Senior Selected by Anti-Defamation League for Educational Mission to Israel

News Story: January 17, 2013

Sacred Heart University senior and Woodbury, Conn., native Michael Fazzino is one of 15 students nationwide who have been accepted to attend an Anti-Defamation League (ADL) educational trip to Israel this June.

According to the ADL’s website (adl.org) the organization’s Campus Leadership Mission, which runs June 9 to 17, “provides future leaders with a first-hand perspective of Israel by meeting with the culturally diverse population, engaging with its vibrant society, learning about the strategic and social challenges facing Israel today, and touring the historically and geographically significant land.”

Fazzino says he’s been excited about the trip since learning that the ADL approved his application in early May. “The Holy City of Peace often seems quite unholy and unpeaceful,” says Fazzino, who is double-majoring in business administration and political science with a minor in psychology. “I’m incredibly interested about how the three major religions of the world find this holy place so captivating and sacred, yet show markedly different practices. I think I’ll find that these distinct groups have much more in common than many seem to believe.”

More than just learning about the political and religious intricacies of the region, Fazzino also wants to learn how citizens of his generation can impact the future of one of the world’s oldest cultural struggles. “I’m interested in seeing if there’s anything that we as students can do to make the situation any better,” he says. “From a religious point of view it’s very interesting. And as a political science major, there’s so much conflict there that it can only broaden my scope about these types of issues.”

The experience in Israel is not Fazzino’s first with social concerns. He founded SHU’s chapter of the international ONE Campaign, which raises public awareness about the issues of global poverty, hunger, disease and efforts to fight such problems in developing countries. He has also worked with SHU’s chapter of Habitat for Humanity, and has volunteered at Children of the Light Orphanage in La Ceiba, Honduras. He works for the latter both from his Connecticut home and in the Central American country.

Fazzino learned about the ADL opportunity through Dr. Ann Heekin, director of Sacred Heart’s Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding (CCJU). This past spring the ADL asked Heekin to nominate a SHU student for the mission, and she says the university’s choice was quickly clear.

“Mike really stood out as having a lot of the qualifications that the ADL was looking for,” Heekin says. “They definitely were interested in a student who was an influencer on campus, someone who was clearly an opinion leader amongst his peers. So we put Mike forth. He made it through a fair amount of competition to be included in the program, which is really a function of his hard work as a student at Sacred Heart.”

Heekin is confident that Fazzino will benefit from the trip by developing a greater appreciation for the complexities of the Middle East situation, which she says is part of a bigger solution to a major problem in today’s world.

“Michael’s study mission to Israel is important to the CCJU and the university since it fulfills a key part of our mission, which is to engage young people in interreligious dialogue,” Heekin says. “The formal dialogue between Christians and Jews has been underway for four decades and the results of those efforts have transformed the relationship between the traditions. More recent is the openness to dialogue among Muslims with Christians and Jews. We have come to a place historically where the religions understand themselves as part of the solution to the challenges to world peace and the global social problems of our day. And it is important that the next generation of leaders be educated through a dialogue that can instill trust and mutual respect.”

While Fazzino is aware of the potential future ramifications of the educational value of the trip, he also appreciates the immediate benefit of a more ancillary attribute of the experience: sight-seeing. He says that he’s most curious to explore several specific regions of Israel, including Bethlehem, Jerusalem and the Wailing Wall. But the destination he anticipates most is a simple roadway. “I’d be thrilled to visit the road to Jericho, which was the site of the Good Samaritan’s charity,” Fazzino says. “That New Testament scripture always stood out in my mind, and has certainly impacted the life I’ve chosen to lead. It would be really meaningful to experience that for myself.”

Upon his return from Israel, Fazzino plans to meet with Heekin to discuss ways to share his experience with other SHU students.

“We’ll create a venue for him in the fall to talk to the student community about his experiences over there — both what he learned that’s consistent with what he had expected, and what he learned that may have surprised him,” Heekin says. “He can really help other young people understand the issues in the Middle East and to think about what role they can take as future leaders, in whatever area of life they’re going to be working in.”

The Center for Christian-Jewish Understanding, established in 1992, is a worldwide leader in interreligious dialogue and understanding. It has sponsored seminars and public forums for religious leaders, scholars and students on several continents.

According to its mission statement, “The CCJU is a direct outgrowth of the Second Vatican Council’s teachings which encourage interreligious dialogue and understanding. The Center draws together clergy, laity, scholars, theologians and educators to focus on current religious thinking within Judaism and Christianity and provides forums for dialogue in order to advance greater knowledge, understanding and harmony between religions.”

According to its website, “the Anti-Defamation League was founded in 1913 ‘to stop the defamation of the Jewish people and to secure justice and fair treatment to all.’ Now the nation’s premier civil rights/human relations agency, ADL fights anti-semitism and all forms of bigotry, defends democratic ideals and protects civil rights for all.

“A leader in the development of materials, programs and services, [the] ADL builds bridges of communication, understanding and respect among diverse groups, carrying out its mission through a network of 30 regional and satellite offices in the United States and abroad.”