Israel, Through the Lens of a Water Scientist

Aug. 1, 2013

After an ambitious, academic 10-day journey through Israel – from navigating the ancient water tunnels beneath the City of David to exploring the ancient palaces of King Herod at the peak of the Masada – Jean McLain and her fellow travelers were ready for a break. McLain, Associate Director of the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center (WRRC), was given just such an opportunity at Professor Ben Ami Bravdo’s Karmei Yosef Winery over chardonnay, summer rosé, cheese and handcrafted olive oil.

McLain was selected to be part of the Jewish National Fund’s 2013 Faculty Fellowship Summer Institute to Israel (FF2 Israel), following a competitive application process in which just 10 full-time university and college faculty members from across the United States were chosen. The group flew to Israel in late May to meet with fellow faculty at Israeli research institutions, and government and industry experts to learn about the country’s evolving national and international policies over the following eight days.

“This was my first trip to Israel,” McLain said. “I learned so much from my group’s visits with students at the Arava Environmental Research Institute and meetings with eminent faculty from seven of Israel’s prestigious universities and colleges.”

A central focus of the program was to stimulate collaboration between faculty in Israel and the United States, and McLain returned to the WRRC in Tucson, Ariz. already formulating plans to write funding proposals with Israeli faculty who share her research interests in microbiological water quality, water reuse, and development of antibiotic resistance in the environment.

McLain’s FF2 Israel trip wasn’t completely academic, though. “This opportunity also brought us to Ethiopian Arab and Hasidic Jewish communities and to Muslim, Christian and Jewish sites,” she said. “What surprised me most about Israel is that it is a truly diverse place – we were able to experience so many different cultures.”

Now in its fourth year, the FF2 Israel group explored the desert nation’s many scientific, historic and cultural offerings, from cutting-edge research to centuries-old landmarks. The whirlwind tour included lunch in a traditional Druze village, learning about groundbreaking agricultural research on the Rehovot campus of the Hebrew University, and pondering the vast desert at Mitzpe Ramon. Following a tour of the ancient historical sites in Jerusalem, the Fellowship group was also given the opportunity to meet Holocaust survivor Asher Hod.

“It was such a rare and memorable experience,” McLain said. “Mr. Hod told our group about losing his entire family during the Holocaust, only to discover 30 years later that his brother had survived and was living in Poland. His brother was able to travel to Israel to visit Mr. Hod one time before he died a few years later. It was truly moving to hear this story firsthand.”

Other highlights of the trip included academic visits to the University of Haifa and the Technion, Tel Aviv University and the Hebrew University; strolling the streets of the world’s first-ever port in historic Jaffa; touring the town of Sderot, which shares a border with Gaza; observing the solar panel field at the Arava Power Company; touching the Western Wall; and planting a tree in Israeli soil at the Neot Kedumim Biblical Gardens.

On the final day of our tour, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Tel Aviv hosted McLain and the FF2 Israel group. The faculty presented tough, politically charged questions to the Foreign Affairs staff members, and most came away with an expanded understanding of Israel’s domestic and international policies.

As McLain relaxed at Professor Bravdo’s vineyard at the end of her first trip to Israel, she and her Fellowship colleagues reflected that the country was a much more culturally varied place than they’d imagined it would be. With the sun setting over the vineyard and the breeze gently blowing, they reminisced about the amazing 10-day journey.

“Everyone we encountered in this country was a gracious host to our group and an ambassador for the culture of Israel,” McLain said. “So many different people collaborating, expanding scientific horizons and overcoming obstacles in ingenious ways. We truly came away with an understanding of the overwhelming odds that were encountered and then surmounted to make Israel the cutting-edge country it is today.”

To experience the Faculty Fellowship trip through the lens of McLain’s camera, explore her photo album on the WRRC’s Facebook page at or click here to view the album.