Studying here in Haifa has been the highlight of my academic career thus far. While the academics are superb and the food is undeniably amazing, my favorite part of living in the Middle East has been meeting so many incredible, inspiring people. Our CIEE trip to Jaffa and Tel Aviv provided us with the opportunity to meet several people from all different walks of life, perspectives, and beliefs.
When we first arrived in Jaffa, we traveled to Tabeetha School. This Christian school hosts children of all ethnicities, all nationalities, and all religions. Tabeetha School accepts both international and local students, creating a complex, truly diverse student body. After meeting with the faculty, I sensed that for the teachers and administrators, this was not just a job. It was their passion. I sensed that they genuinely loved their jobs and the children they worked with. We then got to meet and interact with several of the students. One girl in particular, due to her father’s government job, had lived in around 5 countries and gone to just as many schools, all at the age of 13. She expressed how much she enjoyed meeting new people and experiencing new cultures, and I credit Tabeetha School, if only partially, with successfully allowing their students to build strong relationships with others of every ethnicity and religion.
After leaving the school, we traveled to the home of a prominent Arab Christian woman named Doris. She welcomed us with coffee and desserts, the traditional mode of hospitality in the Middle East (maybe my favorite part of Israel). Doris told our group about the history of her family and how they opened a family-run coffee shop decades ago that still serves delicious coffee today. She also discussed the Arab-Jewish dynamics within Jaffa in the past as well as in the present. Since Doris comes from one of the most well-known, affluent families in Jaffa, it was interesting to hear her unique perspective on social issues.
After we left Doris’s home, we traveled to the old fishing area of Jaffa. We explored local art galleries, walked the ancient streets of the old city of Jaffa, and discussed the European-inspired architecture. It was amazing to leisurely explore the historic, charming town of Jaffa, only a few miles south of the bustling metropolis of Tel Aviv.
After we left the old city of Jaffa, we took a taxi to south Tel Aviv, a neighborhood known for its delicious Ethiopian cuisine and ethnically diverse population. Since I had never tasted authentic Ethiopian food, I was really excited to try the food I had heard so much about. I soon discovered that half of the enjoyment of eating Ethiopian food is attempting to eat it in the traditional manner. Ethiopian food is meant to be eaten with the hands rather than with utensils, something my American brain had a hard time adjusting to but loved nonetheless. Injera, traditional Ethiopian bread and staple to the cuisine, has a strong yeasty taste, and while its taste definitely requires getting used to, I can honestly say that I would love to try Ethiopian food again.
For the last part of our day in Tel Aviv, we met Barik Sale, a young refugee from Tajuna, a small village in Darfur. Barik left his family when he was only a boy in search of safety and a better life. He eventually arrived in Israel when he was only 13 years old. After working in Tel Aviv and learning Hebrew and English, he earned his bagrut degree (high-school diploma) and is currently working on obtaining his Bachelor’s degree in the prestigious IDC Herzliya. I was stunned and humbled that someone who had experienced such hardship in his life at such a young age had the inner strength and determination to change his life and make his own success. Meeting Barik was truly an honor and definitely the highlight of our trip to Jaffa.