Eye on 'Cuse: Tal Haim

By Jiaman (Maggie) Peng

From the West Bank to Upstate New York— Pondering culture, conflict and classes

 Tal Haim, an exchange student from Israel, is taking communications classes in Newhouse for a semester to further her studies. Photo by Jiaman (Maggie) Peng

Tal Haim, an exchange student from Israel, is taking communications classes in Newhouse for a semester to further her studies. Photo by Jiaman (Maggie) Peng

The only things Tal Haim knew about Syracuse before coming here were, it’s “far away from everything,” “it’s a really small city,” and “it’s freezing.” With a little short of two months left at Syracuse University, perspectives shifted for the one-semester exchange student from Ariel, Israel.

Coming from a small city in the central West Bank and at the heart of the Israeli and Palestinian conflict, she was surprised that Syracuse, roughly five times the size of Ariel, seemed to have very little going on in the city.

“People are not walking, stores are closed,” Tal said, “Downtown, it’s a pretty place… it’s a city that has so much potential.”

“When I came here [Syracuse], you know you get your “shock,” and you feel different, and you look for something that’s familiar for you. When I went to Chabad, I suddenly appreciate[d] it because I felt like I belonged somewhere, like this is my place. The familiar makes you feel a bit more comfortable.”

 
 Haim helps out with making matzo balls in preparation for Friday's Shabbat dinners at SU Chabad House. Photo by Jiaman (Maggie) Peng.

Haim helps out with making matzo balls in preparation for Friday's Shabbat dinners at SU Chabad House. Photo by Jiaman (Maggie) Peng.

 

Haim has sometimes felt that religions divide people.

“For me, when I look at someone, I don’t judge him because he’s Muslim, I don’t judge him because he’s Christian, I don’t judge him because of his religion, I judge him because he’s a human.”

Being at Chabad House and meeting Rabbi Zalman and his wife Sarah have helped her change her perspective on religion and see that it can also bring people together and build a community.

 Haim said that she has found a sense of community at Chabad House during her time at SU. Photo by Jiaman (Maggie) Peng.

Haim said that she has found a sense of community at Chabad House during her time at SU. Photo by Jiaman (Maggie) Peng.

“Sometimes people will think that my behavior is different, but I will never be ashamed of that. I’m from Israel, I’m proud of it. I will never try to be something else that I’m not.”

College itself is a far more different experience in the other hemisphere. A bachelor’s degree in Israel only takes three years, and semesters run from October to February, and then March to June.

 For one of her Newhouse classes, Haim is doing a project on girls with curly hair. She styles a girl’s hair before executing the photos. Photo by Jiaman (Maggie) Peng.

For one of her Newhouse classes, Haim is doing a project on girls with curly hair. She styles a girl’s hair before executing the photos. Photo by Jiaman (Maggie) Peng.

Haim’s father had always told her, “American people are very good with advertising.” As a real estate businessman, he used to bring back stories about Americans winning marketing competitions in the places he’s traveled. As a communications major at IDC Herzliya, Haim was intrigued. She wanted to see the American experience for herself and is now taking classes in Newhouse.

Haim expected that courses at SU were going to be much harder than those in Israel, but she didn’t know school itself would be that intense. According to her, one course in Israel usually involves one assignment, one exam and some readings. For a class she is taking at SU, “every two weeks we have a really big assignment, we have quizzes on our readings. We also have another presentation that we have to do and, in the end, you have exam.”

But Haim enjoys the feeling of being challenged.

“You know what, it’s hard. It’s really hard, but I like it.”


There is an entire world of stories on the Syracuse University campus just waiting to be explored. In “Eye on ‘Cuse,” sophomore Jiaman (Maggie) Peng captures a new narrative every week.