Terror in Jaffa hits home for local students in Israel

Terror in Jaffa hits home for local students in Israel

From left: Paige Creo, India Wilson, Arab entepreneur Ala Sader and Tamika Riley pose for a photo in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Photo provided by Paul Harper
From left: Paige Creo, India Wilson, Arab entepreneur Ala Sader and Tamika Riley pose for a photo in front of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo provided by Paul Harper

Cory Steinberg was in Israel last week with a group of M.B.A.  students from Carnegie Mellon University when he got the news that Taylor Force, a 29-year old former U.S. Army officer and Vanderbilt University M.B.A. student, was knifed to death by a Palestinian terrorist in Jaffa. Twelve other people were injured in the attack as well.

Steinberg and a cohort of 22 other M.B.A. students from CMU — most of whom were not Jewish and had not before been to Israel — were exploring the Startup Nation on a tour similar to the one in which Force was participating with Vanderbilt.

“It was pretty shaking to hear it,” said Steinberg, who had organized the trip along with fellow M.B.A. student Matt Hershman through the Jewish Business Association (JBA), a club at the CMU Tepper School of Business. He and Hershman were informed of Force’s murder by their guide prior to the news hitting the media, so they could decide how to handle conveying the information to the other students on the trip.

“We decided to tell them all the facts,” Steinberg said. “We wanted to reassure them that it was a random act of violence and about being at the wrong place at the wrong time. The fact that it was random made it more reassuring; the terrorist was not targeting American tourists.”

None of the trip participants asked to leave the tour early to return home, Steinberg said.

“But they all contacted their families,” he continued. “The news had not been released to America yet.”

Despite the unnerving report of Force’s murder, the students on the trip were educationally and culturally enriched by spending their spring break in the Jewish state, Steinberg said.

“Every student said, ‘This was one of the best weeks of my entire life,’” he said. “They learned so much about a culture that the media doesn’t show every side of. The culture was completely different from what they expected.”

CMU’s annual JBA trip to Israel is similar to that of Vanderbilt’s, providing an opportunity for students to learn about Israeli culture as well as Israeli businesses — primarily startups — according to Stanislav Krakovyak, the club’s president.

Israel has become a popular destination for M.B.A. students over the last several years, with many universities throughout North America offering trips there, including the University of Chicago and Columbia University.

Paul Harper, clinical assistant professor of Business Administration at the University of Pittsburgh’s Katz Graduate School of Business, travels to Israel frequently. He returned from his most recent trip to the Jewish state about three weeks ago. He was accompanied by three graduate students.

Harper has been working for the last several years to improve the integration of Arab Israelis into technology and business in Israel, fields they have a difficult time breaking into even after earning advanced degrees. On his most recent trip, he and his students attended the opening of an Arab-Israeli technology incubator in Tel Aviv and also visited with several Jewish and Arab leaders who were playing a role in bringing the two communities together through business relations.

His work in Israel, he said, “is using business to promote peace.”

The murder of Force reinforces “why it is important to do what I do,” Harper said. “This violence stokes my motivation to show why inclusion is needed and hopefully will be part of the solution.”

Paige Creo, a first-year M.B.A. student at Pitt, was among the students who traveled to Israel with Harper. This was her first time in Israel. She is not Jewish.

The news of Force’s murder, as well as the attacks on 12 other people in Israel on the same day, hit close to home, she said.

“We were doing something very similar and not too far from where he was killed,” she said. “I was very, very saddened by his death and the death of everyone else that day. It was a horrific situation for him and his family and all the Israelis.”

While in Tel Aviv, Creo said she never felt unsafe, although in Jerusalem, she did feel “a little more nervous because of recent news.”

Still, she said, she hopes to return to Israel.

“There definitely seems to be a vibrant entrepreneurship community in Israel, and that is interesting to us,” she said.

India Wilson, who also traveled to Israel with Harper, said that while she does hope to return to Israel some day, she is concerned about the unrest there.

“I was incredibly humbled and disheartened [hearing about the murder of Force],” she said in an email. “That could have very well happened to one of us on our trip. It’s hard to perceive the high risks of traveling throughout Israel, but when instances like these occur, it becomes clearer.”

Tamika Riley, the third student traveling with Harper, said she learned a lot on her trip to Israel and was surprised that Force’s murder occurred in Tel Aviv, a city she was told was safe.

“The death of Taylor Force does not change my opinion on Israel,” Riley said in an email. “During my time traveling in Israel, we were also warned about these types of attacks; however, I am surprised that it happened in Tel Aviv. Even though we were warned of these attacks, we were never warned that it would happen in Tel Aviv. … In fact, we were told that Tel Aviv was safe, and because it is a business center, I believed this. Taylor’s death is an unfortunate event; however, based on my time in Israel, I felt as safe as I did visiting other countries.”

Force’s murder was praised on the Facebook page of Fatah, the party of Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to a report in the Jerusalem Post. Although Force was an American tourist, an anchor on a Palestinian TV station referred to him and the other victims as “settlers.” The network also referred to the murderer as a shahid, an Islamic martyr. 

Force, a West Point grad, had served tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Since September 2015, 34 people have been killed in Israel in terrorist attacks, and 404 people (including four Palestinians) have been injured, according to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In just six months, Palestinian terrorists have carried out 202 stabbings and attempted stabbing attacks, 83 shootings and 42 vehicular (ramming) attacks.

Toby Tabachnick can be reached at tobyt@thejewishchronicle.net.

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