BY DANIELLE BELLA ELLISON
“Tomorrow” can be a daunting word, in either a positive or a negative way, depending on how fortunate a situation you find yourself. For the young Yale student doing a fascinating summer internship abroad, tomorrow brings the excitement of new opportunities to learn and to enjoy. For the African migrants that come into our office at Lawyers Without Borders / The Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, tomorrow is an uncertain struggle for enough food and the effort of seeking to sleep somewhere other than Levinsky Park.
On Wednesday June 19 and Thursday June 20, I took a step out of my dual realities to attend the 2013 Israeli Presidential Conference. This fifth annual conference, hosted under the auspices of Israeli President Shimon Peres, produced a stunning exhibition of presentations and discussions involving leaders in fields including politics, economics, biomedical engineering, psychology, technology, communications, and more. Hearing for two days from leaders including Tony Blair, Bill Clinton, Larry Summers, Martin Wolf, Daniel Kahneman and so many others, I truly felt my mind expanding with thoughts of the possibilities and promise of tomorrow. I attentively listened to Sima Shine, Head of Strategic Division at Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs, discuss how to handle the rapidly changing geopolitical reality in the Middle East; I grappled with the striking conclusions of psychology’s and behavioral economics’ findings regarding dishonesty presented by Professor Dan Ariely; I was encouraged as I focused on Dr. David Agus’ explanations of new advances in medical technology that would make health and longevity not only increase but also become more globally widespread.
During the conference, I was struck by a contrast between those who were incredibly accomplished in their fields and started relatively privileged, and those who began with enormous disadvantages and obstacles, but nevertheless reached a point where they were on par with some of today’s greatest leaders. For example, Ayaan Hirsi-Ali spoke in a straightforward plenary panel called “Will Tomorrow Be Better?” Born in Somalia and subsequently suffering religious and political oppression in Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, and Kenya as well, Hirsi-Ali eventually gained asylum in the Netherlands. She rose to serve as Member of Parliament there, and she became a prominent activist for women’s rights and critic of oppression in Islam. In this panel, Hirsi-Ali sat beside Israeli Finance Minister and head of the Yesh Atid Party, Yair Lapid. Lapid powerfully and charismatically described the leaps and bounds that have been achieved by Israel and by other countries in the geopolitical and technological fields, and provided an encouraging vision of what tomorrow will bring. Not surprisingly, Hirsi-Ali had a less sunny prediction of the future, or at least so if the world remains without major political and societal changes in certain regions. I realized that both these outlooks are necessary in order to develop a measured picture of how far we as a global society have come, and how far we still have to go.
As I return to work on Sunday, I look forward not only to reflecting on the incredible content of the 2013 Israeli Presidential Conference, but also to focusing on the importance of balancing different people’s backgrounds as starting points to find a measured outlook for the future. I recognize the astounding contrast between the conditions of my privilege and the immense misfortune of some of the asylum seekers with whom we work. Nevertheless, I am heartened that by speaking in the same rooms we can hopefully mitigate the polarity of each other’s perspectives and both emerge with a realistic but optimistic vision of what tomorrow will bring.
Danielle Bella Ellison ’15 is in Davenport College. This summer she is blogging from Tel Aviv, Israel. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.