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!

ICCI - Dialogue!

November 27, 2010

Well, many exciting things have been happening since we last spoke. Most thrillingly, AMY’S BIRTHDAY.

This past Tuesday, we had a full day of discussions. First, we spoke with a journalist who talked with us about Israeli/Diaspora relations. This is something that we discuss amongst ourselves quite a bit; however, it was still interesting. It was also interesting to hear what Moshe (the director of Tikkun Olam) had to say about Masa, and the pressure we feel from Masa to make Aliya. Moshe was saying that Masa has changed its orientation from making Israel into a safe-haven for North American Jews to making it an intellectual and cultural center for North American Jews. He says that because America and Canada are, arguably, safer than Israel (my words), Masa is no longer trying to get us to make Aliya, but instead trying to help us find and investigate our own Jewish identities. Apparently, it’s all for us! That is certainly an interesting thing to hear, and a new way to think about Masa. However, that does not change our lived experience of Masa, nor our lived experience of all the Israelis that tell us we must make Aliya, that as Jews, we are not safe anywhere but Israel, and that the safety and continued existence of Israel is in our hands. Hearing the mission statement has certainly given me something more to think about, but it doesn’t change what I have experienced in the past. If I go to another Masa event, I’ll try and keep a more open mind, but let’s just say, I don’t have super high hopes.

Then we had a talk with a woman from Bina, Noa, which was supposed to be about sexual abuse and harassment and giving us tools for if we are working with women who are survivors. It turned out to be more of a sharing of stories that we have experienced here in Israel. We talked about the heckling on the street, the aggression and forwardness of men you meet on the street or in a bar, and the things that you do as an American girl that just don’t cut it here.

[wow, pause that to say that the loudest wedding I have ever experienced just drove by. In Yafo, the custom is that when you get married, you decorate your car super intensely, and then drive slowly around in a caravan with all your friends, and everyone just honks constantly. It looks like fun to be in, but not so much to be standing near. This one had great music blasting though, so that was good.]

ANYWAY, to continue. Our conversation was interesting because a lot of the things that people mentioned are very class-based, not just Israel, or Middle-Eastern, or religious, or whatever. The increased heckling on the street, for example, is something that you certainly see more in areas with more poverty in the states. In north Tel Aviv, you still get that more than you would in Beverly Hills, let’s say, but certainly far less than in Yafo.

After that discussion is when things really got amazing. We went to Jerusalem to meet with the ICCI, the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel. We met with Rabbi Dr. Ron Kronish, who we had previously met in the Arab villiage of Abu Gosh. This time, however, we were talking about the interfaith (which they call interreligious) dialogues that the ICCI runs. They work with teenagers, 20-30 somethings, Rabbis, Priests and Imams, and women’s groups. All of the dialogues are at least a full year long, some up to five years long. The work they are doing is amazing. He took us through the format of the year, and I was DELIGHTED to see that it was exactly the same format as NewGround, and similar to that of MHC Intergroup Dialogue! It made me feel very much at home.

The whole time Ron was talking to us, I was just so happy. Afterwards Hannah was making fun of me for having this big doofy grin on my face the whole time, which was totally justified. How excited, interested, and invested I felt really helped to cement for me that dialogue work is what I want to do. I want to be doing this work that Ron and the ICCI are doing with domestic American issues. He spent quite a bit of time talking about how important this micro work, the person-to-person relations, are, especially in this conflict. He was talking about how he knows what the political solution should be - everyone knows that we need a 2-state solution. That’s not the question anymore – the question is whether we can learn to live peacefully together. That is what dialogue is working on, that is why person-to-person relations are so important. I think he put that into words really well; when doing dialogue work, people are always asking you what the point is, why are you bothering, and I’m glad to have heard that language so I’ll be able to use it.

We also got to hear from 5 current and past participants, ranging from 17-32 years old, from 3 or 4 different dialogue programs. One guy, an Arab who lives in East Jerusalem (aka, Palestine) said: “It doesn’t matter how great your dialogue is, all it takes it one checkpoint to undo it all,” which is horribly depressing. If only the militaries and politicians could be as forward as the ICCI and the amazing people participating in these dialogues, and realize that all their stupid hemming and hawing is only undoing the good that others are working so hard on.

We also learned that a lot of people who participate in these dialogues have never really met someone from the other side. There are Rabbis and Imams who have never met a Muslim or Jew before, Jewish 26 year olds from Jerusalem who have never met an Arab “other than, you know, a bus driver.” It’s hard to me to remember that a lot of people here live like that, because that is the opposite of my Yafo experience. Here, you are cheek to jowl with Jews, Muslims, and Christians, and you can’t help but get to know everyone. Even if we weren’t explicitly working with those populations, I get my groceries from an Arab store (that sells the best Chanukah donuts anywhere) but get my wine from Jewish stores. Everyone is everywhere, and I am so grateful to be living in Yafo, and not in some Jewish village where I’d never hear the call to prayer out my window.

Anyway, the long and the short of it is that hearing Ron talk about his work was incredibly inspiring, and I talked to him for a while afterwards about the work they are doing and programs he recommends for me in the states. Then, while I was eating (bagels!) another Tikkun Olamer, Nancy, who did anti-racist dialogue facilitation in college, talked to Ron and guess what? WE GET TO WORK THERE!!! She and I are going to interview current and past participants about their experiences, and get it down in writing. I’m really excited to get to learn more about the specific dialogues and the people who participate in them, as well as the organization in general. Basically, !!!!!!!!!!!!! This is the kind of work I wanted to do, and the kind of things I wanted to learn in my time here, so I’m super grateful to Nancy for her awesome networking, and for Ron making this happen for us. Yay! Also, NERD ALERT!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Dead Sea and Judean Desert

November 21, 2010

This weekend we went on our second overnight trip. Last time we went to the Carmel Mountains, and this time we went to the Dead Sea and the Judean Desert. It was amazing! I am currently sore in every muscle of my body, but I had a really great time.

We left our apartments Friday morning, and drove to a rappelling/rock climbing site in between here and Jerusalem. We hiked up to the base of the climbing/rappelling site, and then walked up to the top. I wasn’t nervous as we were walking up, but then when we were standing on the top, harnesses and helmets on, I started to get really nervous. But I did it, and it was pretty fun. I wish I could have done it a couple more times, because I would have liked to experiment with speed and how I held the rope when I was more comfortable, but it was still fun. Although, when I got down, I found out that my carabineer wasn’t locked – oops! Oh well, I didn’t die, so that’s excellent.

After rappelling we went to the Dead Sea!!! We were supposed to go to this fancy spa place, but they lied about the hours and wouldn’t let us in (assholes!) so we went to a funny public beach instead. Being in the water was so incredibly amazing. I had tried to imagine what it would be like, but nothing can really come close to the real thing. The floating was incredible. You can’t get your head under, no matter how hard you try, and it’s amazing to look out and see everyone’s shoulders above the water, no matter how deep they are. Also, it tastes DISGUSTING and burns like hellfires if it gets in your eyes. But so worth it. After messing around for a while, we all started holding on to each other’s feet, and made a huge chain of people going around in a circle. Everyone else at the beach was watching us, and the lifeguard used his megaphone to yell “NICE JOB” (in Hebrew) at us. Everyone was jealous. It was really easy to propel ourselves because due to some science thing or another, one arm stroke propels you really far; I felt like a boat just sliding along the surface of the water. The other coolest thing was that your hands and feet don’t get wrinkly, no matter how long you stay in, because the saline level is the same as our blood, or something awesome like that. Also, the water has a super oily feel, so our skin felt like dolphin skin under the water. I, of course, really loved that fact, and just kept yelling “This is what dolphins feel like!” to anyone who would listen. It was sort of the best hour of my life. Absolutely amazing and addicting. I want to go back.

After the Dead Sea we went to where we spent the night in a Bedouin tent on the mountains overlooking the Sea. The view was absolutely incredible, and the place was nice. While Benji was cooking with the most enthusiasm anyone has ever had for cooking, we had a Shabbat service thing in our half of the tent. The other half was populated by people from Western Europe and South Africa, many of whom were Jews for Jesus. We, obviously, found this extremely hilarious. Anyway, while we were singing Shabbat-y songs, this guy came over with colorful gauzy flags he had invented, and offered to let us dance with them. We jumped all over it, and made him dance in the middle of our circle with them first. He asked for “English Christian songs” and we were like “…uh…” So we sang “Hallelujah” (the Leonard Cohen version) and then went back to Shabbat-y songs. It was SO HILARIOUS. The only thing that was kind of weird was that they were having a service before we did, and they asked us to keep it quiet, and we were very respectful of that. But when we were having our service, they came over to our side of the tent and watched us. It felt a little bit like being in a fishbowl or a circus, but then there were dancing flags, so it was okay.

The next morning we woke up at 6 (SIX AM. WHAT) and ate breakfast while we watched the sun rise over the Dead Sea. Then we set off for our 7-hour hike in the desert. It was purported to be a super steep uphill and then pretty flat for the rest of it. It turned out to be a challenging but doable uphill, plus about 2 full hours of super tricky downhill. But the views were incredible and I had a lot of fun. We ended up in shallow springs where I got to sit in the water and cool off, which was the best thing that had ever happened to me.

The hike ended at a McDonalds, and the whole hike we were like “We just have to make it to McDonalds!” Hannah and I promised ourselves chocolate shakes, and let me tell you, that thought really sustained me through the more demanding/physically perilous parts of the hike. We were all rushing into the McDonalds, and Benji was like “How often do you guys actually go to McDonalds?” We all said “NEVER!” but damn, were we happy to see it. And also its bathroom. And let me tell you, after 2.5 months in Israel and 7 hours in the Judean desert, nothing tastes more like America than a chocolate shake and French fries from Mickey Dees. It was beautiful. Also, the standardization is incredible – it tasted 100% exactly the same as in the states.

Then we all piled back into the cars and drove home. By the time we got there, we were all so dead, all we could do was order pizza, shove it in our faces, and go to bed super early. But it was a great trip.

On the hike, we talked about the Dead Sea, how it’s disappearing at an astonishing rate (1 meter a year!) and what the possible solutions are. There is the Red Sea/Dead Sea option, where they propose channeling water from the Red Sea into the Dead Sea, but first desalinating it and providing some of it to Jordan and Israel, who both desperately need it. The other option is taking water from the Mediterranean and bringing it into the Galilee, which would then flow down into the Dead Sea. Both of these options aren’t addressing the problem, which is both that the geography and climate of the land is changing, and that the factories that harvest the minerals and materials from the Sea are purposely speeding up evaporation to get what they want. No new water really comes into the Sea, so when it evaporates, it’s pretty much gone forever.

We talked about how getting rid of this factory would be destroying a huge number of jobs, as well as revenue for the state of Israel. For those reasons, closing the factories has been completely taken off the table. It seems to me that they need to decide what their priorities are – having a Dead Sea that will remain as great as it is now, or having a Dead Sea factory and an inferior Dead Sea. Obviously there need to be more jobs in the area and something to replace the factory work if they want to keep the Dead Sea going. I feel like forcing the factories to operate naturally, without speeding evaporation is an option that should at least be explored – I know it would decrease output, but is probably better than closing the factories completely.

I was also thinking about how hard we try to freeze geology and climates the way they are when we settle on/near them. The geography of this region, split by two tectonic plates, is changing, and the Dead Sea should, naturally, be shrinking slowly. In a couple thousand years, it would be completely gone, most likely. I know it’s an amazing place, and I certainly loved being there, but I have to wonder if desperately trying to hold on to something that geologically should be fleeting is the right thing to do. Oh, humanity. We don’t handle change well.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Id and Public Speaking

November 18, 2010

This week is a Muslim holiday, called an “Eid” (thanks for the spelling correction, Zeenat!) in Arabic. It is the holiday commemorating when God commanded Abraham to kill Isaac, or Ishmael, depending on whom you ask. I’m not sure exactly why you’d want to commemorate that, but hey, whatever. Last night I was walking down the by the beach, and I saw all the celebrations. It is like the Fourth of July; it seemed like every Muslim family in Yafo was out on the lawns above the beach. They brought picnic blankets and portable BBQs, and they were all making some of the best smelling meat I’ve ever encountered. Everyone is in new clothes, and all the kids are running around, riding bikes, flying kits, and shouting. There were huge fireworks, and traffic was completely clogged. It seemed like kind of the most fun holiday ever.

To round out this Israeli experience, I had to go to the bathroom, so I went into the Dan Panorama hotel. The hotel was hosting some sort of formal event, so the bathroom was full of Jewish women in evening gowns, most of them quite immodest. My iPod was playing John Lennon’s “Imagine,” and I was like, WHAT IS THIS. Observant Muslims outside BBQing, skanky Jews inside dancing, and me bridging the middle. It was quintessential Yafo (even though the Dan Panorama is actually just across the border into Tel Aviv.) It was also interesting being in Israel while there was a huge holiday I wasn’t celebrating at all. All the other holidays since I’ve been here (and there have been SO MANY) have been Jewish, so I at least knew what was up, and felt some connection to them. For this, there were fireworks and the Arab schools are closed and the place I get my shwarma from was decorated, and it was sort of like Christmas back in the US. But I certainly didn’t feel any of the resentment I feel at Christmastime; I felt really peaceful and was grateful that I got to experience this giant party. I did want some meat though.

Yesterday, before I went to the beach and watched the celebrations, three other participants and I met with donors and representatives of programs that Masa supports and/or is affiliated with. We were basically selling the program to them, to try and increase our exposure and funding. The meeting was focused on Coexistence, so it was a conversation only about the Yafo track. I thought it was going to be a pretty boring event, but I actually had a good time. The topic I chose to talk about (for my allotted 5 whole minutes) was how the classes we take and the conversations we have with each other help to enhance our volunteering experience. During the Q&A section, I brought up one of my most foundational beliefs about coexistence and social justice work: the (very simple) idea that being together is not enough. Just being near each other, be it in Yafo, in kindergarten, or on a college campus in the states, is not enough for a diverse or coexistant experience. I mentioned that I thought being together was only step one, and there are about 12 more steps before you actually get to coexistence. A woman asked me what I thought some of those other 12 steps would be, and then I got to talk about my Number One Favorite Topic Of All Time: Dialogue work! I talked about that (with great enthusiasm) for a bit, and then she asked about my dialogue experience, and so I got to shout out to NewGround and MHC Intergroup Dialogue, which is always wonderful.

I realized afterwards that I really had fun. It was the same sort of exhilaration I got after facilitating a dialogue at Sholem, and almost as good (almost!) as the feeling I got after NewGround sessions. It further cemented for me that I need to find a career with public speaking in it, because I find it to be incredibly fun. I am such a nerd!

While I was at the beach, watching people celebrate and sitting on the rocks over looking the crashing waves, I was thinking about some of the questions the people at this meeting asked. And I realized something else: this is not a place to come if you want answers. This is a place to come if you want to better understand the complexities of the questions. I think that realization has helped, and will help, me frame my experiences here. It certainly removes any pressure I might have felt to find any answers and solve any problems (about Maria!) while I’m here. My new goal is to emerge from this experience more informed, with more understanding, and with more confusion that I came in with. I consider that a job well done.

Ib and Masa

November 18, 2010

Number one, shout out to Anna Nabel’s birthday tomorrow! I love you!

Wow, I am so sorry for not having written in almost a month! My god, what have I been doing? Answer: working hard, having lots of fun, and being immersed in the complexities of this conflict. Here are some highlights from the last month, before I delve into the here and now.

We went on a trip to the north, to the Carmel Mountains. It was a great overnight trip, but the highlight for me was meeting with this absolutely incredible woman who lives in the Arab village of Faradis. Her name is Ibtisam Mahammed, she is an Arab woman, and she is doing some of the best long-term Jewish-Arab coexistence work in the country, and probably the world. She has started a group for Jewish and Arab women to meet and talk together, and they focus on issues of peace and women’s empowerment. The Jewish women come from the next town over, which is predominantly Jewish, so it takes a serious commitment for the two groups to meet. This movement has been building for over 20 years, and has been so successful that Ib received an award from the Dalai Lama for being an unsung hero for peace. Ib also ran for Mayor of Faradis, which no woman had ever done before. Usually the man in charge of the most powerful family is the Mayor, but Ib ran. No one wanted to vote for a woman, but she videotaped the Imam telling people that woman should have rights and the Quran supports that. She showed the tape to all the families in the villiage, and a lot of them were convinced. Ib did not win the election, but she certainly paved the way for other women to run; in fact, at the time we spoke with her, another woman was currently running for Mayor, and Ib thought she would win. It was absolutely incredible getting to talk to this woman that is doing what others say is impossible – really creating peace and trust and bonds across physical, cultural, lingustic, religious, and sociological barriers. I was incredibly inspired by her, and I hope to be a tiny fraction of how badass she is when I’m an activist.

We also went to the big Masa event of the year. Masa is the agency that funds our program (thanks for the money, Masa!), and has over 100 programs in Israel. They have programs for kids in high school, between high school and college, college, and post-college. They are a part of the Jewish Agency, and have a very strong ulterior motive of getting Diaspora Jews to make Aliya, move to Israel, become Zionists, and make more Jewish Zionist Israeli babies. And by “ulterior,” I mean pretty open. Their big event was a concert, featuring Idan Raichel, an Israeli pop star. They had a couple thousand participants packed into this big theater in Jerusalem, most of them in post-high school gap year programs, we think. The first hour was Masa people talking about how amazing Masa is, how we should all move to Israel, and how the future and security of Israel is in our hands. Hannah and I were so frustrated and crazy at that point, that we started a fake drinking game: we took a pretend shot every time someone said “Jewish,” “Israel,” “home,” or “future.” We would have died of alcohol poisoning a thousand times over. There were also dancers, aerialists on harnesses and on silks, firedancers, and confetti cannons. It was like the “Make Aliya Circus.” It was ridiculous. I’ve never been to something so blatantly propagandistic, and using the mob mentality in such an intentional way, in my entire life. It was quite traumatizing, actually.

We also went to another Masa event – a weekend-long conference on “Israeli Security Issues.” Ten of us from Tikkun Olam went, and it was a very intense experience. All the speakers were men, and their topics covered “The Security Fence (called the ‘Apartheid Wall’ by Palestinians),” “The Iranian Threat,” “Hezbollah and the Lebanon Border,” “Being an Arab-Israeli Journalist,” etc. All of the speakers and all of the topics ranged from centrist to right-wing, and all were unapologetically Zionist and pro-Israel, which was not entirely unexpected. What was unexpected was the lack of time or space for critical conversations about the speeches – it seemed like the weekend was carefully constructed to eliminate all chance of discussion or critical inquiry about the topics. There was one speaker that I hated with my entire heart and soul, and basically wanted to punch in the face. Here is what happened:

He was giving his super right-wing speech about Israel and Palestine, and talked about how other countries should withhold their financial support from Palestine until they start spending their money on infrastructure instead of terrorism and having the government live like kings. During the Q&A, Hannah (MY HERO) raised her hand and said (something like): “I work and live in Yafo, and we see a lot of discrimination against Israeli Arab children every day. In light of what you said, do you think that other countries should withhold their support from Israel until the discrimination against Israeli Arabs and the demonization of Palestinians stops?” Obviously, we didn’t expect him to say “yes,” but what he did say was horrific. He said “there is no demonization of Palestinians in Israel, so I’m not even going to address that part,” and then proceeded to talk for 10 minutes about how there isn’t any. Then he said, and I quote: “There is no racism in Israel.” And talked for 10 minutes about how there certainly is no racism against Arabs here. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? ARE. YOU. KIDDING. ME. Every place has racism, every place, and this place especially. I see it every single day, and for this white guy from New York who made Aliya 30 years ago to deny that to my face was one of the most offensive and disturbing things that has happened to me here.

The terrifying thing is that a lot of the other speaks were so funny, so likeable, so congenial, that it was hard to not fall into their traps, and be like: “this all makes sense! They must be right! Long live Israel and the IDF!” Insidious. At least that guy was such an asshole that it was not insidious at all. Just incredibly blatant racism.

During the weekend, I felt confused, frustrated, upset, terrified, intellectually invigorated, ashamed, and incredibly proud of my program. We were the only people in the rooms asking the tough questions, the only people who seemed to be standing up for the Arabs, Palestinians, and women who had no voice in that space. I think maybe, in light of that, Tikkun Olam might not be invited back to another Masa education weekend, but what can you do. I was so proud of how horrified we all were, and how well we stood up and said the things that are hard.

I was thinking a lot about how hard it was for me to hear these things, how hard it was to be overwhelmed by speech after speech saying the same things that I don’t believe in, or am not sure about. I’m trying to remember that feeling, to make sure that when I do social justice and anti-racist education, I do not give people these feelings. I want them to have time to process, to have time for discussion, to encourage critical thinking, and to make sure to take their questions seriously. To pay attention to their emotional needs, give them breaks when they need, let them speak when they need, and let them process together without me. I do not want to do an anti-racist indoctrination, I do not want to brainwash anyone. I have learned a lot from Masa about how not to “educate” people, and I am really going to take those lessons with me.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Shtetl Judaism

October 12, 2010

Yesterday we had a class with Avital, our volunteer coordinator who also knows every single thing in the world there is to know, about the history of Yafo. It was really interesting in and of itself, but it made me think about one specific thing that had been bothering me but I hadn’t been able to really put my finger on before.

She showed us this postcard that was a Zionist advertisement geared at Eastern European Jews back in the day. Here is a link to the image. In case it’s too small to see the details, here is what’s happening: In the left hand corner is a seated Jewish man, hunched over, with yarmulke and peyes, caged in with barbed wire. Standing over him is some sort of angel whose arms and wings are pointing across the postcard. On the right hand side is the image of an upright man farming and working his land in front of the setting sun. In the bottom corner, right across from the barbed wire, are stalks of wheat.

We talked about how this postcard is encouraging you to not only come to Israel, but to slough off your shtetl identity and burdens and become a strong farmer. You are supposed to get rid of your culture of oppression and fear, cast off everything Eastern Europe, and the diaspora, has done to you and become one with the land, as you “once were.”

We also talked about how 2.4 million Jews left Eastern Europe between 1881 and 1914, and while 2 million of them came to America, about 75,000 of them came to Israel and became the first wave of Aliya. The Jews who came to America did not slough off their shtetl identities. They lived in Jewish areas of Jewish cities, and basically had a smaller, less dangerous version of what they had in Eastern Europe. The Yiddish, the culture of kvetching and kvelling stayed strong. Not so, however, for those that came to Israel. They moved to the Middle East, became farmers or what have you, and their identities completely changed. Jews in Israel are not diaspora Jews, they have not clung to their Eastern European pasts (those with Eastern European pasts) the way American Jews have.

And I think this where a lot of the Jewish culture shock comes from. The Eastern European shtetl identity is one of the defining factors of my Jewish identity. The Bulbus song is, I think, the best example of that kind of Judaism there is. But for Jews here, that’s not really how it goes. It’s a very different type of Judaism, and I think this lack of shared history and culture is a major reason.

I’ve also seen this change in the languages. I realized about a week ago that Hebrew is not nearly as fun or funny a language as Yiddish. Learning Hebrew is like learning French or Chinese – interesting, and relevant because I’m living here, but nothing I feel very connected to. But learning Yiddish, oh yeah, that was the language of my people. Yiddish I felt, and still feel, very connected to, in a way I never will with Hebrew. And Yiddish is so Jewish! And by that, of course, I mean Eastern European shtetl Jewish. My favorite example: in Yiddish, there are 5 acceptable answers to the question “how are you,” which range from the equivalents of “SUPER GREAT” to “you’re better of not knowing, I’d rather be dead.” When we learned them, my teacher told us that there is never an appropriate occasion to say the “super great” one; it can always be worse, and you should never be that happy. It’s best to just go with the middle one, which is rather like “ehh.” That, to me, is so hilarious because it is so Jewish. They don’t have hilarious stuff like that in Hebrew.

The intentional casting off of shtetl-ness and oppression has served to create a culture of Judaism here in Israel that is completely different from any kind of Judaism I’ve ever experienced. In Israel, Jews call us “Diaspora Jews.” They differentiate themselves from all other Jews, because we are still in diaspora and they are not; they are “home,” they are “back,” they have “returned,” they have “come up to the Land of Israel” (which is the actual definition of “making Aliya,” by the way.) They are different from us. No kidding.

Reading Out Loud

October 12, 2010

There are two major things I wanted to talk about after yesterday, so I’m making them two separate posts so it isn’t super long.

Today our Hebrew class was the first with our new teacher, the intermediate guy Ofir. During class, we were going around in a circle and reading this passage out loud. It was really complex and I didn’t know a lot of the words. As it got closer and closer to my turn, the speaker slowly snaking around the circle, I stopped paying attention to what any of the words meant. I stopped trying to understand the vocabulary, stopped trying to read along before the reader said the words. All I felt was an overwhelming fear and panic that I was going to have to read out loud. At the last moment, he switched the direction of the circle so after all that worry and woe, I ended up not having to read. Then we had to answer questions about the passage in pairs, and I couldn’t do it. Even though I knew most of the words in the passage, and in other circumstances I would have easily been able to answer every question without checking back. But because of my extreme performance anxiety, I couldn’t remember anything.

I feel like I finally understand a tiny sliver of what it’s like to read out loud in elementary school (and middle and high school!) for kids who can’t read well. I, as the speediest reader in existence, was always just bored with those kids, and was never able to completely put myself in their shoes and think about how incredibly terrifying it is to know that soon it will be your turn to read and you can’t do it well. And the fact that I couldn’t process any of the words, and wasn’t able to remember any of what had been read out loud makes a lot of sense. Of course you can’t comprehend if you’re that scared of reading out loud. I even found myself skipping ahead to where I thought I was going to have to read and writing out transliterations so I would be able to read easier. No wonder I didn’t learn anything!

But what do we do? We can’t have kids who don’t read well just not read out loud. And it’s important for my Hebrew for me to read out loud. And how do you make this work for speed demon readers and for incredibly slow readers?

In my classes with our old teacher (SHIRA I MISS YOUUUUUU) I didn’t feel that pressure and worry. Which I think is attributed to two main factors: (a) we combined with the class above us, who are all better readers than we are, so I feel like when I’m slow I’m pushing down the level and I worry (and, of course, because I’m neurotic, become convinced) that they are very frustrated with us. And (b) Shira created an environment where mistakes were just a part of learning, and it didn’t feel like a big deal at all. For whatever reasons, Ofir has not been able to create that environment with us, so it is super stressful.

How do you create that environment? How do you do this so that everyone learns but no one is either so bored or so scared that they check out of the conversation? I have no idea. Are leveled reading circles the answer? Most of the progressive education literature says no, but I don’t really see any other solution that actually works.

What do y’all think/know?

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Israel as a Pressure Cooker

October 7, 2010

Over the past few days, I have had very interesting conversations about Israel as a place and as a people. In a session with Tamar and Avital, our volunteer placement coordinators, they were talking about how there is so much tension in Israel, and that is very apparent in the schools. When Tamar and Avital were 12 it was the first gulf war, and they had to go to school at staggered times so they could all have class in the bomb shelter. They had to bring gas masks with them at all times, and had a gas mask decorating class so they would be pretty. And that was their middle school experience. Plus, I’m sure, all the bullshit that comes with being 12 no matter where you are. Wtf.

And later the day (I think? Maybe the next day?) Amy and I were talking about Israel as a whole and about the conflict. I was saying that I think if I were to design a sociological/psychological experiment (without any sort of ethics, mind you) to test how long humans can undergo tension and fear before they annihilate each other, I could not have designed it any better than the Israel/Palestine situation. A situation born of overwhelming fear of annihilation for the Jews; fighting about religion, which is one of the most tense and overwhelmingly personal identities a person can have; living in a tiny area with dwindling resources where it is very hot; with global support torn between the two; with generations of propaganda and hatred having become an essential part of the cultures; and with the militarization of nearly every single Jew in Israel…honestly how could it be any worse?

And it is super tense. Every time you walk into the bus station or the mall your bag is checked by a security officer and you are wanded with a metal detector. There are often fireworks set off here in Yafo, and every time you wonder if they are gunshots or not. Every single apartment and house and school has a bomb shelter in it. There has not been a single day that I have walked outside my apartment and not seen a gun. Seriously, it could not be a worse situation.

And you see that tension in the people. The way everyone pushes and is rude, the way the kids at the kindergarten are fighting with each other – it is clear that a huge part of Israeli identity, for those who are accepted into the Jewish majority of society and for the Arabs who live on the margins of it, is determined by this immense pressure cooker of a county and a conflict. And for me, that explains so much. It explains why things aren’t getting better, because it is being passed down to the children every day. It’s not just the conflict that’s tense, it’s not just when you talk about Palestine that’s tense. It’s like the whole country is tense all of the time. How can you possibly live your life like that and not be profoundly fucked up? I don’t think it’s possible. I think this country and this life, and especially the life for those who serve in the army, is profoundly fucked up. And how can we expect people who are so fucked up from living here to be able to solve this conflict?

I don’t know. I don’t know any of the answers. I know that neither side would accept a third party coming up with and instituting a solution. Obviously that would not go over very well. But every day I am doubting more and more how much they can do on their own.

Earlier that day, Hannah and Dante and I were talking about how in the entire history of the world we cannot think of a single example of an invading/colonizing force that didn’t exterminate, convert, or enslave the local population that ended up living and coexisting peacefully there. “Americans” exterminated and relocated Native Americans. Spaniards converted the native peoples in South and Central America. Colonizers in Africa and India eventually had to leave those nations because of civil wars or civil unrest. Never has this Israel/Palestine situation worked out. And Israel should have known that. This is a “nation” built in the 1950s. They should have learned the lessons of history. They should have learned from the mistakes of America and England and the brutal histories of ethnic cleansing and enslavement. With all those centuries of knowledge behind them, how did they not see that this would never work out? Obviously I’m not saying the Jews should have exterminated, converted, or enslaved the Palestinians. Obviously. I’m saying they should have known that this was never going to work. They shoulda gone to Baja.


Also, happy birthday to Samantha!!! Manfa, I hope you have a lovely day, and I hope I get to see you sometime when I come back to the states!

First Day of Volunteering

I am sorry for not writing for so long. I’m picking up with today, and will be writing about the profound things that have come up in the last week, but not all the minutia. Here is yesterday!

October 6, 2010

Today is our first day of volunteering. I went to two sites: the Daniel Kindergarten and the Arab-Jewish Community Center. At the Daniel Kindergarten I thought we were just going to talk to the people and find out what classes we’re going to be in and observe some. Of course, in true Israeli style, we got there and the lady was like, “Okay, here is a class, you’re here until 3, yes? Okay.” And left. So we observed for a while and then waded in and started playing. It is fascinating in there.

In the “kindergarten” there is a big range of ages, possibly 4-7. The kids are a mix of Arab and Jewish, but I’m not sure how they are split up or what language the instruction is in. I only heard the teachers speaking Hebrew, but maybe in their individual classes there is some Arabic, I’m not sure. The physical set up is very interesting, with a common playroom and then small personal classrooms off of it (Mickey Mouse style).

There are so many differences in the way the children act here and in America. There is a huge amount of pushing, grabbing, violence and running crazy here. There is an intense lack of personal space, and the kids are constantly touching each other. There is much less teacher interaction and facilitation, and the kids end up resolving almost all of their altercations by themselves. And by “resolve,” I mean whoever grabs harder wins. I’m sure this was compounded by the fact there was only one teacher for a whole lot of kids, but I imagine that even with more teachers, it would still be this way.

I see a lot of adult Israeli behavior in this setting. Israelis are constantly pushing each other, there is no such thing as line, and people get all up in your personal space. The short version is that Israelis are not known for their excessive politeness or turn taking. At the supermarket, you can be waiting in line for 20 minutes and people will come around to the front of the counter and buy their soda or whatever without waiting, and that’s totally acceptable. It’s clear these kids are socialized to do these things from day one. This kindergarten is tiny version of real Israeli society, like all kindergartens are tiny versions of their societies, I suppose.

And this is a coexistence school, with many Jewish families with money and many local Arab kids without money. The Jewish families mostly belong to Beit Daniel, a temple in Tel Aviv, that started this kindergarten inside an existing elementary school. So, in theory, it is awesome that these Jewish and Arab kids in the same classes, getting to be friends and getting to know each other. However, after brief time there, I wonder if instead of getting to be friends and getting to know one another, they are just learning to fight with each other from a younger age. I didn’t notice too much of Jewish-looking kids only fighting with Arab-looking kids, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that is the case. I hope this early interaction isn’t actually making thing worse.

When we entered the school, the security guard who let us in was about to undo the lock, and then he stopped and asked: “Do you have gun?” We were all quite taken aback, and said no, to which he replied: “Any weapon?” We said no, and then he let us in. None of us failed to notice the loaded gun on his hip. I’ve gotten very used to seeing giant guns around everywhere, and his little sidearm was much smaller than the giant things the soldiers carry around with them, but still. Seeing him walking around dozens of 4-year-olds with a gun on him completely weirded me out. I know the kids are completely used to guns, and that when they grow up most of them will serve in the army and use a gun, but still. Seeing it inches away from them was not something I enjoyed.

It also struck me when I was sitting at a table with them playing with plastic animals, that most of these kids are going to be in the army in less than 14 years. And they are going to carry guns and shoot things and maybe die. And that is so terrifying.

After the kindergarten, Stephanie and I went to the Community Center, which is about a 15-minute walk from our house. Usually I will be there on Thursdays, but I went today to get an orientation. Like the kindergarten, there was no real orientation, we just worked with/talked to to the kids. There weren’t very many today because it was a weird schedule, but we did talk to two 13-year-old girls for quite a while. They were the sweetest girls ever, and super impressively spoke Arabic, Hebrew, and English fluently. Wtf, I wish I were as awesome as they are. The girl who runs the center is very nice; she’s American and made aliya a few years ago, so it’s nice that there is zero language barrier with her. Sadly, the two girls we bonded with today won’t be there on Thursdays, which is my regular day, so I’ll have to start all over tomorrow. But I think it will be fine.

And tonight we went out to Margoza, the local bar we tend to frequent, to have a party for our ulpan class with our teacher, Shira. Since our orientation month has ended, now we are all sharing one teacher, unfortunately the one from the intermediate class I HATED. So we went out with Shira, and it was hilariously fun. We’re going to miss her tons and tons, but she says she’ll come visit us. She gave us her cell number, so we’re going to force her to. We are all very concerned about having the intermediate teacher because none of us have had good experiences with him. Also, we are either joining with the intermediate class and having one giant class (their class only has 4 people and is at the same point in the book that we are?) or splitting our class into two groups and having the more advanced of us join with the intermediate class. I don’t really know which one would work better; mostly I just wish Shira were staying.

After the bar we came back to my apartment and watched NCIS, which thankfully is improving after the super weird first episode, and then bed! The end!

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Thursday, September 23, 2010

Oops, I’m very sorry for not writing for so long! Here are the highlights from the last week:

Tuesday-Wednesday, September 21-22, 2010

Tuesday night we went to the big Tel Aviv apartment and built a sukkah during Ulpan. We learned a lot of Sukkot-related words, which I currently don’t remember, which was fun. Sukkot is a huge holiday here in Israel – once again, everything is going to be closed for about four days, since it falls on a Wednesday/Thursday, and then Shabbat. Amy, Hannah and I stumbled into a sort of farmer’s market on our walk that was selling only these three things you “need” for your sukkah – we thought it was something awesome so we went in, but it was super orthodox. We were the only women in there, we were not dressed orthodox-ly, and we were clearly not going to buy anything. We left in a hurry.

Oh, something I forgot to mention was that I had a very interesting conversation with Morgan about state-sponsored orthodoxy. She told me that because studying Talmud and Torah is more holy than working, the state subsidizes men who don’t work and instead go to the Yeshiva all the time. Plus, they get more money for every child they have, so you see these orthodox women with 12 children begging on the street because the welfare they are getting can’t support their family, and their husbands won’t work. That is ridiculous. Be a religious state, that’s fine, but you can’t tell people that studying holy texts is more important than providing for their families. You just can’t. And of course the women can’t work, because they are orthodox, and also because they have 12 children. And this uses up a huge chunk of the state’s welfare allotment, which means that other people who are actually working and trying to provide for their families can’t get the assistance they need. WTF.

I remembered that conversation because apparently Sukkot is such a big deal that poor Jewish families are spending money they don’t have to build a sukkah (which is very expensive). That is crazy to me – isn’t the point that you invite those less fortunate into your sukkah with you? Then why, pray tell, are those less fortunate having to build their own sukkahs? Why can’t they go to North Tel Aviv and hang out in your rich sukkah? WHAT IS GOING ON IN THIS COUNTRY.

Also, we were talking in Ulpan about how your invite important people to your sukkah. Our teacher mentioned Abraham, Issac, Jospeh, and I was thinking about how those are never the people we invited to our sukkah at Sholem. Then I got the “this week at Sholem” email and they talked about who they were inviting to their sukkah: Cesar Chavez, Dolores Huerta, Nelson Mandela, Ghandi…obviously a different sort of population. I remember there were always fierce debates in my class about who to invite – Emma Goldman or Mother Jones? Ghandi or Mandela? Dr. King or Susan B. Anthony? It made me really appreciate (for the thousandth time since I’ve been here) my Sholem education. Sukkus, for us, was always a political holiday (like all holidays) and it taught me about civil rights and labor leaders I didn’t learn about in school. If we had invited old dudes from the bible every year, it would have been (a) boring, and (b) much less educational. I guess it depends on what kind of education you are aiming for, but I think the Sholem way is definitely the best. Also, I read some of the class notes to Hannah and Jodi, and they were like, “yeah, that place sounds amazing.” And I was like, damn straight.

Then on Wednesday we had a whole bunch of Ulpan, then a whole bunch of hanging out. Jodi and I bought DINOSAUR SHAPED CHICKEN NUGGETS for dinner (Morgan had them too), and we spent hours trying to watch NCIS, which was very challenging for everyone involved. But then we had a lovely dinner downstairs in the sukkah that Amy, Dante, Katie, and Nate built on their patio, with all the Yafo people and two Tel Aviv people (plus Jodi and Morgan, who are basically Yafo people at this point.) Then, after our lovely meal, we finally watched NCIS, which seriously disappointed me, by the way. If you haven’t seen it yet, go see it and then LET’S TALK. I also watched the season premier of How I Met Your Mother the other day with Amy, which I thought was excellent. Then we all went out to this bar in the flea market, which was fun until there was some too-intense conversation about the construction of masculinity going on. I love talking about gender construction, of course, but it wasn’t really working (wrong time, wrong place, needed a facilitator, wrong approach), so Dante and I sang “A Whole New World” instead.

Israli Public School System

Sunday-Tuesday, September 19-21, 2010

These past couple days have been all about visiting potential placements and Ulpan. I went to four sites: The Holland Center (preschool for kids with special needs), Ironi Zayin (an afterschool program for highschoolers), Ironi Chet (a religious Jewish boy’s high school), and the Daniel Kindergarten (a Jewish public school right next door to us.) I wasn’t really feeling the Holland Center, even though it is an amazing place, but I want to work at Ironi Zayin incredibly badly. They are doing absolutely amazing things at that program, and it is definitely my top choice. Unfortunately, they don’t have many spaces and it’s a lot of people’s top choice. So I don’t know how that’s going to go. I wasn’t mad about Ironi Chet – too much religion, too few girls, I think, but I really liked the Daniel kindergarten. They are doing a lot of coexistence work and trying to help their Jewish and Arab students get to the same level.

At the kindergarten meeting, we talked a lot about the public school system in Israel. What I understand is that there are three “streams” of public schools: Jewish, Religious Jewish (orthodox) and Arab. My impression is that the difference between Jewish and Arab is more about the racial makeup of the teachers and the language spoken, and less about the population. Many Arab children go to Jewish schools for a better education, the way many non-Catholics go to Catholic schools in the states. The Daniel school is a Jewish school but has a high percentage of Arabs from Yafo, because they can offer a better education, and Hebrew fluency, which is needed for any higher level of learning or living. However, as you might expect, Jewish children never go to Arab schools.

After this meeting, Hannah and I had a long talk about this state-sponsored segregation, starting from kindergarten. It seems to us to be only a slightly better form of “separate but equal,” (better because Arab children can attend Jewish schools if they want/can do it logistically/can get in) which is obviously incredibly divisive. The schools aren’t even requiring them to become fluent in the other language. We think that if all schools were integrated and bilingual, it would do a lot to lessen the conflict and heal the upcoming generation of this country’s wounds. If all Jewish kids went to school and were in classes with Muslim and Christian kids, if they all were fluent in Hebrew and Arabic (and English), if they all really went to coexistence schools every day, that would be huge. It struck us that there is so much more that the government could be doing to end or lessen the conflict, but they just aren’t. It made us (sorry for putting feelings in your mouth Hannah) incredibly frustrated, because everyone is talking about how they want peace and all of that, but they aren’t doing everything they can!

Yom Kippur

Friday-Saturday, September 17-18, 2010

Yom Kippur! Once again, everything in the entire city closed down. But at least it was only for two days this time, instead of the four we had for Rosh Hashanah. Morgan and Jodi spent a lot of time over here, which was awesome. Yom Kippur is, in Tel Aviv at least, like a giant block party. There are very few cars because people aren’t supposed to drive, so kids overtake the streets on their bicycles. There were more cars in Yafo, but they still had to navigate around the biking kids. Apparently people walk and ride their bikes on the highways, just because they can. It used to be that anyone driving a car would get stones thrown at them, and it might still be that way in Jerusalem, I don’t know, but here in Tel Aviv, and especially in Yafo, there is enough religious diversity that it’s not like that.

Quite a few of us fasted, me included, so we all got together and had a very nice break fast meal downstairs, with about 2/3 of the Yafo group (plus Morgan and Jodi.) It was really nice, and a good way to end the holiday.

Oh, also, incredibly weirdly, there is nothing on the tv or radio on Yom Kippur, apparently. You turn it on, and it’s just gray. So. Weird!

Night Tour of Jerusalem

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Last Thursday we went on a night tour of Jerusalem. Since it was the night before Yom Kippur, it was called a Slichot tour (and “slicha” means sorry), because of all the people in the old city to atone. The walking around the city was very cool, although our tour guide was not very good. The tour was too long, and we all very tired, since it didn’t start until about 10pm. We didn’t get to go down to the Wailing Wall because of the huge throngs of people – it looked like those pictures of Mecca, when the center is completely filled with a swirling mass of people. (Pictures up on facebook soon.) But don’t worry, I am definitely planning on going back and going to the wall at some point, because I am certainly not going to leave Israel without being there.

It was certainly weird being in the Old City, and being in Jerusalem in general. In Tel Aviv, the conflict seems like more of a political issue, but in Jerusalem you are confronted with the religious reality. The biggest building in the Old City skyline is a church. The entrance into the walls is riddled with bullet holes. The religious conflict is overwhelming, and I don’t really understand how people can see it as a completely holy space. I find nothing holy in hate, war, violence or fear, and Jerusalem is filled with all of those things. It also didn’t help that our tour guide was completely pro-Israel the entire way, and made no effort to provide another side to anything he was saying. We’ll see how I feel after having actually been to the Wall.

Friday, September 17, 2010


Pictures from the past week-ish are now up on Facebook! Take a look!

Word updates coming soon!

Teaser: we went to Jerusalem and I have bug bites! That's what I get for leaving my Yafo!

Thursday, September 16, 2010


Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Sorry I haven’t updated this in so long! Here are the last three days!

Today I went to two placements; one which I liked and one which I didn’t. The first was Save a Child’s Heart (SACH), which is an incredible organization that brings children with heart disease from developing countries to Israel for life-saving surgery. They also train medical personnel so that the children can get proper care when they go back home. 50% of their children come from Palestine, with another large chunk coming from Iraq. The rest come from all over Africa and some from South America and South-East Asia. As a volunteer, I would be playing with the kids in their house (they all live together) and visiting them in the hospital pre-and-post-op, as well as giving their parents some relief from constant caregiving.

We went to the house and met some of the kids, which was very intense. They ranged from what looked like 4 years old (but could have been older since kids with heart disease don’t grow very well) to 12. Most were from Ethiopia (they had a big group come in) with little Asian girl with a Chinese-sounding name. We played with them for a few minutes, which worked very well despite none of us having a common language.

I need to do some introspection on whether I will emotionally be able to handle working there a couple times a week, but I think it’s a really amazing place. If anyone is looking for an organization to donate to this Jewish holiday season, I strongly recommend this one. All of their doctors and the surgeon are volunteers, so it only costs $10,000 to save a child, including travel and logistical costs. The family pays zero dollars, even for the most complicated open heart surgery there is (one kid had heart on the wrong side of his body, and they saved him.) It’s really really amazing. They have saved over 2,400 children.

In the afternoon I visited a community center that I didn’t like as much. The guy doing the presentation wasn’t very good, and he seemed like he wanted only people with good Hebrew who would be here for 10 months. Plus the work wasn’t as coexistence oriented as I wanted. So, at least I can cross one of my 9 of the list!

After that, we tried to go to this dance performance in Tel Aviv (The Inbal Pinto Dance Company We went to dinner and got super delicious food, but it took a long time and then we got lost, so we found the place a few minutes after the performance started. And the men were snooty, so we decided to come back and see it when they will be back in November. We ended up just getting drinks at the really nice and comfortable bar/restaurant outside the theater. It was a really great setting, and I had one of the best drinks of my life (called “Summer Apricot,” which is how I learned that “apricot” is “meeshmeesh” in Hebrew.) We decided that we want to go there all the time and be slightly yuppie, but feel really good about.

We (Morgan, Jodi, Hannah, and I) had a really interesting conversation about how we, as opposed to other people in the program, are doing. A lot of people are kind of disillusioned with experience at this point, and we talked a lot about that. Obviously, adjusting to a new place takes a long time, and I honestly wasn’t expecting to feel this settled for a month, at the very least. I also think that it is hard for the people who just graduated college in May (which is over half the program, I think.) For me, because I lived in the real world for a year, and it was SO not what I was looking for, especially socially, I knew what I wanted in a very specific way. This program is much more like college than like real life, and that was exactly what I wanted. I wanted a built-in social scene and structure, which I am getting. But for people that have had that for the past 4 years, and haven’t had time to miss it, it certainly feels different.

Another big consideration that Morgan and Jodi brought up is that many people have (we think, look at me putting words in other peoples’ mouths!) an idealized version of Israel, especially after doing Birthright, which almost everyone on the program has done. On Birthright, apparently, everything is clean and nice and exciting and there is no seedy underbelly. Here, in Yafo and South Tel Aviv, it is dirty and sometimes smells like trash and things don’t work and you have to cope every day with the seedy underbelly. In addition to our volunteer placements, which are obviously dealing with needy populations, we are living in areas that are economically depressed. When we walk around in big groups of girls, men in cars honk or yell stuff at us, and you have to watch your step on the street cause the stones might be uneven, or maybe water will drip on your head, or maybe you’ll step in dog crap (like I did yesterday.) But I really love Yafo! I think it’s a really awesome place. But I (and the other girls in the conversation) never thought of Israel in that idealized way, either logistically or politically. I never felt like being here would be easy, luxurious, or feel like home. When you get off the plane and walk towards customs, there is a huge sign that says “WELCOME HOME.” I never expected to feel like this was home, or to feel an instant affiliation or connection with Israel, which I think a lot of other people did, either subconsciously or consciously. I certainly understand how hard that is, and how shocking it can be to realize that what you’ve thought and expected your whole life is so different.

Anyway, I hope the people that aren’t happy start to feel better as we get more settled and fall into more of a routine. And I hope I keep feeling as good about it as I do. Honestly, I am learning and using my brain, I have really good friends, we talked about racism, “Their Eyes Were Watching God,” the concept of “good hair,” and dinosaurs tonight at the bar, and I’m living in a way nicer apartment than when I was in Boston. For me, at least for now, it’s all good in the hood.