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Holy Land Reflection: Understanding Community, Importance of Water

USD faculty members spent part of their January Intersession on a trip to the Holy Land via a Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture Faculty Travel Immersion Seminar.USD faculty members spent part of their January Intersession on a trip to the Holy Land via a Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture Faculty Travel Immersion Seminar.

Each year, the Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture conducts a USD Faculty Travel Immersion Seminar. Each January, a small group of interdisciplinary faculty travel to a place connected in a broad sense with the Catholic intellectual and/or cultural and social traditions. This year’s seminar was in the Holy Land, and the theme was “The Holy Land: Art, Architecture, Engineering, and Politics.” Below is a reflection from Mechanical Engineering Professor Frank Jacobitz, PhD, from USD's Shiley-Marcos School of Engineering.

A particular strength of the faculty immersion trip to the Holy Land was the sense of community I experienced. We had the opportunity to meet Franciscans living and teaching in Jerusalem, Israelis from different walks of life, and Palestinians from the University of Bethlehem. I enjoyed hearing from all groups about their faith, culture, and life. While the challenges of the Middle East were a common theme, I was encouraged to learn that their hopes and dreams are often very similar. Their thoughts and stories helped to correct my misconceptions and provided me with a better understanding of issues in the regions.

The trip also brought together a diverse group of participants from the University of San Diego and the Franciscan School of Theology, who helped me to digest a wealth of impressions, memories, and experiences.

My participation in the faculty immersion trip to the Holy Land was partially motivated by my interest in water. I teach courses on the mechanics of fluids and I study their motion in my research as a mechanical engineer. I am concerned about the availability of safe drinking water and I have frequently used this concern as a course discussion topic. The visit to the Holy Land allowed me to experience the importance of water in the Christian faith: observing baptisms in the river Jordan or revisiting the miracle of turning water into wine in Cana of Galilee.

As part of an engineering extension to the trip, we visited the City of David and followed the path of an ancient water channel diverting water from the Gihon Spring to the Siloam Pools from the Byzantine and Second Temple periods. We also observed Israel’s current-day water challenges in the lowered levels of the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea. These challenges are addressed through water conservation programs, an expensive water infrastructure, and innovation in water technology.

Israel has invested in large-scale desalination plants on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea, which prompted a visit to the Hadera Desalination Plant (IDE Technologies). Israeli companies are also developing innovative water treatment methods, so we visited a decentralized water treatment facility (Fluence). Access to water has the potential to create conflict, and water rights to the river Jordan are a part of the peace treaty between the State of Israel and Jordan.

In the future, I plan to develop a course with a focus on water, including its meaning in faith and culture, the history of water infrastructure, current challenges and solutions to safe water access in developed and developing countries, as well as water and peace.

— Frank Jacobitz, PhD 

Photo courtesy of the Frances G. Harpst Center for Catholic Thought and Culture 

View a second faculty reflection from the Holy Land trip by Sociology Professor Michelle Camacho, PhD.

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