I realize I haven't quite lived up to my promise to blog continuously... I can explain! I'd say from October 3rd to October 31st I was searching for something - be it a place, a person or a volunteer experience - that would make me feel part of this country and would rid me of the idea that others viewed me as a flimsy American who lacks the ability to speak Hebrew and simply wants to "see the world" for a semester. The transition was hard. Since then, I've met a few people (Arab and Jewish Israelis) who have shared a slice of their life with me, including their connection to the land, their life goals, or just their impressions of serving in the army. As well, I started interning (though it's been more casual than a typical internship) at the Early Childhood Center for Arab children and their mothers. And so, I've started kicking again. Honestly, if hadn't started making this study abroad experience my own, it would have just been a semester of rest, friendships and incredible falafel. The latter might sound good now, but it would surely wear off a few years down the road.
Over the past 10 weeks, I have indulged in Israel's low travel costs and short travel time from city to city. Some trips were certainly more powerful than others. For the trips where I intentionally set out to meet someone (a friend of a college friend, a friend of a family friend, a vendor on the side of the road), the memories were stronger. For the days where I chose a destination and allotted a certain number of hours to get lost in the place, the experience was even more titillating. If you know me at all, you are aware that I love to talk to anyone. Apart from history and language classes, where class-time is essential, informal conversations with people is the best way I learn. I always try to then follow up with independent research on whatever topic I discussed with said person. Let's hear about some of the faces I've met, shall we?
Heartbeat. Amplifying Youth Voices.
This is a great photo to start with because this group of Arab and Jewish college aged students illustrates the potential for small steps to gradually make a big impact. Heartbeat unites Israeli and Palestinian youth to build their trust and understanding through music. Since the two communities have been polarized due to years of animosity, the music group breaks down their assumptions of one another. The lyrics ranged from Hebrew, to Arabic to English. The performance took place in Tel Aviv, where dozens of Israelis gathered to listen, cheer on and support the group of eight. During the Hebrew lyrics, I sought some help from Israelis in the crowd and was given a translation.
New Friends from Nazareth.
On the weekend of October 24th, two American friends Ian and Phillip and I decided to take an hour long bus to Nazareth to see the sights, walk the streets, meet the locals and play some basketball (apparently!). On the way there, we met some Italian tourists who didn't have any shekels (Israeli currency). It doesn't reflect well on their part but I assume they were coming off of a cruise ship. So, they tried to coax us to join their overly expensive van-ride to Nazareth to decrease the price for each of them...not happening. The city itself is worth returning to; the people are friendly, the history of the Basilica of the Annunciation is incredible, and Nazareth Village (a reenactment of the city during Jesus' years) is spot-on. In terms of the basketball game, while the boys were shooting hoops with boys from an Arab catholic church, I was sitting on the sidelines perfectly enjoying myself. It appeared as if we walked into a recreation center affiliated with the church. One of the younger girls walked over to me and handed me a lollipop.
One of our CIEE study abroad trips within Israel took place in Akko (also known as Acre), a a quaint port city thirty minutes north of Haifa University. Instead of paying for the conventional tour guide, our CIEE "mom" Kate Shalvoy found a friend of a friend from Akko to give us a brief history tour. Ghassan covered the highlights, including the sea wall built around the city for defensive purposes in 1750 ( and now used by many children to jump from), the Genovese Square where many European merchants worked and lived and and the Templar Tunnel built during the First Crusade (around 1100). After the Crusade period, the Mamluks controlled the port between 1260 and 1517, giving Akko an Arab influence. Once imperial influence ended, i.e. the Ottoman Empire and the British mandate, Akko's population was majority Arab. The 1948 War of Independence and various rounds of Jewish immigration to Israel have gradually displaced many of the Arabs from the city and diversified the demographics. At the end of the tour, Ghassan told us a bit more about himself. Apart from playing the guitar, Ghassan works at a long-term care facility for young Arab women who need help getting back on their feet. The job sounded like it required a lot of patience but brought a lot of fulfillment. Although I haven't since Ghassan since our visit, he has introduced me to an Arab student from Haifa who I have practiced Arabic with twice.
Mr. Stray Cat (one of hundreds in Israel)
Mr. cat doesn't require much of a description. All I can say is that the British originally imported cats to Palestine in the early 1900s, but after the 1948 war stray cats became part of the culture in Israel...believe me, they're everywhere.
East Jerusalem resident
During CIEE's 2 day trip to Jerusalem, an Israeli tour guide (originally from NYC) planned quite a thorough trip around the city - covering East Jerusalem, the Israel Museum, a famous book store Tmol Shilshom and an authentic Shabbot dinner with many of his friends. After we took a pit stop for 15 NIS ($4 USD) hummus and pita, we woke ourselves up given the heaviness of the bowl of hummus and met a East Jerusalem resident to hear more about the conflict's impact on his life. Initially, I didn't predict how emotional the experience would be. He first recounted the history of the 1948 and 1967 war from his perspective - a decision of his that I understand even though most of us have already studied the history quite a bit. He then walked us through a neighborhood of many Jewish ultra orthodox settlements. Since the issue is complex and emotional for both parties, I realize that both sides want to be heard. While we were listening to him talk, he took out pictures from riots in the neighborhood, during which one of the Palestinian residents had been killed. I started crying and it took some time for me to get composed again. Since Israel technically has rights over East Jerusalem, even though it is annexed to Palestinians, settlements are a complicated legal mess. He ended the tour on a positive note by inviting us to a restaurant he works as a chef at.
David Ehrich of Tmol Shilshom
Poet and founder of Tmol Shilshom, Ehrich established this Jerusalem cafe in 1994. The opening of the cafe occurred only several months after the first intifada ended in September 1993. Although some had their reservations about its potential success, Tmol Shilshom is now regarded as one of the best cafes in the city due to its atmosphere, food, and books available to all customers. Our tour guide had met with Ehrich once a week to read poetry, and thus suggested that we spend the morning eating fresh food and hearing great poetry. "It's a crazy country. Wars and conflict," Ehrich said. "To balance all of this out, we have literature. We have a great tradition of literature. We are people of the book." Ehrich recently published a book entitled "Who Will Die Last". I will definitely look into it.
I might as well stick a cool shot during an afternoon hike in Klil (an Israeli village near Akko).
To convey the work and energy put into Shabbot, our Jerusalem tour guide, Jonah Fischer, instructed the 11 of us to buy specific ingredients at the Mehane Yehuda market and then participate in the cooking for a 20 person Shabbot dinner that night. The Mehane Yehuda market reminded me of the hyena scene in the Lion King...if you didn't look out, you would have been trampled, stepped on or pushed by shoppers in a rush. Luckily, my assignment was just lettuce, eggs and rice. The woman pictured above may have been a housemate of Jonahs, but she was our head chef for the night. She comes from an ultra orthodox family but has since become less conservative. She evidently had a lot of experience in the kitchen and orchestrated a fabulous meal (a vegetable soup, a chicken soup, potatoes and rice, chocolate pudding and roasted vegetables). The whole experience was a bit intense given that there was one kitchen and a whole lot of bodies wanting to find a job. That said, by the time I tasted the food, I'd say it was worth it.
That's it for now!