Archive for the ‘Sarah in Israel’ Category


Sarah: The hospitality of the Middle East

April 4, 2011

I never have been good at keeping a diary and a blog following my journey in Israel appears to be following the same pattern. A lot has gone on since last writing, a lot that cannot be articulated or perhaps even fully understood by myself but I will try, just focusing on the hospitality of this nation.

My friends and I say this quite often but Jerusalem is the craziest city in the world, I think I can say that as a fact. It is such a mixture of technology, “third world” characteristics, religion, diversity and unfortunately a lot of tension. However, there is something about this region that just breeds hospitable people.

About a month ago now two of my good friends, Paula (also my roommate) and Diocelyn spent the weekend in Haifa, which is the third largest city in Israel in the north of the country. We had a wonderful time exploring the Bahai Gardens, a religion I knew nothing about, and just speaking to people in the city. One of our favorite parts of the city was a small little falafel joint we were persuaded into eating at and where we ended up spending almost two hours just chatting with the owner, Rami (mostly in Hebrew!) We were delighted by the co-existence in Haifa. In Jerusalem it is rare for an Israeli-Jewish institution to recommend walking through Arab neighborhoods but in Haifa the employee at the hostel in fact recommended this and many Jews seem to utilize the resources in these neighborhoods. Haifa instilled some hope in us that peaceful living is possible. Everything in Haifa just seemed overall more calm and less tense. When we were walking along the boardwalk we decided to make friends with these group of guys who were listening to music and smoking hookah and they were delighted to invite us to hang out for a while. They even kept telling us to stay in Haifa for another night. Finally, we said goodbye to these guys, who were Arab (I only say this because I want to emphasize that the friendliness does not only apply to the Jewish community) and eventually made our way to the bus station, but this appeared to be a hard task and we eventually found ourselves at what looked like the correct bus stop to get to the Haifa Bus Station back to Jerusalem. We waited and waited and no bus seemed to be coming. Then we hear all this loud music and two ecstatic men go cruising by, our eyes cross and we see it is our new friends. Of course they came back and gave us a ride to the station, music blaring and the car is cruising but no questions asked, we were now friends and friends help each other out. I have seen this mentality in the majority of people in this country/overall land (including the Palestinian Territories.)

I have now connected with two of my mother’s friends from her trip to Israel in 1973, who now live here,0 and the Middle Eastern friendliness bug has definitely reached them as well. Another wonderful hospitable weekend I had was two weekends ago when me and three girlfriends were set up in a random home for Shabbat Dinner in the Old City in Jerusalem. This was such a beautiful home and they prepared such a beautiful meal for us and others, whom they had never met before. The hostess said that “G-d decides who will come to Shabbat every week” and I love that mentality. At the dinner there was a lot of talk about all Jews being family and that is why Israelis are so rude, because we have to love each other no matter what. I like this analogy but I also hope in Jerusalem we start to see all people as family, because we are human beings who pray for peace.

The next day after this Shabbat Dinner, six friends and I headed out to see Bethlehem. I liked Bethlehem more as a city than Ramallah, but wow it is easy to see low-poverty and high population areas when the streets are completely taken over by people. Initially we just walked around, got lunch and a few of us spent a long time in a gift shop and made friends with the owner. The owner went on to tell me his religious journey, leading up to his current belief that G-d does not exist because of the lack of peace in the region. We said goodbye and went on to visit The Church of the Nativity, which was unpleasantly crowded and I do not see how any Christian could feel spiritual there. After that we wanted to check out Herodian’s Palace, but of course all cab drivers wanted to charge the “rich Americans” an absurd amount to go there. While searching for good deal we ran into our friend from the gift shop who pointed us to an area where he knew we wouldn’t be ripped off. As soon as we got down there probably a dozen men surrounded us wanting to take us, most of these men spoke Arabic, little English, little Hebrew. All of a sudden another guy shows up who speaks English and becomes our mediator. We choose a guy and off we go, then I notice this mediator, Khalid, has joined us. I thought perhaps the driver and he were friends but nope he just wanted to help show us around. After exploring the palace together he invites us over to his home, in a nice small village in Bethlehem, and makes us tea. His sister is so excited to meet all of us and quickly makes us tea, we also meet the baby of another woman he lives with. It is so beautiful to see how welcoming and friendly strangers can be. We say goodbye to Khalid at the bus stop where he waits with us to make sure we are safe. I hope to visit him again when my mother comes to visit in 10 days! On the bus home we also make friends with a group of students from E. Jerusalem who study in a university in Bethlehem. The checkpoint coming back from Bethlehem was much less intense than the checkpoint from Ramallah. Not sure why. However, I really hate these checkpoints and really hate this wall. Diocelyn asked Khalid what his vision of peace in the region is and I agree with his answer completely, “No peace with settlements, no peace with checkpoints, no peace with war.”

And the hospitality never stops, immediately after Bethlehem my friend Lee from my Ulpan Class had me and Paula over for an amazing vegetarian Korean dinner. This past weekend my friend Abbie, Paula and I spent the weekend at the nicest family, the Barmuchas. where we were force fed until we couldn’t move and treated just like family. Today, I went on a field trip with my Ethiopian Jewry Immigration to Israel course, where we visited two absorption centers and ate delicious Ethiopian food and coffee until we were stuffed.

The politics of this country may be ugly but they are the most hospitable people I have ever met.

And now some visuals:

Diocelyn, our friend Rami, myself and Paula
Our Bethlehem group with our friend Khalid in the middle
The amazing dinner my friend Lee made!

Sarah: I’m in Jerusalem

January 30, 2011

As most of you know I am currently spending the semester in Jerusalem, Israel studying abroad at the Rothberg International School at Hebrew University of Jerusalem. I have now been here for about two weeks and am feeling more adjusted to life here. Even though I have been here once before it is a totally new experience to be independent in Israel and not be on an organized trip. There are a lot of specifics to my program but I don’t want to bore you with the details so I will point out the things I think most people are wondering!

  • I am living in apartment/dorms in the area translated in English as “The Student Village.” Currently, I have one roommate named Paula who studies at Harvard University and is great. We will most likely be getting two more roommates, we’re both hoping Israelis but don’t know if this will be the case.
  • I am currently in a “Hebrew Ulpan” which is a four-week intensive Hebrew course where only Hebrew is spoken. Although I always got an A at the U of M for Hebrew, it is extremely difficult here. I have realized that I am such a visual learner, that learning a language is very difficult for me. I know that I need to study really hard and will need to force myself to do so because as you might expect it is very tempting to simply explore this country everyday.
  • One thing I don’t like about the program thus far is that it is fairly isolating of the international students. I am going to have to go kind of out of my way to make many Israeli friends but am willing to do so. I am applying for two internships and hope to get one. The two places I am applying are “The Ethiopian National Project” and “IMPACT-SE- Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education.”

…Okay, now for what I think is interesting! The weekend here is different than in America. You have classes Sunday-Thursday and then Friday-Saturday is Shabbat. Shabbat is the day of rest in Judaism and most things that are run by Jews are shut down these two days. It creates a very different atmosphere than a Friday night in America but that is part of the charm of Jerusalem. I started this past weekend in a very militaristic/nationalistic way and this theme continued throughout the weekend. On Thursday night I was with some friends in downtown Jerusalem and we stumbled upon the ceremony that swore in new soldiers to the Israeli Defense Force (IDF). The entrance we went through happened to be the one where the thousand of soldiers were gathered to march into the ceremony held at the Western Wall or “The Kotel.” It was interesting for me to really look at these soldiers. Ever since I was a young girl, I remember the Israeli Scouts, who were around the age of soldiers, or soldiers at Talmud Torah coming to Minneapolis and myself and all the other young girls admiring the handsomeness and cuteness of these young men. Now, when I looked at them I saw them for what they were, boys. In Israel everyone, both men and women, are required to serve 2-3 years in the IDF. There are ways to get around this, as most of the religious people in Israel do, but it is a requirement. These soldiers I looked at were so incredibly young and were starting something so incredibly big. Yes, many 18 year olds join the army in the United States, but there is a different attitude towards the military in the US. It’s a special kind of person that joins the military (sometimes…) but in Israel it is everyone. The soldiers marched in entering this new chapter of their lives and were awarded a gun. Someone high up in the military gave a speech in Hebrew. I couldn’t understand all of it but did get the overall theme. He stated “We remember” over and over again, each of these “We remember” were followed by a big war that Israel was involved in, such as the Yom Kippur or Lebanon War. At this moment, the man giving the speech was telling these new soldiers (who were all men, I am not sure when/where the women’s ceremony was) what they were getting into. I cannot imagine the thoughts going through these young men’s minds, but as they took their huge gun and wore a soldier’s uniform they were now militaristic representations of Israel whether this was something they wanted or not. I sound very critical right now and I am actually not. I am just writing my thoughts, not my opinions regarding army requirement in Israel.

Day two: JStreet U Jerusalem put on an event called “What is A Settlement?” This event attempted to demonstrate both sides of the issue of settlements specifically in the West Bank. They brought us to the settlement bloc, Gush Etzion, and sat the full bus of about 40 of us down with two men of the settlement. Neither of these men were born there and one of them was not even born in Israel. Both men though had family ties to the area. They presented the settlements as simply their home and somewhat distinguished themselves from the “extremists that burn down olive trees and live in illegal areas.” Yet, both men agreed that they would view their settlement growing as a positive, even when these people moving in are Anglo-Saxons not from the country of Israel. This is not so simple though. Land does not simply come out of thin air and the West Bank is already such a small area of land, therefore what happens to the other people living in this area and their land?

After, leaving this settlement we picked up the director of “Peace Now-Settlement Watch”, Hagit Ofran. She is an Israeli woman who identifies as a Zionist, yet also truly wants peace for all peoples of the land. It was interesting, I was sitting next to my friend Brigitta and as this woman began to speak both of us looked at each other and she said “She has our heart.” Brigitta and I had previously discussed our journey with Israel. We love Israel and believe that there must be a state for the Jews and therefore we identify as Zionists, yet still we recognize and want more for the people that have suffered due to this dream. Hagit took us on a tour via the bus of various areas of settlements. We also stopped and got off the bus where she spoke to us more about the issue. I learned so much from her and at the same time still know so little.

Settlements are a complicated issue because like the majority of land in the Middle East, problems surround lines. Lines of what country is what. Lines of whose land is whom. Lines of legality and illegality. But these are complicated manners because who is deciding these lines? My program at Rothberg is in East Jerusalem, which is predominately an Arab side of the city, yet you never hear leaders at this institute mention this. Yet, they mention to us which areas to not go into which all happen to be Arab neighborhoods. So here, they are the creators of lines. Read the rest of this entry ?

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