My SIGNAL Experience in Beijing
By Miriam Hartman, SIGNAL Board Member
Beijng, Nov. 13 – My experience with SIGNAL-BLCU in China was the highlight of my month long trip to the Far East. I learned of the event at BLCU purely by chance. At a meeting in Tokyo with the Ambassador of Israel to Japan, Ruth Kahanoff, we discussed our mutual friend Carice Witte and, as Ms. Kahanoff had previously been posted to China, we also discussed SIGNAL’s far reaching work. Kahanoff expressed her admiration for SIGNAL’S agenda and sent regards to Carice. Imagine my surprise when I contacted Carice later that evening to learn that not only would she and I both be in Beijing on the same date, but that there would also be an opportunity for me to witness SIGNAL in action at the Beijing Language and Culture University.
At BLCU I was warmly greeted by faculty members and by the Dean of the newly established Middle East School where SIGNAL’s Israel Studies Program is based. The event was opened by various brief speakers and by Carice and, alarmingly, I was called upon to make a few opening remarks. Somehow I thought of a few phrases expressing my deep desire to help nurture cultural, intellectual and technological cooperation between our two countries for mutual benefit and was greeted with hearty applause.
This was followed by a distribution of prizes for the best Israel Studies Research Papers which were awarded by SIGNAL-BLCU. What better way to foster intellectual curiosity about Israel than to offer a competition to these eager Chinese students and to reward them financially for their concerted efforts.
The expert lecture that followed was an incisive compact history of China’s interaction with Europe, the Mediterranean and the Middle East over the last several centuries. This presentation was delivered by Francesco Sisci, the newest member of SIGNAL’s Board of Academic & Expert Advisors. Sisci is an expatriate Italian who is a senior researcher at the Center of European Studies at the Renmin University of China. Impressively, he delivered his lecture in Mandarin. From what I could understand from SIGNAL’s ISP Program Coordinator in China, Helen Guan who was doing an admirable job of translating, Sisci’s explanation of the development of trade between the Chinese and the West was leading the students to the inevitable conclusion that currently Israel would be an indispensable part of any New Silk Road in delivering goods past Israel into Africa. The lecture gave an in depth account of historical trade and international relations and seemed to impart information and ideas of which the students had previously been unaware.
This was followed by a question and answer period in which, based mostly on their questions, Carice gave a thorough and thought provoking analysis of the trials and tribulations and joys of life in today’s State of Israel. The students asked many pointed questions, some based on what they discovered while researching their papers and some based on asking the big question of WHY they should be interested in studying about the Jewish State. Their questions displayed more than anything else that their minds had been stimulated by all that they had read in preparation for the competition. This aptly illustrated the triumph of SIGNAL’s success. Until now, these students had only been offered a glimpse into Arabic culture and the Arab mind. Now, thanks to SIGNAL, their minds have been opened to the only democracy in the Middle East. This, in my view, is a major step in Sino-Israel relations. It could possibly take only one or two of these bright inquiring minds to forge a connection to Israel. And now that SIGNAL has signed TEN Chinese institutions of higher learning into the program, the sky is the limit.
As I said before, my afternoon at SIGNAL-BLCU was the highlight of my trip to Japan, Korea, Singapore and China. We are making an impact and the future may be much brighter as a result.
Miriam Hartman Beazley is a graduate of Yale University. Soon after making Aliya over 35years ago, Ms. Hartman joined the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. Miriam is a committed Zionist and Founding Member of SIGNAL’s Board of Directors. She lives in Israel with her husband and 2 children.