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2 posts categorized "Dana Del Vecchio"


Alive and Kicking

      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. 

Ghassan Birumi

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.

That's me.

I might as well stick a cool shot during an afternoon hike in Klil (an Israeli village near Akko).

Young Jerusalemite 

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!



Two Israeli Perspectives

Maya Hadar – Member of IDF and Assistant Professor at University of Haifa




     Maya Hadar, a Haifa native with three separate degrees in psychology, law and peace and conflict studies, met with my study abroad group and I on Friday afternoon to offer us a closer look at Israel's culture and society. It was my second time hearing an Israeli give some candid remarks about their fellow Israelis. The prior day, an older fellow sitting to my right on my flight to Tel Aviv made a point of telling me that the manic driving culture reflects on Israeli's need to rush from point a to point b. 

      In terms of social behavior, Hadar described Israel as a nation of assertive, honest, bold managers. In Hadar's opinion, most Israelis ignore hierarchical roles and support the belief that citizens with rank or status deserve the same treatment as average citizens. As an example, she referenced Israeli students who aren't afraid to frequently chat with their professors and call them by their first name. Hesitation to talk to elders is not a problem here. The same tendency applies to strangers. When meeting new guests, it's typical for an Israeli to be interested in learning their career or income.

    Since Hadar is part of the Israeli Defense Force, our class was interested in hearing her perspective on the Arab/Israeli conflict relative to Haifa. “Although the conflict is present, people live their own lives,” said Hadar. To her, Haifa is a great example of co-existence. There are Ethiopians [who immigrated during the early 1990s], Russians from post Soviet Union, Arabs, Jews and ultra orthodox Jews. That being said, “the downside of living here is the mentality of a constant threat,” said Hadar.

Tamer Omari – Program Manager of HEARTBEAT

      Tamar Omari lives in a village with 1,200 people, all of whom are related to him in one way or another. “We're given a circle of land. We can only build up, we can never expand. ” He may live in Haifa, but the city is still very segregated. Tamer went to a Palestinian school that was managed by the Israeli Ministry of Education. When I asked whether the quality of education of Palestinian schools measures up to Israeli schools, he said it's not even comparable. At school, he and his classmates learned about Independence Day and the democracy of Israel. It is not in Israel's interest to incorporate the history of the Palestinians into their Jewish curriculum.

     It's easy to think that Palestinians in this region solely live in the Palestinian territories, but twenty percent of Israel is comprised of Palestinians. My question is, does the quality of life of a Palestinian living in Israel differ from one living in Palestine? “I would not dare complain with someone who lives in Jenin [West Bank] because my life is not threatened. My freedom is," said Omari. "They understand that we're more privileged, but there's a mutual understanding [between us].” My question is, what is it like to be a Palestinian living in Israel? Although it may be safer as a Palestinian in Israel, Omari's experience suggests that being Israeli does not always guarantee equality; rather, ethnicity plays a significant role. “Everything is not fine. We live under constant racism. I'm always being challenged to be violent," said Omari.

      These days, Omari develops consciousness about the issue among young adults by making music with Palestinians and Jews in a safe and comfortable environment. In the process, the students engage in political dialogue and discuss the meaning of their lyrics while Omari facilitates.  If you want to hear a few of their tracks, check it out at .

   * Since Maya Hadar and Tomer Omari come from different backgrounds and interpret co-existence differently, the two are interesting enough to compare and contrast. As a reader, I hope that you were able to read each excerpt with an open mind, putting any prior viewpoints aside. I will try to always give two perspectives (whether its Christian, Druze, Muslim or Jewish).