemistry student at the Givat Ram campus, “and it makes no sense to allow a few crazies with pocket-knives to change our lives in any way. I chose to study in Jerusalem and I’ll stick to that choice.” A third-year computer science student, Tali, adds that the university and local police in general are clearly doing everything to ensure the safety and normal routine of residents in the city.
“I’ve never seen so many soldiers and security guards walking around. I feel totally safe on campus.”
The overall sense of optimism might be warranted further still by some of the exciting new expansions and projects at Hebrew University. October 21 will see the grand opening of a new center for innovation in cyber security, while the HUStart Entrepreneurship Center, a student hi-tech incubator, marks its second year of operation The efforts to raise a world-class center for brain science research, to be opened in two years’ time, continue feverishly.
Uniquely among Israeli universities, the Hebrew University operates its natural science, medicine, and humanities campuses separately at three distant points within Jerusalem – making it a challenge to promote intellectual exchange between students of different faculties. To address this, the university has recently been encouraging students to choose one of the many interdisciplinary study programs offered, combining courses across fields and campuses.
One student taking advantage of this opportunity, Yaniv, who combines psychology and cognitive science along with physics, is quite familiar with the stark differences between the Mount Scopus and Givat Ram campuses, between which he maneuvers to make it from class to class. “The vibes on the two campuses are completely different,” he relates. “Givat Ram [campus for the sciences] has a much faster pace; learning there is more structured and goal-oriented. Mount Scopus [humanities campus] offers a more relaxed, open atmosphere that inspires students to pursue their studies in their own way, without walking you hand-in-hand.”
Constantly striving for growth and renewal, Hebrew University is quickly becoming a magnet for the best and brightest from all over the country, who are drawn to the vibrancy of this 90-year-old institution as well as to the city in which it is centered. As we step into the new semester with our right foot forward, we students can only hope for a successful year marked by new heights and profound experiences – and a peaceful one at that.