The Other in Israeli Society
Posted on 07/27/2010 @ 07:10 PM
By Ian Kandel, Northern Region East/DC Council Program Director
As the BBYO PDI Seminar continues to roll through northern Israel, we spent Tuesday exploring Israel’s significant and diverse Arab minority. Representing approximately 20% of the Israeli population, the Arab community enriches Israel’s citizenry mosaic in tremendous ways. Israel’s Arabs can be categorized in many ways: Christian, Muslim, Druze, and beyond. Yet, they share a vast number of cultural, geo-political, and identity-oriented commonalities, especially as they collectively navigate the historical and present day contexts of living in the world’s only Jewish state.
Following an early morning Hebrew class focused on the word of ‘אחרה’, which means ‘other’, we explored the origins and current dilemmas of Israel’s other significantly sized constituencies. Israel’s northern region, the ‘Galil’ or Galilee, is nearly 80% Arab (of varying religions and cultures). While the Jewish demography is growing in this region, the Arab community of Israel is an important component of modern day Israel’s identity, democracy, and future. It is through these lenses that we tried to understand their past, existing roles and dreams as they continue to travel unique pathways of integration, isolation, and identity preservation.
Our first visit of the day brought us to face-to-face with a young man not unlike us. A college graduate, well-spoken, in his late-20’s/early-30’s, and a passionate community youth advocate, Lafez Assadi, the Director of Youth Services for the Muslim village of Dir Al-Assad gave us a detailed and enthusiastic overview of what he and his team of volunteers are doing to cultivate proud, responsible and positive identities for thousands of local Arab children and youth. His role in the village is parallel to that of a BBYO regional or city director.
As a liaison between the community institutions and the parents of thousands of local youth, he facilitates afterschool programs, leadership experiences, and summer camp get-a-ways for a growing number of energetic Israeli Arabs. With limited resources, few colleagues, and endless demand, Assadi is moving mountains in a community that up until recently saw a repetitive cycle of lackluster, uninspiring youth engagement. What made Assadi even more unique – and further admirable – was that he is a proud alum and current community leader for one of Israel’s largest Zionist youth movements ‘Dror Israel (with a much longer name in Hebrew!)’. Yes, you read that accurately. While Lafez explained that his end goal is to ensure that the Arab youth he is working with grow to be complete humans with respect for everyone and interest in building their own community, there is no other choice – and one that yields advantages and progress – than to interact and integrate with the Jewish majority. What ultimate results these efforts will yield for Israel years from now are unknown, but Assadi’s are definitely steps taken that are so desperately needed.
Assadi explained that the Jewish Agency is supporting his efforts and how challenging that is for his community to accept (some peers even see him as traitorous for accepting ‘Jewish funds’ to strengthen the Arab community), but Assadi is relentless. He sees the growth and maturity of the youth he works with and the rapid expansion of his program, and he knows what he is doing is both right and important. This was our second encounter with peer youth professionals in the ‘Dror Israel’ youth movement, and we’re excited to see if our paths will cross with Lafez Assadi again in the future as we expand BBYO’s relationship with the Israeli youth (Jew and Arab) community.
After our time at the Arab Youth Center, we made our way to the Druze village of Sajur for a traditional, festive Druze meal. The (delicious) break allowed for the PDI cohort to assess and internalize what we had learned from Lafez Assadi earlier that day. While we had a qualitative exchange of questions and answers with him, we could see both successes and obstacles in his – and the broader Arab community’s exchanges – with Israel’s, well, bureaucracy. Israel’s public service systems aren’t easy to navigate, especially for Arabs. With the day filled with further dialogue, we were guaranteed to hear more perspectives on this important issue.
Our next stop took us to the Center for Social Change in the Druze village of Yirka where we met with the center’s director, Walid. Walid’s time with us was much less about his Druze identity and the Druze faith and much more about his personal perspectives on where Israel’s Arab community is headed given the current dynamics.
(The Druze community is a fascinating and important Arab minority within Israel that is nationalistically supportive, serves in the army, considerably integrated, protected and visibly championed within the State. It’s a community that most of our teen Passport to Israel trips meet during their tours, and that most of us as PDI students had had past experiences with on previous visits to Israel. For more information on the Israeli Druze, HYPERLINK "http://www.mfa.gov.il/MFA/MFAArchive/2000_2009/2002/12/Focus on Israel- The Druze in Israel" you can learn more here.)
While we have always understood the Druze community to be on positive terms with Israel, Walid did express underlying challenges that the Druze community faces as a part of the broader Arab population. There are inconsistencies and inequalities when it comes to community funding, educational opportunities, democratic representation and access to government leaders. While the Arab community acknowledges they own some of the responsibility for not being mobilized enough, engaged enough, and articulate enough, these are significant areas of focus that the government of Israel – at both the municipal and national level – needs to devote attention to. If for no other reason than to ensure that this community (and the Druze specifically) don’t slide further apart as the country continues to move forward.
Walid, and his organization, are working hard to build bridges with Israel’s Jewish influentials and change-makers, and it was interesting to hear about what an Arab veteran of the Israeli army saw for his community’s future. While present day challenges have certainly tapered his idealism, Walid remains optimistic. There’s no question that through more of these exchanges, both with Israeli Jews and Diaspora Jewish communities, and further education about ‘the other’ of both sides, we can ensure that the Druze community remains an exemplary (relatively) Arab constituency within Israel’s non-Jewish tapestry.
After a long day of information and self-reflection, we began our journey across the Galil valley toward our last stop, with a brief detour at one of northern Israel’s largest malls. While it offered a brief break to reach for Naot sandals at factory outlet prices, heavily-discounted World Cup attire and a coffee afuk for those that wanted, it also gave us an opportunity to see a thriving Jewish and Arab community in the ‘real world’, alongside one another in a commercial and communal setting. It was interesting for us to be made so aware of the divide all day long, and then see the ‘effortless’ co-existence with such a common backdrop. As it turns out, the break was valuable for far more than just a souvenir stop.
Our evening concluded with a powerful story. We gathered for dinner at the home of Kamla Mussa, an incredibly talented Israeli Arab chef and caterer for an incredible dinner. One of our best meals in Israel yet, we were instantaneously won over by her talent and attention to us. Once full, Kamla shared her story with us over traditional Arab desserts.
In brief, she found herself in a traditional Arab lifestyle with a determined marriage years ago, and she wanted more. Her conservative Muslim framework defined her gender role as one with little freedom. Yet, she pushed and found her way to employment as a hotel chambermaid and then onto the kitchen staff of a nearby kibbutz where she discovered an inherent gift of cooking. After a while, and significant convincing of her husband and his family, it became clear that Mussa could establish a successful restaurant and catering business, which she went on to do. Then, tragedy struck her family. A brother-in-law murdered a member of a rival clan, and due to Arab tradition, this threatened the lives of Mussa and her family (revenge with reciprocal consequence is permissible in the Israeli Arab community, and Israel’s Jewish authorities are limited in what they can do). Mussa’s family was forced to flee their home and relocated to the Arab city of Sachnin where she and her husband, sister, and her children have been living for three years in exile. Thus, all the work that she had put into establishing herself professionally entered a period of distress due to her unusual, temporary living arrangement. Then, as the meal ended, we gratefully learned that an agreement had been reached that same day with the rival Arab clan and that in September, Mussa will finally be able to return to her home and re-open her business. It’s been a long, exhaustive and painful period in all of their lives. That said, you’d never know by her product or service; we unanimously agreed that Mussa undoubtedly has a guaranteed future in both Israeli Arab culinary ventures and social change.
The day in the Israeli Arab community wasn’t our first exploring Israel’s non-Jewish communities or democratic complexities, but it was certainly an eye-opening and thought provoking itinerary. With lots of questions about equality, justice, coexistence, education and modernizing Zionism we have entirely new lists of topics to explore with our educators and the Jewish leaders we’re to meet with throughout the rest of our journey. Further, this context is important as we work hard to build appreciations for Israel’s complexities amidst the thousands of Jewish Diaspora teens that we work with year round. The stories of Israel’s Arabs need to be told and the challenges ahead shared, but it’s clear that there is an opportunity for our generation (and for those that are to follow us) to make positive impact on a stronger, more just, and more united State of Israel.
We’re just getting started …
By Kallah 2010 Bloggers on 07/27/2010 @ 12:05 PM
Top ten about Woodburne
10) Coming home with things we don’t need.
9) Getting two slices of pizza, fries, ice cream, soda, chocolate, coffee, and Chinese food!
8) A store actually called Bubby's
7) Half of a store devoted to only headbands
6) Free books
5) Signs being in Hebrew and Yiddish
4) Seeing how different types of Jewish communities live and shop
3) Buying kippot and other Judaica
2) Bus rides
1) Thinking color war was the next day, but it was a fake again!
Color War Fakeout
Since the beginning of Kallah, participants have been wondering about the Color War games. When they finally announced the event on Israel night, the community was ecstatic. The theme was to be “Mustaches of the 90s.” However, when teens went to see who was on their team, the “team list” was merely a sheet telling us to go to bed and that there was NO COLOR WAR! Then, on our way home from Woodburne a week later, the staff finally told us our real Color War teams- Harry Potter houses. As we got off the bus, excited as ever, the Madrichim handed us instruction sheets- this time saying “Roses are red, violets are blue, there’s no Color War at Kallah!” Once again we were fooled. Will we ever have a Color War?
For the last week of Kallah we have split up into small groups to research a Jewish topic that we have a particular interest in. After talking with one of the Judaic educations, Suzie, we chose the Reconstructionist movement. We had a personal connection with the topic which made us want to learn more about it. After researching we will be presenting to the Kallah movement. –Jamie and Yarden
When participants gathered in Katz to take pre-Shabbat pictures, the staff was alerted that severe weather was in the area. So to avoid the rain, we had menorah lighting, services, and dinner all together in the dining hall! The Friday night planning groups had to think quick on their feet to rise to the occasion, which they did wonderfully. Being in the dining hall brought us all closer as a Kallah community. Even though the weather outside was bad, the atmosphere could not have been more special.
Kibbutzim: Early Pioneers to Today
Posted on 07/26/2010 @ 07:10 PM
By Rebekah Smith, Big Apple Region Program Director
We started our day with a visit to the historic Kinneret Cemetery for a guided tour with Muki Tzur. The Kinneret is the only natural freshwater lake in Israel and is a major water source for the country. Because of this, the history of the region and the pioneers who settled and developed this land is rich. Our tour guide, Muki, was born in Jerusalem and had lived on a kibbutz on the shores of the Kinneret since 1956. He is a noted historian, thinker, storyteller and leader of the kibbutz movement. Despite the 104-degree weather this morning, Muki captured all of our attention with his charismatic and nostalgic stories of the history of this area and its people. One of the people buried in the Kinneret Cemetery is Rachel the poet. Rachel’s poetry has inspired many individuals, including a woman named Shelli Greenspun, who was so affected by the words of Rachel’s poetry that she insisted on being buried near her in the Kinneret Cemetary.
Afterwards, we traveled to nearby Makom B’Sejera, located in one of the original pioneering communities, for lunch. All the food at this organic restaurant is made the moment you order it, and this blog is not big enough for the descriptions of the many delicious things we ate. You can get an idea from the dessert pictured above. II will attempt to describe how amazing this meal was, but I know my words will not capture the experience. We started out with two different organic salads, lemonade made with fresh stevia (Makom B’Sejera does not use sugar, but rather sweetens with the leaves of the stevia plant), and another juice made from apples and sabra fruit. Shortly after, we were brought fresh homemade whole-wheat pita with hummus made from chickpeas that had already sprouted (traditional hummus is made from chickpeas before they sprout), along with whole-wheat pasta with Cornish hen, raisins and nuts. More drinks came out (peach ice tea and juice made with figs and banana), and rice made with quail, ground lamb, pumpkin seeds, raisins and walnuts. At this point, we are all getting a bit full, but our meal was only halfway over! Our last drink arrived (juice made from apples, dates, and pears) along with lamb and veal kabobs, which were incredibly delicious! Of course no meal is complete without dessert, which was Belgian chocolate flavored ice cream made with cactus milk and drizzled with date syrup (similar to honey, but more delicious) and sprinkled with roasted granola. All in all, it was a satisfying meal and one of the best I have ever had. Some of us even took pictures with the owner/chef and got information from them about how to email in for recipes.
After lunch, we drive to the Misgav Region and split into three groups to explore different Jewish communities with different ideological, ethnic, or religious characteristics. I was lucky enough to visit Eshbal:
Eshbal is the newest kibbutz in Israel, and therefore the world. Established in 1997 by several young alumni of the youth movement D’ror Israel, Eshbal focuses only on education, rather than agriculture or religion like many other kibbutzim. We had the opportunity to meet with Gilad and Rachel, two of the founding members of the kibbutz and hear about their ideologies and history of Eshbal. Having had a transformative experience in his own youth group, Gilad and the other founders desired to live an adult life through the framework of that youth group and made the decision to start this kibbutz from scratch. Throughout their experience in D’ror Israel, each topic of discussion was prefaced by the same three questions: 1. What is the reality around you? 2. What is your opinion about this reality (also, what is your dream)? and 3. What can you do to bridge the gap between the reality and the dream? Using this framework and applying it to Eshbal has allowed this new kibbutz to grow to 60 educators who serve a population of over 4,000 youth.
Eshbal is only one part of a larger movement (D’ror Israel) and all together there are 100,000 youth served from Mitzpeh Ramon in the south to the kibbutz in the north. Eshbal believes that Zionism is the new direction in the Galilee region, and strongly promotes the education of Arab youth. A boarding school run at the kibbutz serves teenagers who have been expelled from other schools, kicked out of their homes, and might otherwise be living on the streets or in jail. Many of these teens are Ethiopian, and one of the goals of the kibbutz is to introduce the overall Ethiopian population to the population. Recognizing the importance of informal education, Eshbal strives to better Israeli society through education. The 60 educators at Eshbal frame all of their education with the same three-question model that many of them grew up with, but in a more informal manner. In order to teach the teens a sense of responsibility, the kibbutz owns three horses that the boarding school teens are charged with taking care of. The program lasts for three years, and is currently graduating its fifth class.
When Gilad was asked the ideology of the kibbutz, he responded by saying that they are a “Jewish, Zionist, humanist movement.” We all have the obligation of tikkin olam (repairing the world), and as Jews we can achieve this through the education of not only other Jews in society, but of all the humans around us. We also asked Gilad why Eshbal was not an agricultural kibbutz, as so many traditionally are. His response was that we all have both the right and the obligation to take care of the land, but the land belongs to everyone. Being “in the land” is also about education, and going into the different parts of Israeli society and education as a means of taking care of the land.
This kibbutz and our meeting with two of its founders particularly affected me because it was so different than the traditional kibbutz model I have learned about previously. The kibbutz model in general is slowly shrinking in Israel, and having the opportunity to speak to two individuals who pioneered this distinctive and atypical type of kibbutz at the age of 21 was both refreshing and incredibly impressive. The importance of education, especially educating those who may have been given up on by others, rings throughout the ideologies of Eshbal and having the opportunity to speak with and learn from some of the founders of this kibbutz was an invaluable experience to me as an informal educator. For more information about Eshbal, please visit www.eshbal.org.il.
After we reconvened and all three groups were able to share with one another their experiences of the afternoon, we boarded the bus once again and drove to Achziv Beach for dinner. We had a great (small) meal together on the beach, under a full moon. Today is also Tu B’Av, which according to the Talmud, is a day for courtship in the fields and this “love day” is Israel’s answer to Valentine’s Day.
Jammers Visit DC JCC
Posted on 07/26/2010 @ 11:31 AM
Saturday, July 24th, was a truly beautiful day.
Of course the late wake up for Shabbat was nice, but that was just the beginning. Some of the Jammers, Jen Fallick, Adam Greenwald, and I went to the DC JCC where the Bet Mishpacha meet, a gay/lesbian congregation.
At first it started out like a regular shabbat service, with a few changes such as not using the word "Lord" in respect to the women of the congregation. After the torah was brought out and read from, the almost rabbi Adam Greenwald asked me if I wanted to be Bat-Mitzvahed and I excitedly said yes (P.S. I come from a intermarriage where my mother's side is Jewish and my father's is Christian so I wasn't brought up in a religious household. I was the only Jammer who hadn't went to Hebrew school and had a Bat-Mitzvah.)
So when Rabbi Tobi Manewith asked if there were any aliyahs, Adam announced that there was a Bat-Mitzvah. The congregation clapped as I walked up to the Torah. Adam helped me in saying the prayer to put my tallit on for the first time. Then Rabbi Tobi and I pointed to the section of the Torah where we would be reading from with the yad. I recited the prayer (which was transliterated because I can't, unfortunately, read Hebrew.) and the congregation replied, then I continued on to read the rest of the prayer. Once I finished Rabbi Tobi read from the Torah. Afterwards Adam read a prayer from his prayer book to me, blessing me as a Bat Mitzvah. To close, I touched the Torah with my tallit and then helped dress the Torah. The congregation cheered and to be honest, I had never had such a powerful Jewish experience in my entire life. I felt so connected and accepted into the Jewish community. I had always felt left out from the other Jewish kids because I never really had done anything to be an official part of the Jewish community, but now I had. Throughout the entire experience, a smile was glued to my face.
After the service was a delicious kiddish loaded with bagels, lox, egg salad, cake, and other amazing foods. Once we got back to the Hillel we celebrated again with an ice cream kiddish with the rest of the impact group.
Once the Havdallah service was completed that night, the kids threw me my own Bat Mitzvah party! It was such an awesome experience. I first got lifted in the chair as everyone danced in a circle around me. It was so beautiful to see everyone in support of my special day and being in the spotlight as a Bat Mitzvah. After singing some more songs we played the cheesy bat Mitzvah party games like Coke and Pepsi and Huggie Bear. To end the party we played Zip Zap Zop.
It was an absolutely amazing experience and I appreciated it so much. I love all of the friends I made at DC JAM and I loved that they were all there for me for my Bat Mitzvah.
I'm really sad to go, but I will be bringing so much from this trip home with me. Thanks DC JAM.
What Does "Home" Mean to You?
Posted on 07/25/2010 @ 07:10 PM
By Malki Karkowsky, New England Region Program Director
For many, the word conjures up special smells, tastes and feelings. We think of our families and friends, holidays, and fitting in. As i embark on my second week away from home, my heart aches a little. I am lucky to have so many positive emotional connections with my home.
Today, though, we found out that the word can be more fraught with other meanings.
Our bus made the arduous journey from Tel Aviv to Tzippori, a moshav (neighborhood for Jewish collective living) in the Galilee. While there, we had the wonderful opportunity to go to our educator's home. We walked onto her yard, filled with beautiful fig trees. We even got to pick some and eat them straight off of the tree. Afterwards she welcomed us to a beautiful house, with snacks, drinks and a home far cozier than all of our hotels.
We were honored to have the opportunity to speak to Ido Ya'acovi, a recently retired fighter pilot who also used to direct the fighter pilot training program. In addition to an interesting conversation that gave us insight into the rigors and thought that go into the IDF (Israeli Defense Force), Ido took some time to tell us why he lived on the Moshav. He spoke of the deep Jewish and agricultural roots that he has with the land. He spoke of his father who served in the army and fought to protect Ido and his nine siblings and how Ido did the same thing for his six children. Israel is his home and he will do that which is in his power to protect it and keep it safe.
Soon afterward, Roberta, our educator told us about how she came to Tzippori and why. Like Ido, it was clear that she is overwhelmed by the deep connection the Jews have with the area. To illustrate her point, we went on to the Tzippori ruins and learned all about the life the Jews used to live there.
It was clear that the Jewish community lived a vibrant and rich life there - the area is mid-point between the Mediteranean Sea and the Sea of Galilee. During the time of the Romans, the Jews lived at peace with Romans in order to survive. It was a good thing they did - Tzippori was the place where Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi (Judah the Prince) wrote the Mishna. The Mishna is one of the most important Jewish texts (it's a compilation of all the different Jewish laws that the Jews needed to know about since the Temple was destroyed). The ruins were beautiful and Roberta (our educator) connected with their Jewishness and their antiquity; it was clear both were what helped her want to call Tzippori home.
After a few more fresh figs from Roberta's trees, we left for Nazareth where we met Amin, a Palestinian who grew up in Tzuffiyeh (the Arabic name for Tzippori). During the Israeli Independence War, Amin had to leave Tzuffiyeh for fear of his life, and has lived in Nazareth ever since.
Our meeting with him gave us another perspective on Roberta and Ido's home. Amin believes that he grew up in Tzippori. It was his home and he deserves to go back to the land he loves and 'owns'. He told us he is fine with Jews living there too, but, very simply, he wants to go home.
I left Nazareth thinking about the concept of home. I have two now. The one where I live with my soon to be husband and the one where I grew up and where my parents currently live. As much as I love my parents' house, especially for visits during the Jewish holidays (Sukkot and Pesach are my two personal favorites), I have a new home.
We as Americans are not nearly as rooted as our brothers and sisters in Israel (including Ido, Roberta and Amin) We often feel comfortable moving for educational opportunities, professional opportunities or love. That concept is much more foreign in Israel; today's itinerary made clear that roots and connections run deep.
As I begin to create a home, I am struck by how complicated it can be deciding on where to live, how to raise a family and how to set a place as the setting to my life. But, those decisions seem simple, almost pedestrian when I look at the 'home' that many Israelis- Jews and Arabs, have to work on.