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3 posts from March 2014


Spring 2014, Issue I



A Month Weaving In and Out of the Beaten Path

Millions of people come to Israel every year; many for religious reasons, some to see family, others to explore its natural beauty, and the list goes on. But students who come to CIEE Haifa  are here because they believe in trying to "peace the world together." What does that mean? So far it means feeling comfortable in the questions: observing, suspending judgement, listening, and inquiring. In this first month, they have accomplished that mission beautifully:

IMG_5618Ironically 'breaking the ice' at the beach at our first orientation meeting.

1899887_10152189180735546_984097314_nDrinking arabic coffee during a local shop tour.

1622722_10152189182940546_1756163524_nSeeing how to make falafel.

IMG_5622Overcoming fear of a new public transportation system.

IMG_5631Experiencing Haifa through the eyes of Haifa native and local student Fadi Folan.

1888532_10152189188785546_1224193183_nVisiting Iqrit, a piece of disputed land where young Palestinian Christians have occupied the last remaining building, a church, in an attempt to maintain their connection to their incestral land.

1507073_10152189189645546_781732165_nMeeting with the occupants of the church in Iqrit.

IMG_5657   A visit to Amirim to meet Mustafa and hear his very interesting story and perspective (we'll leave it at that!). 

1959400_10152694159954128_340139596_nHiking the Ramon Crater.

IMG_5931Back on campus, having a profound discussion with Palestinian-American Dr. Maha El-Taji about identity and how an important part of 'peacing the world together' is 'peacing ourselves together.'









Wandering in the desert

These past few days, I've had a lot of time to let my mind wander. We spent the weekend in the southern part of Israel on another trip sponsored by the International School, like the one to Jerusalem a couple weeks ago. On Friday, we hiked Makhtesh Ramon (in English, Ramon Crater), the world's largest erosion crater (called makhtesh), located in the Negev Desert along the Israel National Trail. After that 6 hour hike, we rolled down sand dunes nearby (after a bit of convincing myself), and then drove the rest of the way to Eilat for the night. The next morning, we hiked through/up/on Eilat Mountains and spent the rest of day at the beach. On Sunday we finally had some time to relax, and other than figuring out how to work the laundry machines here, it was fairly uneventful, minus the short trip to urgent care for some stitches in my middle finger after slicing it while making dinner. Oops. Anyways...

When I'm walking in the middle of the desert or mountains, I've found that it's really easy to think. I wonder if that's how all these stories came out of years wandering in the middle of the desert. I realized, when we were walking on the top of the mountains, that from where I stood, I could see the places where the stories have been written about. I could see the Red Sea in one direction and the desert in another. Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt were all in view. It was really easy to think- but at some point, I stopped talking. I don't think I would've known what to say. Thankfully there was a trail of others to follow, because my feet were just moving and my thoughts rambling along. Even now it's really tough to articulate how I felt in those hours. Other than being really sweaty and hot and thinking I wasn't going to make it up some of the steep climbs...

But I know I felt really small. Maybe that's why I loved it so much; it's like when I look up at the sky and I just feel awed and humbled and moved. It puts things in perspective. It puts me in perspective, and that's really refreshing. One of my favorite quotes:

"I am only one, but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do." (-Edward Everett Hale or Helen Keller, who said it later, as sources say)

I'm also reminded of a quote from Pirkei Avot, a compilation of ethical teachings of Rabbis from around 200 C.E.:

"It is not incumbent upon you to complete the work, but neither are you at liberty to desist from it."

Welcome to a window into my mind...but back to the mountains.

The best thing about climbing is that you know there's going to be a view that takes your breath away when you get to the top. I could see for was awesome. (Luckily, I overcame my fear of heights a few years ago walking on the edge of some cliffs in Seattle- thanks for making me do that, Mom and Dad). When you stand on the tops of mountains, it feels like you can see forever. I could see paths that trailed into the distance, red rocks, sand, and water. But what about the things I couldn't see? When you have the big picture, it's easy to forget about the little things. But it's important to maintain a balance between all those pieces- that our perspectives don't always let us see everything, even if we think we can. That we may have climbed up a mountain someone else hasn't, or that they have climbed their own of which we don't know.  It's easy to get caught up in our own views, experiences, and backgrounds- it's a good thing- but it is not everything. I've been thinking a lot about my thoughts, and from where I come. Wherever I go, this place makes it really easy to think, take a step back, and question.

For now, I leave you with this...

"All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost."

Happy thinking.


Turning over rocks


I finally finished The Lemon Tree this week, and this pretty much sums up how I feel. Minus the part about not wanting to read any more, because I have a seemingly endless list of suggested books to read and movies to watch (to anyone with a pending book list, if you choose to put this on it, I would definitely recommend it going close to the top). Maybe one day I'll get to the rest of them. Wishful thinking...

Anyways, after two weeks of being here I'm realizing that I'm probably not going to have any better understanding of human nature or conflict or this conflict in particular and how to make peace, or whatever I thought I wanted to figure out before I got here. I'm studying all of these things in my classes (since we have to register this week, my final list: Hebrew, Islamic Fundamentalism in the Arab World, Arms Control in the Nuclear Realm, Arab-Israel Relations, and Psychology of Resistance), but these classes are designed to challenge us and make us think about all the sides and approaches involved, not to find answers. I don't think there are any answers, just diverse human experiences.  In a conversation I had this week, someone said to me "there are two peoples here, and they are both right." They're just looking at different sides of the elephant, or even different animals entirely (See the variations of The Blind Men and an Elephant). So how, in any place in this world, can we bring people together to have a conversation, to listen to others, and to be willing to take a step back and realize that their story is not the only one? The world is bigger than each of us, or our own families, or communities, whatever they may be (let alone the universe, but that's another story...) Since we're on a Calvin and Hobbes theme, though:



But I think that looking under rocks in the creek is a valuable activity too- yes, the world is a huge place, but it's the little things that teach us about others, the moments of connection, learning, openness, and trust. It takes little steps towards a deeper understanding, and I think now, that is what I hope to do here, and when I leave.

In the past week, I've spent a good amount of time turning over rocks myself. Last Thursday night (February 20) we went on a bar crawl down Haifa's stair-trail in the city (talk about lots of little steps...) and explored the smaller pubs in the area. We tried Tubi, Haifa's locally produced alcohol, and Palestinian beer, called Taybeh. After a stop for falafel, we called it a night. On Friday morning, I had breakfast with a friend who had been a captain in the IDF. We talked a lot about identities and the differences between expressed religious identity here and in the US.  We also talked about public and civic service and what it means to be a part of a community. Our conversation really got me thinking a lot about various parts of my own identity and the way I've been brought up. Afterwards, I met up with people at the shuk for groceries (Note to self: never go to the shuk on a Friday afternoon at 2 pm- everyone is there before it closes for Shabbat. Oy.) We went home, rested, and then ended up having a barbecue with some guys that live downstairs from my apartment.

On Saturday, we went to part of Carmel National Park to hike Nahal Kelah, which is a four hour-long hike along a dried up river/creek type thing, so lots of actual rocks (Calvin and Hobbes was just so fitting this week) but no water. It took us an extra hour to first find the trailhead, but once we did, it was an awesome hike- a little tough on our ankles, but so worth it. At the end, there's a spring with clean drinking water and a few caves you can go into (see Facebook for pictures). Small steps to get over my slight claustrophobia, too...but all in all, an awesome day that left me with a clear head and light heart. I can't wait for more hiking trips- next week we're going to Machtesh Ramon, the craters in the Negev.


Sunday was our school trip to Jerusalem (not required, but a free bus). Our guide was the Contemporary Israel professor who showed us around from the New City to the Old City (another 6 hours of walking)- we saw the King David and Three Arches Hotels, King David's tomb, the Room of the Last Supper, the Western Wall, stopped for shawarma in the Jewish quarter, went to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and then had a few minutes for snacks before getting back on the bus home. Jerusalem makes me think a lot- it's a beautiful city rich with history and stories and stones that are time portals to centuries ago, but the things I can see from the top of the hill make me wonder.

Monday we had class again (at this point you probably don't even think I go to school here) but this week was still our trial period to see what classes and professors worked well for our learning styles and interests. I went to Islamic Fundamentalism and met an incredible professor who does things that I would love to do at some point in my life. I'm really looking forward to these classes and learning with and from my professors and peers.

On Thursday, after Hebrew, I took a bus to Netanya to visit a William & Mary alum who I met through my time as a Diversity Peer Educator. She's been working as a teaching fellow here since September. We walked to see the beach and had delicious little mini ice creams and caught up about living here, home, and school. From Netanya, we took a sherout to Tel Aviv and then a bus to Ashkelon for an Israeli Lacrosse game that my friend's friend was playing in. After the game, I stayed with my family in Ashkelon for a wonderful weekend spent walking around to see the end of Darom Adom season (the "red south" flower in the Northern Negev) and the historical national park in Ashkelon. They taught me how to cook some Israeli and Russian dishes, too- nice to bring back to my tiny little kitchen here with only a toaster oven and hot plates for cooking. On Saturday night I took the train back up north to stay in Netanya for the night and then back to Haifa Sunday morning.

A busy, eventful week, but one that has let me think, and given me more to think about. It's been nice to travel alone and be in my own thoughts, too..."As we daringly pursue our road...we are but black specks. On we go."