Before Preview Trailblazer Eizman Prigal ’88 Found Clarity Abroad

By schwartzsa | April 17, 2012

An Arcadia tradition since 1994, when 140 students traveled to London during spring break, Preview continues to gain momentum. This year the program offered more destinations than ever before—17, to be exact. And more than 400 Arcadia University students, faculty and staff conducted fieldwork and in-country study across six continents. From among these world travelers, 15 first-year students set off to explore religion in Jerusalem.

Reading about Arcadia’s newest Preview sites, Rebecca Eizman Prigal ’88 experienced a flood of memories from her years at Beaver College, including the transformative impact of studying abroad. A trailblazer and student advocate, she did “Jerusalem Preview” well before Arcadia sent its first group of freshmen to London.

Having attended a large high school, Eizman Prigal looked forward to being part of Beaver College’s small campus where she would receive personal attention in class. “I had an average of 10 students in a given class. Even if I did not know everyone by name I knew them by sight. And even if I didn’t know someone I knew of them,” she says. “It was nice to be recognized. I fell in love with beauty and serenity of the campus. I was impressed by the combination of friendliness and studiousness of the students and the faculty. I was elated and relieved when I got my acceptance. In fact, I was told of my acceptance at my interview.” She wasn’t disappointed.

A History major, she notes the mentoring she received from Dr. Gerald Belcher and Dr. Kenneth Matthews. “They contributed to my personal and intellectual growth,” she says. “Although all my professors were very inspirational, Dr. Matthews had a totally different approach to his lectures. He almost never referred to our text books but lectured from slides—either from pictures he took or bought at museums from the places he was lecturing about. He brought history to life, made it seem real and tangible. Dr. Belcher I attribute to having taught me how to read and write. He pushed me to my full potential.”

Despite the quality of Beaver College’s faculty instruction, Eizman Prigal wanted to experience history outside the four walls of a classroom. She got her feet wet early, traveling to Israel once in 1982 for a six-week tour with the National Conference of Synagogue Youth, an Orthodox group for teens that is geared toward unaffiliated groups to teach religion, and again in May 1984 as a senior in high school. The journeys forever shaped the way she viewed her belief system and her connection to the place.

“I remember my first visit to the Western Wall. I felt as though a magnet was pulling me closer to it. I was so awe struck by the size of the stone blocks. The other thing that I found utterly amazing was the plants and birds living in the cracks. I just kept thinking that the wall is alive. It is not just a symbol of our religious life and connection to Israel past and present and future, it actually supports real life. It lives just as the Jewish people do. It has survived for centuries through torment and peace, just as the Jews have. It is not just a symbol. It is real.”

So, as a sophomore at Beaver College, she elected to participate in a course akin to Arcadia’s Jerusalem Preview. Glancing at an ad pinned to a bulletin board in the History Department, she saw an offering for a three-week, three-credit ‘winterim’ in conjunction with Western New England College. And though she had already traveled to Israel twice, she knew she had to go back.

Th course presented an opportunity to see parts of Israel that she had not seen, including the site of the Christian’s Last Supper, through an academic gaze. She particularly enjoyed being able to communicate with Israelis—especially the night she visited Machane Yehudah, the Jewish open air market, where she served as a translator between the other students and the merchants.

Beaver College’s registrar accepted the credits she earned through the ‘winterim,’ but Rebecca was just getting started. She applied and was accepted to the one-year foreign student program through Bar Ilan University. Though she had spent time in Israel, she notes that nothing could have prepared her for the rigor of her year abroad.

“Bar Ilan is known in Israel as ‘The Religious University,’ as it offers both secular and religious studies,” she says. “At Beaver I thought it was hard enough keeping up with four classes a semester. At Bar Ilan we were supposed to take nine classes, four of which were religious—Hebrew, Talmud, Bible and a choice between Jewish History or Jewish Philosophy—plus five secular courses all taught in English with choices ranging from Philosophy, English Lit, Psychology, Sociology, Criminology and more.”

She earned one and a half years worth of credits in one year and connected with individuals from Italy, France, Singapore, the Philippines, Holland, England, South Africa and South America. Despite their disparate backgrounds, they all shared a common belief system, praying to the same tunes.

Despite political upheaval and civic unrest, Eizman Prigal notes that she felt safer in Israel. “Violence was in isolated areas easy to avoid. If someone got on a bus with a gun, it was a soldier there to protect you. Everyone is sensitive to their surroundings…Ironically I had more culture shock after returning to the States. My desire to return [to Israel] is as strong as ever.

“Overall, after spending a year in Israel, I found what I gained the most was a sense of clarity of purpose, greater independence, (fiscal) responsibility, a taste for travel and adventure and a thirst for knowledge. I grew up a lot. I had found a place I could call a second home.”

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