Visiting Israel wasn’t a new experience for Ryan Mauro. He toured the Holy Land for a month as part of a Christian Ministry program just last year.
But the Wall resident couldn’t resist submitting an entry when he learned about “Once in a Lifetime,” a contest sponsored by the StandWithUs Israel Fellowship program at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. According to its website, SWU “was founded in 2001 in response to the misinformation that often surrounds the Middle East conflict.”
The contest was created to bring young, influential non-Jewish bloggers to Israel to tour the country from Aug. 2 to 12 and write about their experiences. Mauro’s one-minute YouTube video on why he should win the all-expenses-paid trip was selected from dozens of entries.
The 24-year-old Mauro joined three other bloggers selected by SWU from around the world: Dan Redford, 21, from the United States; Sun Jin-Yi, 24, from China; and Chas Newkey-Burden, 37, from the United Kingdom.
Mauro, an intelligence analyst with the Asymmetric Warfare and Intelligence Center and the National Security Advisor of the Christian Action Network, blogs about politics and security issues at worldthreats.com and other on-line publications. Earlier this month, he received a master’s degree in political science from the American Military Institute.
The politically savvy Mauro said he did not consider the SWU program a propagandist tool. “Not at all,” he told NJ Jewish News in a phone interview. “I would definitely say there was no attempt to even try to influence our opinions. They just brought us there and that was that.”
His previous visit as part of an Israel Experience Program, a Christian ministry-sponsored event, “was more political and religious in nature; this was more cultural and societal.” He was excited about the Once in a Lifetime tour, but was concerned it might be “repetitive. But it was incredibly different.”
With Israel and the Palestinian Authority officials preparing to meet in Washington next month, Mauro said he was surprised on his recent trip by how much “you can actually see the building blocks of peace being built just by social interaction. I never heard of a single negative generalization about Muslims, Palestinians, or Arabs from any of the Israelis I talked to.
“We met with city officials who said they couldn’t see any problems going on between the Muslims and the Jews, that the problems were between the ultra-Orthodox Jews and the secular Jews. I see lot of reasons to be hopeful that peace can and will be achieved,” he said.
The trip wasn’t all business, however. The group had a chance to sample some of the Israeli cultural and social scene. Videos on YouTube show the bloggers covered with mud and floating on the Dead Sea, a staple of Israeli tourism.
Some things, however, transcend borders.
“If you come from the Jersey Shore and you go to Tel Aviv, aside from the fact that there are people speaking Hebrew, you’re not going to see too much of a difference,” Mauro said. “You would think that Jersey Shore [the MTV reality show] was being filmed there. It’s ‘party central.’ Western culture is everywhere. You can be a foreigner but still feel at home at the same time.”
Now that he’s back in the States, Mauro said he hopes to find a teaching position at the college level. “At the same time,” he said, “I’m also thinking of ways I can get back to Israel.”