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Israel Seminar Blog

Posted on 07/26/2011 @ 11:17 AM

At 8am ten groggy PDIers boarded our bus in Haifa and set off on our journey to the Galilee, namely Zippori. A hot, abusive sun and heated conversations lay ahead as our bus wound its way up the mountains. Today we explored the tension and interplay between our religion, other religions, other cultures and other time periods; we looked at what happens when conflicting narratives come together.

As we got off the bus, we were greeted by Amin, a 76 year old Arab Muslim who was born in the village of Saffuriyeh (in Zippori), was expelled from his village in 1948, watched as the Israeli army destroyed it, and has not been allowed to move back to that area since. Amin was nothing if not opinionated. While his story is clearly a sad one, some of his other opinions proved to be less than palatable to some of the PDIers (for example when he said there cannot be peace with Zionists—Amin drew a distinction between Jews and Zionists, although his definitions were hazy at best). Needless to say, this encounter was interesting and incited some heavy and heated conversation both with him and among our cohort. Amin’s struggle is definitely real but what are Israel’s responsibilities to him? After all, he is a citizen of the country, enjoys freedom, and lives not too far from his original village. It is also important to remember that there are many sides to the stories we hear.

After boarding the bus and continuing our dialogue with each other, we drove several minutes to the Zippori National Park. Here, greeted by olive, carob, and pomegranate trees, we enjoyed an amazing view overlooking this historic area of Israel. As our day and discussion continued, we discussed how in this area in particular, where the Mishnah was written, there was so much interplay between the Roman culture and the Jews. What did the Jews gain from the Roman culture? What did they adopt (besides the obvious—ornate mosaic floor of the Zippori ancient synagogue depicting the Zodiac)? We studied some Mishnah texts to frame our conversation and toured around, seeing the theatre, an amazingly ornate mosaic, and the Zippori synagogue.

On our last stop, we enjoyed a delicious lunch, a dip in the pool, and more conversation at Roberta’s house (Roberta is one of our wonderful educators) in “Modern Zippori.” Here, we were able to reflect on what it means for the Jews to live in such close proximity with the Muslim and Christian Arabs, what responsibilities the State of Israel has to them, what security and social issues are at play, and what are the greater social implications of all of this in Israeli society.

Back at the hotel, we were able to come together for a final class where we studied more Mishnah. This class refreshed the themes of the day and reframed the conversation that we are continuing to have. We ended the day with a free evening where most of us enjoyed some Kosher Chinese food, and were able to see a student rally for lowering rent.

The trip thus far has been an incredibly humbling experience for all of us. I think I speak for everyone when I say that the conversations that we have been having, the people we have been meeting, and the places we have been seeing, have proven to us that the picture is much more complex than any of us had previously imagined. We are all learning, struggling, creating opinions, and becoming better Jews and educators.

Alex Bolotovsky

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