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.