Thursday, February 10, 2011

Palestine and Yad Vashem

February 10, 2011

I promise to write in detail about the days I am skipping, but right now I need to put into words my thoughts about the last two days of Super-Taglit.

On Tuesday we went to the West Bank, to Palestine, across the green line, to the territories, to the ’67, to Bethlehem, to Ramallah. On Wednesday we went to West Jerusalem, to Jerusalem, to the Old City, to the Dome of the Rock, to the Temple Mount, to Yad Vashem. The words are misleading, the labels loaded, the numbers and dates and lines and facts far blurrier than imaginable. I was there; my feet were on the soil, my hands touched the walls, but I have no way of saying where I was. Not just about Palestine, but “Israel” too. “Jerusalem” too. “Tel Aviv” too.

Early Tuesday morning we take a bus to South Tel Aviv and walk among the refugees and the poor to the shayrut to Jerusalem. In Jerusalem we walk down the Jewish streets, largely deserted so early, into the Jewish section of the old city. Slowly we walk down and down and to the left, into the Muslim section, and out the Damascus Gate into East Jerusalem. There we walk among the Israeli Arabs, those with Israeli citizenship but not Israel’s respect, support, or mere tolerance, to the Arab bus station, and onto a bus to Bethlehem. Bet Lehem, the Arabs say. Bet Lechem, the Jews say. Bethlehem, the Christian say. Bethlehem, the Americans say. “Let’s not speak Hebrew today,” we say. “Let’s pretend we’re Christian. Let’s not tell them we live in Israel,” we decide. Onto the bus, three white girls sticking out like sore thumbs, at least until the Asian pilgrims on their way to see Jesus climb aboard.

Through the checkpoint, no stopping. Who cares what goes into the territories, across the line, into the Authority. No no, it only matters what comes back into the Land. That’s what Israeli Jews call Israel, you know. “Eretz” is the word for land/country, but they call it HaEretz. The Land. Like it’s the only Land in the world. You can hear the capital letter when they say it. Hebrew doesn’t even have capital letters.

Off the bus in Bet Lehem, Bet Lechem, Bethlehem. Sidewalks, while present, are irrelevant here; the streets are filled with people selling, buying, eating, yelling, walking, running, laughing, and watching. As we approach The Church where Jesus first came into this world, we begin to see Pilgrims: a group of Russians over here, Germans in yellow hats, Africans in green. They have not walked through Bet Lehem, through the market that is also a street; their large buses with words like “Hanna Transpört” and “Holy Land Tours” emblazoned on the sides have disgorged them into the Nativity Square and will gather them back up there before scurrying off to Nazareth or Jericho or to where Jesus lost his first tooth, kissed his first girl, hit his first home run. Inside the Church, everyone is eager to get their picture taken touching a small star on the ground. “Excuse me,” Jodi asks a monk, “what are we looking at?” “This is where Jesus born,” he tells her, confusion in his voice. Good Christians should know this. The Thai tourists spend twenty minutes in line to put their hand on a spot that was once, ostensibly, covered in placenta and a slimy squirmy itty-bitty messiah.

After saying hi to Jesus, we get lunch. Falafel, of course. We are the only people in the shop; the falafel is dry and cold, but we force it down.
“You are from America,” the falafel man says, sitting at a table behind us. “What is it like? You come all this way for falafel?”
“Yes,” I say, forgetting that dry humor doesn’t transfer well between languages.
“We teach Arab kindergarteners in Yafa,” Amy tells him. It’s partly true.
“I cannot go to Jerusalem, you know,” he says. “The wall – I cannot go to Jerusalem.”
“We know,” we say. “We’re sorry.”
“Where else have you been?” He says.
“Nazareth, Akko,” we say.
“Ah, Akka. How is Akka? Is it very beautiful?”
“Yes, very beautiful.”
“Oh,” he says, realizing something. “You live in Yafa.”
He leans in intently. “Have you been to the sea? What is the sea like?” In his eyes, the reflection of the wall that keeps him in, the passes he doesn’t have, the city and the sea he cannot see.
“It is beautiful,” we say softly, our hearts breaking a little more every breath.

After lunch, we meet another man who runs a tourist shop. He speaks to us in English, Arabic, French, Spanish, and German.
“Come inside,” he says, “come see all my postcards.” He stands behind his counter. “Have you seen the wall?”
“Yes, we’ve seen the wall.”
“I cannot go to Jerusalem. Before, I could. But now, the wall. I cannot go to Jerusalem.”
“We know,” we say. “We’re sorry.”
“Did you walk through the checkpoint?”
“I cannot go through. You have to have a pass, and sometimes you have one, and sometimes you don’t.”
He shows us Banksy’s art on the wall, which he has google searched, printed out, and put inside a plastic sheet protector. It is kept right next to the cash register; he must consult it often. He shows us one picture of the three wise men attempting to enter Bethlehem but stopped by the wall. “This inspired me to make,” he says. He takes out a beautiful wood carving, about a foot tall. It is divided in two by the wall, over which shines the star and the angel. On one side, baby Jesus is born. On the other, the wise men attempt to get to him. “Sometimes they have a pass,” he says, and slides open a compartment in the wall. “Sometimes they don’t.” It closes. “I cannot go to Jerusalem.” He spends his life carving and selling figurines of baby Jesus, of Mary, postcards of Jerusalem. His churches, his God, his religion is centered twenty minutes away, but he cannot go.

After Bethlehem, to Ramallah. We walk to the bus station among the Palestinians who point us the in the right direction, bemused by our presence. We wait for an elevator, but cannot get on: it is full of boy with a shopping cart and his family. “No!” A man says in Arabic, pulling the boy and his cart out of the elevator. “Let these girls on. They are not Arab!” Onto the service (sehr-vees) to Ramallah. It should be a ride of twenty minutes. It takes an hour and forty minutes. “Roads are infrastructure,” Amy whispers to me as we wind our way through narrow dirt roads over dizzying cliffs, having to back up to let trucks pass, and going back into Israel and then back into Palestine, through the desert, through the nothing, because there is a severe shortage of roads leading directly anywhere. We pass two signs: “USA Aid: Rebuilding the ____ Road.” “Thanks USA,” I think, for once sort of proud to be an American.

Bethlehem is clean, and the part we were in was touristy and well kept. Ramallah is not. Trash and construction rubble litter the streets, traffic is backed up on the few usable roads, and the people are hurried. Amy is proposed to, and we get to Stars and Bucks. We wander for twenty minutes and realize Ramallah is not for us – downtown Ramallah at night is not for us. Ramallah is not for tourists, not for a small herd of white girls in REI fleece jackets and North Face backpacks. We get ice cream, and then flag down a bus to Jerusalem.

The bus is full; we take the last three seats. Ours are the only female heads not covered by hijab, the only white faces. We approach the checkpoint. “We’re American. Do we have to get off the bus?” Amy asks the driver. “Yes,” he says. “New law, everyone must off.” Not everyone gets off, but we are American, we do as we’re told. “He is totally messing with us,” we say. But we wanted to go through the checkpoint anyway. In line at the checkpoint, encircled by wire and concrete. Standing in row, like a herd of cattle, waiting for the turnstyle to unlock to let us in. Bag onto the conveyor belt, body through the metal detector, pass onto the magnetic reader. “We’re American,” we say, holding up our passports to the window, in lieu of passes. The soldier doesn’t have the clearance for this. He makes a phone call. We wait, wondering if our bus will leave us behind. “Let me see your visas,” he calls through the window. We show him. “Okay, go.” We grab our bags and hurry back to the bus. “Welcome back,” the driver says with a grin, giving up his seat to me.

Back into Jerusalem. “I cannot go to Jerusalem,” they told us. Back in Jerusalem, and then back into Jewish Jerusalem, back on a Jewish shayrut, back into Tel Aviv, back to the sea. “It feels different now,” I say. “We were in a different country today,” Amy says. “We should have been in a different country,” I say.

“Fuck,” I say quietly. “Fuck this.”

Less than twelve hours later, back on a shayrut to Jerusalem. Back through the Jewish streets into the Old City. Through a metal detector, down the stairs to the Wailing Wall, through another metal detector, and up the ramp to the Dome of the Rock, to the Temple Mount. The Dome is incredible. The structure, the tiling, the golden roof. There are small circles of men studying the Quran scattered everywhere, and tons of American tourists taking pictures of each other with the Dome in the background: “Should I pose?” “How does it look?” “Can you get the Quran in English or just Arab?”
“This is fucking beautiful,” I keep saying. The view of Jerusalem is amazing, the Dome is amazing, the mosque is amazing. I am filled with sadness that Jews have nothing like this, but know that we aren’t ready for one. As we are leaving, we see a group of Jewish men exiting through the gate, but walking backwards. You aren’t supposed to turn your back to the Wailing Wall, and they are not turning their backs to the Temple Mount. “Where the Temple Should Be.” As soon as they are out of the doorway, they form a circle and begin to sing and dance a song about how one day there will be a temple here and nothing else, this will belong only to the Jews again. Loudly. You can hear them from the Dome. “Assholes!” We say, walking past them. “Fucking assholes.” “They are the people, on both sides, keeping there from being peace,” Amy says. “Fucking assholes,” I say, eloquent as always.

Back through the Jewish Quarter and onto a bus to Yad Vashem, the Holocaust Memorial. The memorial is on top of hill (‘go out and claim a hill for Israel’ is what the settlers say and do), a sprawling complex of remembrance and justification. The museum is huge, the facts, photos, and artifacts overwhelming. The sheer volume of material is mind-boggling. The Children’s memorial is a dark room covered in mirrors, in which the light of one single candle is infinitely reflected. Each of those children could have touched so many lives, done so many things. Infinite possibilities, blown out by a wind of hatred and fear. The Hall of Remembrance has the names of each camp engraved on the floor, with the eternal flame behind them. “That’s a weird way to memorialize,” I say as we exit. “Why are we memorializing the camps – the camps aren’t what matter, what matter are the people who shouldn’t be dead. Why isn’t the eternal flame in the Hall of Names?” The Hall of Names: a conical room covered in bookshelves, filled with binders, filled with names. Someday they hope to have the name of every single person who died kept in that room. There are many empty shelves.

According to this museum, the history of the holocaust is this: “everyone hated the Jews always, but the Germans hated them the most, they killed almost all of them, but thank God, now there is Israel.” The partisans fought for God and for Eretz Israel, the Land of Israel, according to the monument to them. “No!” I say. “They didn’t fight for God, and they didn’t fight for Israel. They fought for life.” “Yes,” Amy says. “This was not a Zionist fight.” But it has become the justification for modern Zionism, the impetus for the creation of the state, the permission slip for Independence, the free pass for the ghettoization of Palestine.

Every Holocaust memorial in America extrapolates the lessons of the Holocaust to the lessons of the world; global tolerance, social justice, and peace are the themes of these memorials. The holocaust is an example of hate and bigotry run unchecked, and the point of these memorials is to encourage thought and acceptance, not just to remember what happened in this specific place and time. The Israeli memorial does not once mention that. It does not extrapolate any lessons for the world, except that Israel is vital to the continued survival of the Jews. Global peace and tolerance for other religions and cultures is not mentioned once. I suppose it would be quite awkward to have a section on religious tolerance while those men cannot come to Jerusalem, cannot see the sea. While Palestine is held in a state of suspended animation, while families and communities are being split apart by the wall. While Palestinians need passes to travel, and there are old passes with the word “JUDE” stamped on them in display cases, next to fading yellow stars once sewn onto cloaks and jackets.

How can a people who suffered so much, who were decimated by hate and intolerance, do this to another people? How can they look that man in the face, the man who has never seen the sea, and not see the lessons of the holocaust, of the inquisition, of the pogroms, in their own actions?

Well, good news for them, they don’t have to look in his face. They cannot, because they are not allowed in Bethlehem and he is not allowed in Jerusalem. There is a whole generation of people, born since 1967, who have never been allowed to meet the other. The fear, intolerance, and bigotry built into both societies can never be cured by meeting someone from the other side because you physically cannot cross that border. How can there be peace when you can’t even look him in the eye, hear him speak his name and his truth?

Through all of this, the issue of passing is raised for me. In Bethlehem, we say we teach Arab kindergartners in Yafo. In Yad Vashem, we say we volunteer in Tel Aviv. Both are true-ish. Neither is completely true. In Bethlehem, with our light hair, eyes, and skin, we are easily taken for Christian. I keep my star hidden under my scarf, and we are good to go. In Yad Vashem, even while wearing a Palestinian scarf from Bethlehem, I carry my Jewish privilege like a golden ticket in the Wonka Factory. All-access pass for someone who deserves to be here, who should be here. Should we have told that coat check guy at Yad Vashem that we work in Yafo? Maybe. Probably. Both sides think we are on their side, but I can belong to no side. I’m torn, like that mythical child claimed by two mothers. These two days were a tour of privilege; as a non-Israeli, I am privileged to be able to go to Palestine. As a non-Palestinian, I am privileged to be able to go to Jerusalem. As an Aryan looking Jew, I am privileged to have the choice of disclosure.

Eating an everything bagel with lox schmer before returning to Jerusalem, I feel the weight of these days on my shoulders. “We’re all fucked,” I think to myself.

Six million of us were murdered.
Yes, we know. We’re sorry.
I cannot go to Jerusalem.
Yes, we know. We’re sorry.

UDPATE: my phone was just suspended because I called a Palestinian phone number. The phone company assumed my phone had been stolen (by an Arab) and suspended it, because why on earth would I be calling a Palestinian number?

Excuse me? I’m sorry, EXCUSE ME???

This. Has. Got. To. Stop.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Super Taglit: The Old City

February 1, 2011

Well, the program is over. It ended last week, on Thursday. Last Monday we had our final study day and our closing party. The final party was amazing; we all got our Tikkun Olam shirts, and there was a mandatory talent show, which turned out to be even more hilarious than you’d expect. There was singing, dancing, and immense mocking of Masa, obviously. It was a pretty incredible way to end the semester. It was rough leaving my Ironi Zayin kids, and even the little shits at the kindergarten (well, some of them.) These five months have flown by, and while I’m excited for what is coming next, it’s still really weird for this chapter, which has been intense and challenging and scary and strange to be over.

But, speaking of next, EMMA AND AMY’S SUPER TAGLIT has officially begun! Amy and I decided that we wanted to be tourists in Israel, and see all the things that everyone saw on their birthright trips (which are called “taglit” here in Israel, which means “discovery!”) Our first leg was in Jerusalem, where we went to the Old City and wandered around the Muslim and Christian quarters. I’d been in the Old City before, but only at night and never with energy, so it was very different to be wandering during the day while things were happening.

We went on Saturday morning, so it was Shabbat. Our walk from where we stayed the night before (with friend’s of Amy’s from camp) to the Old City was completely deserted. Jewish Jerusalem shuts down like no one’s business on Shabbat, which I always forget. Tel Aviv shuts down quite a bit, and no buses run, but it is nothing compared to Jerusalem. We hardly saw anyone else even walking around. Of course, Arab-run business and stores don’t shut down, or do rarely, which makes Tel Aviv, and Yafo especially, easy to navigate on Shabbat. But in Jerusalem, Jews and Muslims are so segregated that when in a Jewish area, you don’t see a single (a) Arab or (b) thing run by Arabs. Thus, nothing is open. Segregation: it’s fun! But anyway, once we entered the Old City walls, things were happening.

It’s still very strange for me that the Old City of Jerusalem, arguably one of the most holy sites in the world, held sacred by three of the most powerful religions in the world, reminds me so much of the central bus station in Tel Aviv. In both you can find people hawking their wares; cheaply made tourist crap, scarves, underwear, juice carts, and bakeries accost you from all sides. The owners idle outside, yelling at you to come in, and you are constantly being pushed and bumped by people all eager to buy that “Don’t Worry America, Israel Is Behind You” t-shirt with a picture of fighter jets on it. I don’t feel holy in the Old City, and I don’t really feel the holiness, and I have trouble imagining how you could. I guess that’s a good case for not letting the riffraff into your actual place of worship, like the Muslims (and Mormons) do.

We went to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, which is ostensibly where Jesus was taken down from his cross and awoke. The church is amazing. It is huge, and old, and beautiful, with all these little twisting passages and underground rooms. Unfortunately nothing has signs on it so we didn’t know what we were looking at most of the time, but it was still amazing. My photos (soon to be on facebook) really don’t do it justice, but they’re better than nothing.

Standing in one of the great halls, I began to better understand this Jewish longing for a temple, and the obsession with the Western Wall, which is the only bit still standing of the foundation of the Jewish Temple which was destroyed almost 2,000 years ago. Christianity, all of Christianity, can come to this Church, which is huge and beautiful and amazing, and soak it up. You can actually touch the wood they laid Jesus on to clean his wounds (although the Temple wasn’t built until 300AD, so one wonders where they might have gotten than wood slab from, but ANYWAY), and you can come into this incredibly holy space. I know Catholics have the Vatican, but this place is holy for anyone who loves Jesus. And that’s amazing. I, for the first time, wished that Judaism had something like that, somewhere old and beautiful and steeped in a rich history. Seeing someone else’s temple, so close to the place ours once was, made me feel that loss for the first time. I also understood better why the Wall, even though it was just a part of the foundation, is so sacred. It’s a reminder that we had this too, this imposing building with priceless history and holiness inside of it, and that we can’t forget that. We had a place, and this is marking it. I don’t think I really got that until I was inside what we don’t have.

But then I went to the Wall. As we stood on the steps overlooking it, Amy said: “I’m underwhelmed.” And I pretty much agreed with her. First, and most importantly, men and women are not allowed to pray at the wall together. There are separate sides, and the women’s side is about 1/5 of the Wall, and the men have the rest. A boy will get Bar Mitzved at the wall, and his mother will have to stand on the other side of the divider, on a plastic deck chair, to look over and watch her son become a man. Women also aren’t allowed to wear a tallis, the prayer shawl you are supposed to wear when you pray, at the Wall. Amy told me you can be arrested for wearing it. To put that in perspective for you, just a few nights before, I was downstairs in Apartment 1, and Nate came in to ask Dante to show him how to put on his tallis because he will be wearing it at his wedding. Dante and Hannah both went and got their tallises to show him. Hannah got hers at her Bat Mitzve, and she said that putting it on the first time was more meaningful than the actual torah reading. Why the hell should Nate get to wear that, something he had never worn before, at the Wall, and Hannah, or a female rabbi who has dedicated her life to Torah and Talmud, not get to? I have always believed that Judaism is supposed to be about justice, about giving, about doing what is right even when it hard, about remembering past suffering and lifting the burden of enslavement and injustice from our future generations. So where the hell does this fit in? Why can’t I pray with the men, why couldn’t Amy bring her tallis to the wall, why the hell is Judaism still promoting this injustice? And where the hell does Judaism get off telling the Muslim world that it is backwards for it’s treatment of women when it is legally enforcing gender discrimination at its most holy site?

We went up to the Wall, and we weren’t allowed to write because it was Shabbat so I didn’t leave a note, but I put my hand on it and wished for peace. There were women around me praying and crying, or just sitting and looking. No one was talking. I was more moved by how moved they were, I guess.

After the Wall, I realized that I don’t want there to be a Jewish temple, not right now. I don’t think we’re ready for it. If there were one, who would get to pray in it? Orthodox men only? Black hats only? Would there be places women couldn’t enter? Could Amy wear her tallis in it? Judaism is so incredibly divided without this space; I can’t even imagine the fighting that would ensue if the Temple were actually built. I wouldn’t want there to be a Jewish temple that I felt uncomfortable in, but at this point, I feel like no one would be comfortable in it. No one is willing to compromise on anything, and there is so much Jew-on-Jew hatred and oppression and prejudice here, it is overwhelming. As long as I, a Secular woman, would be prohibited from wearing tallis to the wall, we aren’t ready for any Temple. We aren’t ready for any messiah or any saving, and I sort of wonder if we’re ready for Jerusalem at all.

But, good thing my morose mood was lifted, because on Sunday we went to THE TIME ELEVATOR, which is a virtual tour of the history of Jerusalem. It is inside a theater, and the seats move just like on those space rides at Disneyland that make my mom motion sick. There was a seat belt and everything! And it is simultaneously broadcast in 6 languages, so everyone is wearing headphones. It was AMAZING. It was probably the creepiest thing I have ever seen, one of the most right-wing things I have ever seen, with some of the worst acting I have ever seen, but it was worth every single sheckle. They sprayed us with water and smoke, and told us “everything” that had ever happened in Jerusalem, until 1967, of course. There was strangely quite a bit of reverence for Christianity, and they didn’t even talk that much shit about Muslims, so that was a pleasant surprise. They also used the word “peace” to mean “undisputed Jewish control of Jerusalem,” which was unsurprising. It was also narrated by the guy who played Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof,” which made it a thousand times better. All in all, it was kind of the best half hour of my life.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Aviv and College4All

Today is my last day of volunteering, but yesterday was my last day at my favorite site, College4All. College4All is a program throughout Israel to help high achieving kids from low income areas succeed and make it to college (after the army for the kids who will serve.) I work at a local high school, Ironi Zayin (which is the letter 'z,' but also slang for penis?) in their College4All program. All the kids in the program have an 85 or better average, and have good behavior and motivation. They stay at school sometimes as late as 6 or 7pm, and the building the program is centered out of is as much a community center as an office. The kids get tutoring in English and other subjects, as well as lessons in other things, like guitar and video editing. It is really a privilege for them to be in the program, and they know it. They are getting so much help and support from being it, and their academics show it.

The woman who runs the program at Ironi Zaying (Ironi Z) is Aviv, and she sort of changed my life. I basically want to be her when I grow up.

In Israel in general, teachers are able to show greater extremes with their emotions to/about the children. As I've mentioned before, there is much more yelling and aggression towards the kids than you see in the states, but there is also much more physical affection. In preschools states, you have to be careful how much you hug or touch your kids, and be very careful to give each kid the same amount of physical affection. Here, not so much the case. In high schools in the states, you have to be very careful, and probably never touch your kids, and try to maintain a professional distance to them. Here, again, not so much.

Aviv loves her kids. She loves them, and they know it, and I know it, and everyone knows it. She calls them all "mami," which is the generic ungendered term of endearment most common here, and will hug and kiss them goodbye if she's near the door when they're leaving. She helps them with their projects, teaches them guitar in her downtime, and knows everything about their lives. She is also very strict with them, and they know not to cross her. If they are late for tutoring session, or cancel without notice, she will come down on them. Hard. I don't understand what she says to them, but that tone of voice transcends language. They have to get good grades, they have to show up, they have to have good behavior, and if they don't they know they're in for it. But they also know that if they do all those things, or even if they slip up sometimes, she is there to be a fount of love and affection, a stable source of support, and a tutor/guide/teacher/mentor for them.

The kids could just come in for their lessons and leave when they are over, but they don't. Many of them come into the "office" (which is just a room with the tables in middle where Aviv works) right after school and stay there, doing homework and hanging out, before and after their lessons, and don't go home until Aviv leaves. Aviv, and the other guy who runs the progam, Itay, has created an enviorment that is fun, safe, stable, and supportive, where the kids can causally get help with any homework problem that is giving them trouble (yesterday Roi, the English coordinator, taught a girl about the circulatory system in Hebrew, and then made her explain it to me in English) and have a place where they won't get shit from their friends for trying to do well on their homework or studying for a test.

One of the great things is that it's not just all academics in the office. On Sunday, as I was waiting for a student to arrive, two of the kids in the guitar class pulled out their guitars and started to play. Aviv and Itay took the guitars and started playing a few songs, which Aviv sang to. Then she gave the guitars back to the kids, hopped up on the table, and taught them both the chords to the song. Within five minutes, she had one kid finger picking and one kid strumming, with Itay drumming on the table and her conducting, counting, and singing. It was a full-out jam session, just created in the moments before these kids had their tutoring.

Aviv is so busy running this program - it would be really easy for her to just make the kids quietly do their homework in her office, no eating, talking, laughing, or jamming allowed. Instead, it is this fun, free, loving environment full of structure and academic exellence, but with a lot of wiggle room.

I want to take that vibe, and that energy, and try and recreate it with my own work. In my fantasty future, when I have my dialogue center, I now want it to also be like a community center. I want it to be somewhere kids can come and hang out after school, young adults can hang out between shifts at work, where it will be fun and chill but structured and safe. Where kids can make posterboards about Salvador Dali (hilariously done yesterday by two of my favorite girls) and then go into a dialogue about race and class, where adults can bring their kids to play or hang out while they are in dialogue...that's what I want now. I want it to be more free, more open to what is happening, not just a space for dialogue but a space for living. And I really want it to have the aura and energy Aviv has infused into her space. The moment you walk into her office you feel surrounded by love and support and comfort, and I don't know quite know how to recreate that, but at least know I know what I'm aiming for.

Also, Aviv doesn't watch or read the news, she doesn't follow politics at all, and she doesn't vote. She said she used to care a lot about that, and she was just upset and mad all the time. Now she doesn't do anything, she just lives her life, and she is much happier. She is doing this amazing coexistence work; some of the kids in her program are Arab, some are Jewish, and that makes no difference to her. She just takes them in, teaches them, loves them, and demands excellence from them. She is improving their lives so much, statistically and everything, making such a huge difference in their lives. All of these kids live in Yafo or South Tel Aviv, none of them have enough or would have a good chance of success without her or this program. She is changing their lives, and she is doing it all apolitically. I honestly didn't even know that was an option. I never thought that apolitical people, with absolutely no interest in following the news, could be the forerunners of such wonderful social justice work.
Even though I am not an apolitical person, and never expect to be, I am really inspired by that part of her. It's sort of even more impressive in way, because she isn't doing this work for the movement or the larger political implications of teaching Jewish and Arab kids together. She is doing it because these kids need help and she is helping them. No ulterior motive, no "higher purpose," just really really helping these kids.
I doubt she would consider herself a social justice activist, but I really see her that way, and she has made me see a whole new kind of activist, mentor, and person.

Also, she brings her dog to work with her every day, and even though it is a male dog, she keeps his long hair away from his eyes with a barrette or girly clip.
And she knew my red jacket was from H&M.
And the second time I ever met she quoted Seinfeld to me (NO SOUP FOR YOU.)

So, basically, she's just amazing.

Sunday, January 23, 2011


January 23, 2011

This weekend we went on our last trip of the program to Eilat. It was longer than our other trips, three full days, and it was pretty awesome.

On Thursday we left early and drove to a kibbutz to hear from a friend of Tiffany’s about desalination and other ways that Israeli scientists are trying to save water. It was pretty scientific, and we’d heard a lot about the water issues from other people, so I wasn’t all that fascinated. I think the best solution is for there to be fewer people in the world and for those people not to live in place without resources. Geez, whose idea was it to have this many people live in a desert? Spoiler alert: people need water.

After that we went on a hike in the desert and we saw some incredible views, first from Ben-Gurion’s grave and then from the hike itself. The hike was long but good. The best part was that Moshe, the head of our program, was leading us. He was wearing a white veil thing over his head, so he looked like an old Bedouin woman. He also lost the trail a few times, and we all decided it was a bad idea to follow someone named Moshe, which is Hebrew for Moses, in the desert. Luckily we were lost for only a few minutes, not 40 years, so he did much better than his predecessor.

After the hike we returned to Kibbutz Ketura, the place we had our orientation week, which was really exciting. It was really strange to drive through that gate again and see everything we had gotten to know so well. It was quite a full circle thing, and I was glad to be able to be back there. Unfortunately, I came down with a cold, so after dinner I went and crashed.

Friday morning we woke up early and went on another hike, this time through the desert lead by an American who made Aliya (after going to Brandeis, surprise). We ended up at these ruins which had once been a fort on the incense road from Africa into the Middle East. We frolicked around the ruins for quite a while and climbed in some tiny caves, which was delightful. We are basically a whole group of small children, so it was good. After the hike we went to the beach in Eilat and went snorkeling. Eilat is known for being one of the best diving spots in the world, not to mention in Israel, so I was eager to go out. The coral was really beautiful, although not as bright as the stuff you see in Maui. There were some really impressive fish, including some giant ones and ones shaped like pencils that we really wanted to fence with. Also, I SWEAR TO GOD I saw a humuhumu. For those of you who don’t know, the humuhumunukunukua’pua’a is the state fish of Hawaii, and my favorite thing ever. I saw it swimming around the coral and I accidentally swallowed a lot of salt water in my excitement. No one else was around me, but when we were swimming back to the beach Hannah saw another one (the same one) and we followed it for a few minutes. I need to do some internet research and see it humuhumus actually live in the Red Sea, but if not, there is a fish that is identical just chilling in Eilat. [UPDATE: yes, they do live in the red sea! I TOTALLY SAW A HUMUHUMU. AWESOME.]

After the hike went to our hotel, which is called Malony (the word for hotel in Hebrew is “malon”) and was one LOS ANGELES STREET. No kidding. What? We were going to grill hot dogs and hamburgers for dinner, but according to the kosher rules of the hotel we were going to have to go to a park to grill them. But the skeezy guy who ran the hotel let us squat in the parking lot to do it instead. We used the little portable charcoal grills that we used for our beach bbq at the beginning of the semester, which, while not my instrument of choice, did the job well enough. I obviously grilled, along with Benji and Nate, and we ended up making some pretty good stuff. The best part was that all the stuff hadn’t defrosted all the way, so Hannah decided to sit on all these packages of hamburgers to warm them up. It was quite effective, until we realized that they worked better frozen. Nice try, Hannah.

Saturday morning we woke up and had Israeli hotel breakfast, which was not awesome. I don’t know why they have decided you should have veggies for breakfast instead of fruit, but I’m not a huge fan. I don’t want a salad first thing in the morning, thanks anyway. We drove to this geological wonderland, and watched a 15 minute multimedia SPECTACULAR. THE CHAIRS ROTATED. It was possibly the best thing I have ever seen in my life. It was so creepy, and so nonsensical, and OUR CHAIRS MOVED, it was amazing. After that we drove around to a few of the sites mentioned in the video, which have some really amazing rock formations. On top of Soloman’s pillars Benji made henna and we all painted ourselves and Katie and Nate in honor of their upcoming wedding. The henna didn’t stick, but the three hours I had a dinosaur on my forearm were some of the best hours of my life.

After that we went to a kibbutz that is known for being ecological and doing some great recycling and reusing work. They get trash and tires from Eilat brought in, and they use them to make benches, play structures, and all sorts of things for their kibbutz. They let us run wild in the area called “eco-kef” (kef means fun!), which is a playground totally made out of reused trash, clay, and sand. We were worse than kindergarteners, and the guy was really amused at our immense enthusiasm. They have a permanent Twister court painted on the ground, and we were all over that.

After the kibbutz we got back on the bus and drove the four hours back to Tel Aviv. Tired, stinky, and sunburned, plus sick with a cold, but pretty happy. Worked well.

It’s going to be very strange to leave these people. Like any program where you rely almost entirely on each other, we’ve become very close, and I’m really going to miss them. I mean, yes, sometimes in a group of 25 people the drama becomes overwhelming, but we really are a great group with a good mix of people, and I have a lot of fun when we’re all together. I’m glad to be going on the Grand Adventure, of course, but I am really going to miss these people. At least we’ll mostly all be in the states next year, so we can do some visiting.

Settlement Tour

January 23, 2011

This past week we went on a tour of settlements. Settlements are Jewish communities established across the Green Line in the Palestinian territories. The Palestinian Authority in the West Bank is separated from the rest of Israel by this thing that is called “the separation fence” (if you’re more right wing), “the separation wall” (if you’re more left wing), or “the apartheid wall” (if you’re super left wing.) We drove in an armored bus, which looks to the naked eye just like other buses except with double windows, across a checkpoint and into the West Bank.

Before we crossed the line we visited was Arab village just on the Israeli side. We met with a linguistic sociologist from Canada whose first language was Yiddish, named David. We sat outside in a park in the bitter wind as he told us about living so close to the green line, some about the sociology of Arabic in Israel/Palestine, and what it’s like to be both a researcher and friend to the people who live there. We then went up to the house of a friend of his and heard about how he is campaigning to get street names and addresses for the Arab villages. Many of the villages, this one included, have no street names or numbers because they are built by clans, and the people who live there all know where everyone lives. But in terms of living in the modern world – getting mail, paying taxes, being distinguished from the 12 other Ahmad Farams in your same village – you really need an address. He has encountered quite a bit of resistance from within the community and is seen as quite a rebel, but he really believes in what he is doing. He gave us coffee and fruit and pastries, and we all said how much we love Arab hospitality.

After that we went across the green line and met with this man, Baruch, who was born and raised in St. Louis and now lives in a settlement called Bet El. He has seven children, an untamed beard, and carried a pocket sized bible with him. He took us around to several sites in Bet El to tell us about how they can prove that those sites are mentioned in the Bible. There was a clearing where he swears that Joseph (of Technicolor dreamcoat fame) lay down to sleep, and a wine press where something else important and biblical happened. He was incredibly invested in proving these things to be truths to us, because without this indisputable biblical connection, he has no reason for being there. He made it very clear that Judea and Samaria, the biblical names for the areas that are now the West Bank, are actually the heart of biblical Israel and, thus, are the most important part of Israel.

We went for lunch at his house (hamburgers, hot dogs, and goldstar?) and he told us some very interesting things. Someone asked him if he would ever compromise on the West Bank. His answer was basically: “if someone asked if they could spend one night a week laying with my wife, what would I say? Of course not. She is my wife, she is mine, you can’t have her. It’s the same with the land. I love my wife, I love this land. You can’t have her/it.” Someone else asked what he would do if Palestine became a recognized state. He, in essence, said: “God forbid Israel should abandon us to the dogs, but if they did we would live here. And if the Palestinians tried to ethnically cleans us, we would be ethnically cleansed.” He also used the phrase “when peace broke out” to describe the situation of the Oslo accords and the ends of the Entifadas.

His connection to this land, based in the bible, seemed to border on fanaticism. He went to lengths to tell us that he has Arab friends, or he did until “peace broke out” and he wasn’t allowed to see them anymore, but when he tried to say something in Arabic to us, he actually said “good morning, fava bean” instead of “good morning to you too,” which was also not what he meant to say, we think. He did not seem to care one bit about peace, about compromise, about any of the shades of gray that are involved with settlements. In his opinion, the land is integral to being Jewish, and this land was given by God to him and it is his destiny and his duty to hold it for the Jewish people.

The last settlement we went to was a very small settlement a few hills away from Bet El. We met with a woman grew up in Bet El, and then went out with some other families to settle a new hill for the land of Israel. Her settlement is famous for having had nine houses destroyed by the Israeli army during the disengagement from Gaza. In the settlements before houses and permanent buildings are constructed, everyone lives in RVs. Her settlement is entirely RVs now, and was entirely RVs except for these nine houses until 2005. One of the houses was her family’s home (she has 5 children), and she was clearly greatly traumatized by this event. She showed us a video created by and for settlers to give them hope, which had footage of the destruction at the beginning of it. It showed huge crowds of settlers, from all over Judea and Samaria, and probably from the rest of Israel as well, crying, praying, and trying to stop the bulldozers. The army charged in with horses and billy clubs, and over 300 protestors were injured. She feels betrayed by the Israeli government and army, which makes her situation even more difficult.

She, raised in the West Bank, really has no connection to the rest of Israel. She lived in Israel proper for a year but it didn’t feel right to her, so she moved back to the settlements. She doesn’t belong in Israel, with the government and army who have so traumatized her, but can she stay in Palestine forever? All the political people say that the two-state solution is coming, and it is only a matter of time before Palestine declares independence. What will happen to the settlements and the settlers? As we know from the disengagement from Gaza, they will not leave willingly or peacefully. It was incredibly traumatizing for the men and women in the army who had to pull people out of their homes in Gaza, and for the people who were being removed. Would the government do that in the West Bank if Palestine declared independence? I don’t see these people leaving willingly, or staying away. As far as I know, there is not the biblical connection to Gaza that there is to Judea and Samaria, so it seems like disengagement from the West Bank could be even harder than from Gaza. These settlers really believe they are doing God’s work, living in the land God promised to them, and they are not going to leave it.

I have no idea what the solution is. I feel much less ambiguous about the settlers than about other Israeli issues – I don’t think they should be there now, and I really don’t think they should be there after Palestine is a state. But I think I better understand the challenges and complexities and why these people are living there now that I’ve been in them.

There are so many facets to this conflict, I don’t know how it’s ever going to end.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Trip to the Galilee

December 20, 2010

This weekend we went on a trip to the Sea of Galilee, which is called the Kineret in Hebrew (pictures already up on facebook!). We started Friday off by canoeing on the Jordan River, which, where we were at least, was quite still, small, and quiet. I was in a canoe with Jodi, and both of us were in heaven. Canoeing makes me think about camp and Lake Homovalo and wave canoes, so how could I not be happy? Plus, the scenery was gorgeous, and we saw wild donkeys! They were just chilling, drinking from the river. Including a baby one! I tried to befriend them, but they didn’t seem into it. Their loss.

After canoeing we went to Tzfat/Sfat/however you want to spell it, which is a traditionally religiously Jewish town. We went to the artists’ section, which is made up of narrow twisting alleys in pale yellow brick – super Israeli looking. Unfortunately, as it was approaching Shabbat, pretty much everything was shut down when we got there, but we still got to wander around and see the layout of the place. We had 25 minutes to wander around, which Nancy, Katie and I took to listen to Bette Midler’s “From a Distance” and interpretive dance our hearts out. It was actually really fun. The people of Sfat were very confused.

Then we sat in a little courtyard and talked about the issues/challenges facing Sfat. The two big ones are the push between the orthodox, who want it to remain an orthodox community, and the more secular people, who want it to be more touristy. The other major issue is the Jewish/Arab tensions, which resulted in the recent letter by Rabbis telling Jews not to rent apartments to non-Jews, especially Arabs. I’ll write more about this letter after I’ve actually read it, because I don’t want to talk about things I don’t have first-hand knowledge of, but I do feel comfortable saying that this is atrocious and needs to be stopped.

After Sfat we went to a sort of commune/gated community. It’s not a kibbutz, but not a regular town, but there is no real American equivalent I can use. We had a Shabbat service/thinger outside, led by Amy and Dante. Amy is Reconstructionist, so she created a service that everyone could get into, which was nice. During it, I snuggled with Katie, who both kept me warm and, as a relatively non-religious person herself, kept me feeling good even when I didn’t know the songs/prayers that everyone else was singing. Then we went inside and had a delicious dinner, followed by a variety of shenanigans and a vigorous sing along that covered the hits of Disney, Rent, and everything in between.

The next morning we had a storytelling workshop with two people from the community. It was very dialogic in a sense, but was also, subtly, about how to tell a story in a compelling and concise way. This is something that I think we can all benefit from, and something that as volunteers and Americans in a strange land, we can use all the time. We are constantly being asked for our stories, or for some story about our lives (“Why did you chose to come to Israel?” “What do you do in America?” “What kind of Jew are you?”) and it will be good for all of us to be able to be able to tell that better. Some more than others, of course, but good for everyone. We had the workshop in a yurt, which also made me deeply nostalgic for camp and the KILT yurt. Good times.

After the workshop we drove up into the mountains for a hike, which I sadly could not go on because my hips have been acting up. L But apparently it was a very fun hike, even though it was raining a bit, so I’m glad everyone else had fun. After that we headed back to Tel Aviv.

It was a very fun trip, with lots of group bonding time, which is always excellent. Our next trip is in January to Eilat, which should be amazing too.


Sunday, December 19, 2010


December 19, 2010

Today is my grandpa’s yahrtzeit, the anniversary of his death. According to Jewish tradition, every year we light a candle that burns all day as a memorial. The people at the grocery store think I’m crazy because I just went and bought this candle and two containers of sprinkles for cookie decorating later this evening. But anyway, the candle is burning next to me as I write this.

I realize that he would be 101 if he were alive today. That is hella old. I feel so lucky to have gotten to know him for as long as I did, and the first nineteen years of my life were so much the better because he was in them. I’ll never forget my daily second breakfast with him in Maui, singing the “My Mom Gave Me a Pickle” song in the backseat of the car with him, and how smiley and proud he always was of everything I did, even if it was just drawing him a ridiculous picture.

I remember at his funeral, my grandma took my sister, cousin and I aside and told us that Papa had never worried about us succeeding, he knew we would do that. Rather, he worried that we wouldn’t have enough fun, take enough time for our own enjoyment. I’ve really tried to remember that, and I’ve been much more conscious of finding that balance since she told us that. In light of that, tonight I’m going to go get a drink with a friend or two to remember him instead of sitting around and being sad.

The moral of the story: Papa was awesome, and I was lucky to have had him in my life.


Sunday, December 5, 2010


December 5, 2010

I’ve been thinking a lot about race and privilege these last few weeks. Which begs the question: when am I not thinking a lot about race and privilege? Hopefully never, but that is sort of beside the point. Actually, no, that kind of is the point. This is an excellent start to a coherent and well organized blog post, don’t you think?

The other week, Avital showed us a short film called “Strangers” by Erez Tadmor. You can watch it here (it’s only seven minutes long.) What happens is this: an Arab (as evidenced by his Arabic newspaper) and a Jew (as evidenced by his Star of David necklace) are sitting across the aisle from each other on a train. The Jew, noticing the newspaper, takes his star out of his shirt and starts staring aggressively at the Arab. They exchange heated glances, and you wonder if it’s going to come to blows. Before it can, however, a group of four neo-nazis (as evidenced by the swastikas shaved into their heads) come onto the train and start harassing the Arab. They spray-paint a swastika on his newspaper, and seem about to beat him up. The Jew does nothing. Then, right when he seems to be in the clear, his cell phone starts to ring. It’s “Hava Negila.” He can’t find the phone, it won’t stop “Hava Neglia”-ing, and the skinheads are, as you might imagine, suddenly very interested in him. The train is pulling into a stop; the Jew and the Arab exchange a look, and both bolt off the train, using their backpacks and shields and the confusion of both of them running to confuse the skinheads. They safely escape the train, exchange backpacks with each other (they had ended up with each other’s), exchange a “thanks bro” look, and then leave their separate ways.

What was interesting about this film for me, aside from the idea that a common enemy will unite humanity (are you listening, aliens/cylons?), is the performance of white privilege. The Jew chooses to disclose his identity as a Jew to the Arab (whose religion we don’t know, so we can’t call this a Jewish/Muslim issue, but a Jewish/Arab one) seemingly in order to make the Arab feel threatened and uncomfortable. The Arab’s identity is known from the outset; even if he weren’t reading the Arabic newspaper, his skin color would be a big indictor. He has no choice in the disclosure of his identity. The Jew, however, can pass as a Christian, but chooses not to in that moment. Jews are dominant over Arabs in most places (we don’t know where this takes place – it could be any city with an underground train system) so he is asserting an agent (dominant) identity that is in direct oppressive aggression to the Arab’s target (oppressed) identity.

When the skinheads come into play, however, he tucks his star into his shirt, essentially erasing his Jewishness, an identity that has instantly changed from agent to target. While the skinheads are threatening the Arab, and preparing to do him serious bodily harm, the Jew does nothing. He cloaks himself in his privilege and masks his fear with indifference. He does not make eye contact with anyone and seems to be trying to wait it out. When his phone rings, it outs him as a potential target (get it, target identity!) and his privilege is immediately stripped away. He is now an even better target than the Arab for the skinheads, and it is only when he personally is threatened by danger that he connects with the Arab man on a mutual level, and they fight their way out together.

While the maker of the movie seems to imply that the skinheads, and possibly initial prejudice, are the enemies in this film, I also see the inaction of the Jew as an enemy. He does not stand up for the Arab, even when he is still considered to have white Christian privilege. While he is passing, he does nothing. He only finds common humanity with the Arab when it is his own safety on the line. I know that facing down a pack of violent skinheads is not high on anyone’s to-do list, but, for me at least, neither is doing nothing while neo-nazis brutalize someone for being Arab.

This putting on white Christian privilege is an issue constantly facing American Jews, especially Ashkenazi Jews, whether we like it or not. So many Jews hide behind their Judaism when confronted with the white privilege they carry (“I can’t be racist, my grandmother survived the Holocaust.”) They need to see that they have white privilege, and many can pass for Christian. This is a privilege we carry and we wear and we perform, to greater or lesser extents. This man has the choice to disclose; he even chose to set his ringtone to “Hava Negila,” and while I’m sure he wasn’t anticipating it getting him into so much trouble, it was certainly an act of disclosure. We must stop hiding behind the target identity of Judaism, which, as we see in the film, is not always a target identity, and claim and use our white privilege to fight to end oppression, racism, and privilege for all people.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Grand Adventure

December 4, 2010

Today I’m not writing about Israel and Israeli things, but taking a moment to share and be excited about my plans for after Israel! Hannah and I are going to be spending the three months between the end of Tikkun Olam and my Mount Holyoke Reunion in May travelling around Europe and South America. We’re calling it our GRAND ADVENTURE.

Here is our current itinerary. If you are, or know someone, in these places who wants to let us sleep on their couch/floor, that would be super delightful!

Feb 1: Tikkun Olam ends

Feb 1-15: AMY AND EMMA’S SUPER TAGLIT (BIRTHRIGHT): Travel around parts of Israel I haven’t seen yet with Amy

Feb 16: THE GRAND ADVENTURE Fly to Lisbon, Portugal

Feb 16-April 3: Portugal, Spain, France, Germany, and Prague!

April 3-4: Fly from Berlin to Tel Aviv, pick up my suitcases, and give some love to Tikkun Olamers who will still be here.

April 5: Fly to LA

April 8: Fly to Rio!

April 8-May 17: Brazil, Argentina, Chile, Peru, and Costa Rica (hopefully all of them, some might have to be eliminated due to money and travel considerations)

May 18: Fly from Costa Rica to Boston

May 18-22: Mount Holyoke Reunions!

The most important question raised here is: WHO AM I. Jetsetting off to Rio? I can’t wait to be one of those worldly obnoxious people that says things like “Oh, yes, I picked this up the last time I was in Prague,” and “This is from a homemade crafts market in Brazil,” and “This ‘Peruvian’ food really isn’t like the real thing, which I know because I was there!” Feel free to slap me if needed.

But HOT DAMN, I am so excited.

Now all I need is for El Al to answer their phone on Shabbat (seriously, El AL? You’re an international business! What are you doing?) so I can change my flight from Tel Aviv to LA from February to April, and then I will be 100% set!

Hello world travelling. Hello privilege. Nice to have you guys meet! Let’s party.

Also, I’m fighting being sick. So sorry if this is not up to my usual deeply profound and intellectually provocative standards! Blame my slow-responding white blood cells.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


November 27, 2010

Celebrating Thanksgiving in Israel was funny. First, I worked the Thanksgiving party at the Arab Jewish Community Center, where I work. The center has an American Corner, which is funded by the US Embassy, and celebrates American holidays. There was a Halloween party last month, and now a Thanksgiving party. It was weird enough just writing “The Thanksgiving Story” for one of the English classes last week; it was all “happy pilgrims, friendly Native Americans, sharing and turkey” like you learn in elementary school. I was really torn about sharing that version of history that completely undoes centuries of genocide and displacement with these kids, who are also suppressing a history of forced displacement and racial violence. It was not my place to say anything, or add any kind of other narrative, but I did feel uncomfortable the whole time. At the party, I was making “Indian headdresses” with kids for two hours, which was (1) the most frantic arts and crafts experience I have ever had, and (2) the most openly racist thing I have done in a long time. ☹ But the kids were really cute, and I like them a lot. So that was good?

On Friday morning I woke up early to go to North Tel Aviv for the ingredients I needed to make the famous Naomi Naliboff broccoli-corn-ritz cracker casserole. I needed creamed corn, frozen broccoli, and ritz crackers. I hadn’t seen any of those ingredients in Yafo, so I knew I had to go to where the rich people lived to have any chance of getting them. Luckily, I got real ritz (!!!) and frozen broccoli, and I creamed the corn myself. It turned out deliciously! Everyone was impressed and, may I say, it was one of the first dishes to be finished. Super tov.

Almost everyone from the program came to the Tel Aviv apartment for our rooftop dinner. The food was incredible, and there was more than we could have possibly eaten. Hello American gluttony, welcome to Israel. The funniest part was that we had to take a cab over, and Dante went to hail it on the big street next to our house while Amy, Hannah and I waited. I was wearing my jacket and Dante’s, holding a big disposable pan and a real pot with a lid, sitting on park bench. When all three of us were sitting there, holding tons and tons of food, we got, as you can imagine, some real weird looks from the Yafo residents walking past. Amy was like “…we are so American right now.” But hey, I came home with a tupperware full of food, so what do I care. We all got incredibly sleepy (that’s what happens when you start drinking wine at 3pm and then completely stuff yourself, I suppose) and ended the night curled up together watching “The Hangover” before heading back to Yafo. It was a really fun night, and I was so glad to be there with my Tikkun Olam famfam. Even Benji came!

Also, now we are all fat. But hey, that’s the point, right? Happy Thanksgiving!