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!