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June 17 Journal: Exploring South Tel Aviv and the Issues of Immigration

19 Jun

As our final tour on the trip we explored South Tel Aviv. Our guide said that the sentiment of the Tel Aviv residents was that South Tel Aviv was not apart of Tel Aviv given its vastly different ethnic makeup up and living conditions. Interestingly enough, well the people of Tel Aviv believe South Tel Aviv to be a different work the Jerusalamites view Tel Aviv to be a completely different land as well; perhaps Israel as a whole is disconnected, especially in terms of ethnicities and the aesthetics of the cities.
One of the biggest differences between Tel Aviv and South Tel Aviv is the explosion of immigrants and asylum seekers, which largely come from Sudan and Eritrea. In the early 2000′s between 300,000 and 500,000 immigrants living in Tel Aviv. Israel as a whole holds 600,000 displaced persons, denoting to the dense immigrant population in South Tel Aviv. Unfortunately, with such a densely populated area of immigrants living conditions and institutions become grossly under-resourced, resulting in many health issues, educational disadvantages and inaccessibility to the already few available services. For example, when walking by a nursery our tour guide informed but that it housed 30 infants, but was only staffed with one women. Consequently, she began by feeding the babies breakfast, however, by the time she was finished she’d have to start feeding them lunch, and therefore left no time for mental stimulation. This one illustration of the iSudanese and Eritrean population demonstrates how these children start life off at a disadvantage before they even reach elementary school.
To further compound the issues these immigrants face they are met with more resistance because of their immigrant status. Immigrants, legally in Israel, are not permitted to work. Soon after this law was passed the obvious implications came to light; if the immigrants are not allowed to work they will die. This issue of how to handle problems of immigration divided Israeli right and left wings. The right positioned that it shouldn’t be the problem of the Israeli people to provide a solution and they should care for themselves somehow or go home. The left, on the other hand, believes that given the volatile situations these immigrants face back home they should accommodating. As a result, a new law was passed stating that although legally immigrants are not allowed to work it can not be enforced. Thus, begins the contradictory and backwards politics of immigration, in addition to the usage of these immigrants life’s as political platforms.
After it become clear that immigration to Israel was causing overpopulation within certain areas the government decided that imprisonment in detention camps would be the easiest way to resolve the ever growing issue. This policy applies to not only the adults but children as well. As relatively new policy, those who have been held at the detention camps have yet to be released from their 3 year sentence, and as such the affects of this policy remain unclear. I can only imagine that this harsh action will create tension and conflict between the immigrants and the Israeli people. As the tour guide hinted at, “the Israeli people are inflicting their anger of the effects of immigration at the immigrants, not the leaders of the country which are forcing its people to flee or be killed.” Given that this is the unnoticed mentality of the Israeli people I would assume that the immigrants feel similarly and will grow to detest the Israeli people for their misguided anger. Again it can’t be ignored that there seems to be a repetitive theme of Israeli’s inflicting harsh conditions on the immigrants which they too were once subjected to.
In contrast there are some efforts to accommodate the Sudanese and Eritrean immigrants. One small but noticable step was the community library. The nonprofit library featured numerous subjects, languages and reading levels to which the immigrants living the community could check out. This display of multicultural friendliness, although a small act, demonstrates that society is becoming more receptive of assisting the immigrants on their journey to individual and familial improvements. In addition the public clinic we saw specifically aims to make health care accessible to the immigrant population by strategically locating the office in an accessible area and providing subsided care.
There is of course much work to be done in terms of the legal policies and the future of the sentiments of the immigrants on their treatment in Israel is yet to be determined if public policy shifts to favor of the immigrants perhaps there is a possibility for peaceful coexistence. Coexistence is not merely a battle for the Arabs of Israel and that should not be overlooked.

-Ariana Evans

Sunday June 16th. What happens in Tzfat, stays in Tzfat.

18 Jun

Despite being pooped after a long Shabbat, our group was excited to start our day fresh. Without any toilet paper left, we began our day shorthanded but eager for the long day that awaited us.

We boarded the bus and began our voyage to visit many of the holy sites in which Jesus Christ visited. On our first stop, we visited Mount of Beatitudes. I was alarmed when I heard that the church on the mountain was built in the year 1938. After being in this country for almost a month already, the buildings we have visited at historical sites were at least one thousand years old. Here we were facing a structure that is a mere 75 years old. I soon learned that the Mount of Beatitudes is holy for its location and not for what is built on top of the mountain. That is because Jesus came to this mountain to deliver his famous Sermon on the Mount. He spoke to his followers who could miraculously hear him from the bottom of the hill. This amazing hill overlooked the Sea of Galilee, where Jesus performed his miracle of walking on water. Here is a fun fact that you cannot find under a Snapple bottle cap; 60% of miracles performed by Jesus took place in the area of the Sea of Galilee. To make sure they did not miss any of the action, his disciples became fisherman stationed at the Sea of Galilee. In Jesus’ sermon, Jesus reveals the eight beatitudes which are teachings to his followers. Like Jesus’ followers, our group was read the eight beatitudes by our very own Jesus, Sarah Sullivan. 

Listening to the teachings atop the mountain that they were originally preached created a surreal experience for all in the group, no matter what religious background. We entered the church that the Pope John Paul II had visited in 2000, so we knew it had to be a good one. The eight windows above our heads surrounding the dome ceiling each represented one of the beatitudes Jesus preached. The church was elaborate and visually pleasing. We then took one of our famous reenactments of yet another moment in the life of Jesus in front of the church with a nun who was thrilled to be in our picture.Image

 

As we continued our voyage, we found ourselves on a very important road. The road we were driving on once connected Asia, Africa and Europe. For this reason, Jesus decided to come to what is now Northern Israel. He preached his beliefs and wished to have his views spread across the World. He wanted every one to get a hold of his teachings and this was the best place for him to succeed in doing so.

The next stop was Capernaum which was another site to which Jesus came and performed miracles. Here it is believed Jesus came in order to heal and did so. It is also believed that he spoke in the synagogue in which we walked inside of. This site is also especially holy because Saint Peter lived here and we were able to see his home which was converted into a church many years ago. The synagogue and church being meters away from each other really put into perspective how similar the religions are. Jesus spoke at this synagogue as a Jew, which is the reason why there stands a church where Saint Peter’s home once stood. The two religions may be in very different places now, but Capernaum allowed our group to realize the strong connection between the two.

We then made our way to a city named Katzrin, the only city Israel has control over in the Golan (it’s complex, don’t ask). There we went to a winery, which was famous in Israel. This winery was the first one in Israel to produce wine that was not made for Kiddush. The wine actually tasted good and could be had on many different occasions unlike the wines in Israel in the past. We entered a room which had a beautiful place setting for each one of us. In front of us was a wine glass and we knew what we were getting ourselves into. We impatiently listened to the woman at the winery give her spiel about each wine before she finally poured us a glass. Everyone drank the glass of wine and asked one another for their opinion. This is the last of what I remember from that day…

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Just kidding. The winery was very responsible and gave us small glasses of three different types of wines so we were able to walk straight out the door we came in from.

After a much needed lunch, we started our drive towards the site where John baptized Jesus in the Jordan River. We were all very excited to watch one of our own, Elijah, get baptized in this holy water. Our group crowded around the river as we anticipated the arrival of Elijah. Then he came out of nowhere. And there he was, dressed in a flowing white gown with the sun gleaming off of him in a way that blinded us all. It was truly an amazing sight and we were all excited to witness him getting baptized. He made his way towards the water and in a quick moment, he was being dunked under water. He quickly came back up to the loud clapping of the group who cheered him on as if he had just won a tennis match. We all shared the same jubilation Elijah had at that moment, as we knew how special this was to him.Image

Our day ended in a very relaxing way for some (looking at you Lucrezia) and with hard work for most members of our group including myself. We kayaked in the Jordan River with two to a kayak and I was given the pleasure of pulling Lucrezia a mile in the river. She tells me that the scenes were beautiful all along the river with the sun peaking through the many trees along the route to create a very relaxing feel. Again, this is from her. I could not tell if this ride was relaxing or not, I was busy trying to avoid running into branches and fellow kayakers. The group docked their boats off to the side of the river and had a great time swinging from a rope landing into the water. We made our way back to the base after we had finished and finally boarded the bus to conclude our long and exhausting day.

We are off to Tel Aviv where we will enjoy the last few days we have with each other and with this beautiful country we all have grown to love so much.

Shalom,

Matt Horowitz

Saturday, June 15- Our Final Israeli Shabbat

17 Jun

Today was our final Shabbat in Israel, so I went to sleep last night both excited for the day of rest and a little wistful at the thought of leaving in just six days. We’re in Tzfat, the birthplace and home of Jewish mysticism—steeped in rich history and lore alike, and overlooking the Sea of Galilee.

After breakfast outside in the yard, we gathered on the porch for an informal discussion on one of the Kabbalistic texts, the Zohar, with Rabbi Lenny Gordon. The Zohar was written in 13th century Spain, but it imagines itself coming from our current home base of Tzfat during the second century, as this is the epicenter of Kabbalah. The Zohar is unique in that it was written anonymously in a made of version of the Aramaic language, adding to its mystique as one of the cornerstones of this spiritual tradition. Lenny told us a lot about the way Kabbalah imagines the universe to work: rather than translating the first lines of Genesis to mean “in the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” as the Judeo-Christian tradition does, Kaballah translate it to mean, “in the beginning, with a sort of cosmic Torah, the unnamable and unknowable god created God.” It suggests a theory that aligns much more closely with the scientific theory of the big bang—that all of creation spawned from this one infinitesimal point in the darkness.

I should digress for a minute to let you all know that something very tragic happened on this foray into the land of Jewish mysticism—we suffered, as a group, from a vicious strain of the travelers’ stomach bug. At the height of its wrath, it claimed 10 out of 14 of us kids—there was a guided tour of the old synagogues where Kabbalah was born in the afternoon that only four brave souls made it out to see (shout out to Anna, Matt, Lucrezia, and Rachel for sticking it out). Me? I slept for what seemed like the shortest two hours of my life before waking up, pouring my dehydrated self a glass of water, realizing that it was probably the water that got us all sick in the first place, and then sulked a little bit and watched Mad Men. Now, back to the important stuff.

We pulled ourselves together enough to make it to the old city by 9:00 PM, at which point we received a lecture from a Kabbalah artist, David Friedman, in his gallery. He’s been here since 1976, but he’s originally from Colorado (shout out to mom!).  Since the significance of Kabbalah relies very heavily on symbolism, it lends itself very nicely to the creative arts.  David walked us through some of his favorite and best paintings for interpretation. He taught us about gematria (related to the word geometry, the principles of which he put into practice in his paintings as well), which is the practice of assigning numeric values to letters and words. Kabbalah, and Judaism in general, focus on the gematriac meanings of words all the time; it is the reason the word “chai,” life, also signifies the number 18 and vice versa. It was one of my rabbi’s favorite things to talk about at our Friday night services in the temple I attended when I was a kid, and it made its way into much of David Friedman’s art. There’s no way I could explain it all to you as eloquently as David did (though he has much more practice), but here’s a simple example: In Hebrew, the four letters used to spell out God’s name add up to 8 when they are assigned a numeric value. The number 8 is symbolic in Kabblaah because it is the infinity symbol tilted upward. Therefore, according to the tradition, God is 8—he is infinite.

David’s work was dynamic, colorful, and rich in meanings and symbols for interpretation. Even the religious skeptics and the contemporary-art-o-phobics among us found something they could appreciate in his work. I fell in love with a couple of his pieces—one that he showed us he intended to contain Jewish imagery alone, but found in the process of displaying it that it also resonated for Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and Christians as well. He said that in his experience, the more tapped into spirituality you get, the more you realize that even when you don’t mean for it to be or see it as such, everything in this universe is interconnected.  I’m not sure if I believe it, but it sure is a nice thought. I bought a couple of prints in his gallery afterward. One was for the wall in whatever room I end up with when I voluntarily turn my world upside down for four months to co-op in Switzerland next semester. The other is a souvenir for my best friend, who I have started to miss desperately over the past couple of days.

After the gallery, we found ourselves in a little bit of a pickle. A handful of Tzfat locals had told Lori that there would be restaurants and shops open after the Sabbath ended at around 9:00 PM. We were counting on this tip for dinner, since our bed and breakfast was not going to supply us with any more meals for the day.  However, when we moseyed out of the gallery at about 10:30 PM, the streets of Tzfat were completely and utterly deserted. It would have been my nightmare if I was feeling up to eating anything, but the remnants of the day’s stomach bug lingered. I walked home with four or five other girls, which was an adventure in itself because we’d only been in Tzfat for 24 hours—and never out on our own. I noshed on a stale roll from lunch and got into bed, hoping that those that stayed in town, determined to find an open eatery, had hit a stroke of luck and found something delicious (maybe they’d even bring me the ginger ale I’d been craving all day? Wishful thinking).  When they returned after midnight, I learned that they’d found one open pizza parlor in the whole city. With full stomachs and a full week ahead of them, the students of the Israel Dialogue 2013 drifted off to sleep a little bit after 1 AM for brief a respite before our 7:30 breakfast wake-up call…

 

-Kelly Ganon

 

Friday June 14th 2013

17 Jun

We woke up this morning with a bus waiting for us outside the hotel ready to take us on a long day of sightseeing. As Murphy predicted, If something can go wrong it will; we were stuck in a continuous confusion of never arriving elevators in the midst of the arrival of another chaotic group to our hotel. We finally arrived to the moment when we could rest our eyes on the bus. This was interrupted by an unfamiliar voice of a guide who helplessly tried to wake us up with loud information. I think we were all in denial about the fact that our loved guide Talya wasn’t going to lead us through this part of her loved country. Once we got off the bus and tried to put together the pieces of information that we had heard in between the sleepiness and denial, we realized what an amazing place that we had found our selves in. 

We were about to visit the Baha’i gardens in Haifa on Mount Carmel. We were welcomed by orders from two guards that made it clear that in this holy place there was “No smoking and no chewing gum”. The Baha’i gardens are considered a Unesco patrimony. These gardens are garden terraces around the shrine of the Bab. The Baha’i claim that Bab was the spiritual return of Elijah and John the Baptist. Bab was the first one to have reform ideas during the Islamic Regime, he wrote about his ideas on Social Justice, the possibility of coexistence between science and religion, and equality. These ideas were suppressed by the Islamic regime; Bab and his followers were persecuted. Bab was executed by the Islamic regime in the mid 1850’s. The terrace gardens have now become the pilgrimage for Baha’i religion, only the devoted to the Baha’i are allowed to climb the stairs up the gardens. The gardens are absolutely breathtaking; perfectly taken care of, ornamented with a combination of green and marble and accessorized with colorful flowers, all of which keep a symmetrical pattern. Image

We learnt about the other praised figures in the Baha’i religion. Baha’u’llah was one of them, he claimed that he was a prophet sent from God. His ideals developed from Bab’s; he also believed in equality, to the extent that he believed that humanity is one single race and that it should be unified in one global society. He was also persecuted by the Islamic regime but he came from the high society and his family was very connected so they compromised with the Islamic religion that he wouldn’t be executed but imprisoned for the rest of his life across the sea from Haifa. We later went to visit the jail where he was imprisoned in Acre. 

While we left the gardens and started to make our way to the next sight we discussed the Baha’i religion and tried to find its weaknesses. The Baha’i religion is acceptant to everyone; every religion and every person. Their efforts consist in spreading the will to the renunciation of material possessions and to incentive world leaders to work together to settle disputes, and of course to better the world and its people. It is hard not to like a religion like that!

The next place we visited was a Mosque from Tunisia. People in Tunisia used to have a very beautiful synagogues so the people who came from Tunisia wanted to bring something beautiful and characteristic of Tunisia here in Israel. The Mosque was so beautiful that you didn’t know where to project your expression of awe. The whole place was covered in mosaic. We were welcomed by the cutest old man who had been in charge of the project of building the Mosque for 60 years. He lives across the street from the Mosque and he finds people to finance the kibbutz’s work on the mosaic. All of the mosaic is made in a kibbutz in the western galilee. He said the most beautiful words to welcome us; he told us we were all equal and all special and that we were more than welcome in the Mosque that we could now consider as a home. He blessed us and wished us peace and happiness. 

On the walls of the Mosque there were mosaics of ancient coins. On one roof there was a very ancient map. On the floor there are animals and plants from the land of Israel with their names in hebrew. One wall was dedicated to the holocaust; there was a map of Europe with the law cities and concentration camps. There was beautiful section dedicated to Women; the room had four scenes that depicted the matriarchs: Rachel and Lea, Sara, Rebecca and Esther and Ruth.

The main praying room of the mosque had all the prayers in mosaic on the walls because in tunisia they didn’t have prayer books so the prayers were on the walls and they prayed through singing and repetition. The torah scrolls were different, they were held in a standing case which was opened with scarves. This is typical to North Africa, it can also be seen in South America because it come from the Spanish tradition. Its closet is made of silver and inside it is beautifully decorated with silver ornaments and of course of more mosaic. We were all very impressed and curious about this beautiful place, but we quickly left to go to the next site.  Image

We arrived in Acre which is one of the oldest cities that are still inhabited. Historically this city occupied a critical location since it is on the Mediterranean and it would link the domestic commerce with the one across the waters. Acre has a lively history filled with invasions, take overs, victories and many failed attempts by different kind of leaders all over. Unfortunately our guide didn’t make the history of Acre very clear, and after some research I don’t blame her; it seems like a lot for a group of exhausted and hungry college students to manage. We visited the sights of Acre that were relevant to the crusader period and the ottoman period. We were impressed by the many passage ways and tunnels that were constructed by the crusaders, in addition to their many high roofed rooms. We were also being bombarded by the efforts of the guide to impress us with the bathrooms and sewage systems of the crusaders. The most beautiful thing about Acre is that there are so many levels to the city and the deeper that they dig the more they find; another level, from another time, of another people. 

What made us happiest was to stop in the Turkish bazaar to eat at what was the best hummus, according to our guide, I must admit that it was amazing hummus and we were all more than satisfied with our meals at the local hummus place and the packaged ice creams for the way. With our popped bellies and smiling faces we kept walking through Acre, appreciating its artistic side and the combination of various religions that it encompassed in such a small place. Image

We then went to visit the Grottoes of Rosh Hanikra. The grottoes are the result of a geophysical process that has been going on for thousands of years. The process of the formation of the grottoes began with a series of underground shocks that ripped the bedrock. Rainwater then penetrated the gaping rifts, dissolving them and forming tunnels and sea caves that went expanding with the slamming of the waves on the stone. These grottoes were once exclusively accessible to scuba divers, but today a small and shaky cable car will bring you directly to the beautiful creation of nature. ImageWe enjoyed walking through the natural tunnels brushed with water as we appreciated the time and power of nature. We were also happy to know that the next stop would be the last stop, our weekend apartment at Tzfat. Before we left we took pictures at the closest point to the border between Lebanon and Israel, this was exciting in many ways, especially because of the entertaining sight of our tour guide trying to use a camera. Image

When we arrived in Tzfat we had the chance to relax a little while before we had to get ready to experience the exciting and authentic shabbat services in the very special town of Tzfat, which is one of Judaism’s four holy cities, the city is actually manly composed of orthodox jews. I had never been to a jewish religious service so I was very curious to see how it would be. As soon as we arrived I realized that I would have a terrible time sitting through a service which I wouldn’t even understand. This is mainly because the synagogue was split between men and women. The women had to sit at the back and they were separated by blinds which didn’t allow them to see the other part of the synagogue, where the men were. The women all sat down singing calmly while on the other side it sounded like a rave full of dancing teenagers who were exploding in energy drinks. I was very frustrated at the situation, I would never be able to bare a society like this. Not only was I insulted by the fact that anyone could think that I am less worthy and thus I had to sit behind a curtain, but I was more frustrated at the fact that it seemed like the women had no problem with it. The women didn’t see how wrong the situation was. I could see it in their faces, they were passionately singing, on the verge of tears, they would also try and peak in to see the dancing men, and they would look at them with accepting and smiling faces. Nonetheless, I enjoyed the experience, I thought it was beautiful to think that a spirit had joined the people at the synagogue to welcome shabbat, and that that was why the women were happy and passionate. It’s a beautiful but manipulative thought. 

Our growling stomachs walked us home. We had a full table on the porch ready for us upon our arrival. Lenny conducted the service and we all enjoyed a full and satisfying warm meal under the clutch of the stars and surrounded by the serenity of Tzfat. 

Lucrezia Rigano

Wednesday, June 12

14 Jun
Wednesday began with Nirit’s class – she came to our hotel in Tel Aviv to accompany us for breakfast, show a bit of a movie to us in our makeshift classroom (really just a space in the hotel with a bunch of chairs scattered around), and then take us to the Rabin Center. We had a guided tour there that was similar in theory to the tour we had in Jerusalem at the Begin Center a week prior, but ended up being a very distinct experience. Rabin was a past Israeli Prime Minister of the Labor Party. He served two terms, 1974-1977 and 1992-1995. He also served as Minister of Defense for some years after he left the Israeli army, in which he served from 1941 to 1967. Rabin was assassinated in 1995 during his second term as Prime Minister. The museum intertwined the story of Rabin’s life with the story of Israel’s history and a context of world history. It was a lot of information, but its impact was powerful. We could see how Rabin’s life, especially his military life, impacted Israel’s history and growth. We could also see how the rest of the world was occupying itself at the same time: in years when terrorism was the norm in Israel, America was swooning over Marilyn Monroe. This intertwining was explicit, with a main corridor that focused on Rabin’s life and then side rooms that delved into Israel’s history at that time period and floor panels that listed world events in those years. Throughout, there were countless screens playing videos of interviews, news clips, or informational videos. There was text, pictures, maps, and artifacts. The museum was more than complete, and it was hard to see even the half of it. It was complete in another important way though: all sides of the story were shown, rather than just the perspective of those that liked Rabin. The final room of the museum was surrounded in five screens, all of which broadcast a different moment after Rabin’s assassination. The last movie was a clip from his granddaughter’s eulogy. The assassination, as terrible as this sounds, really brought together the country, and you could see mobs of people lining the highway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv to watch the casket go buy and to pay their respects, and people flooding the streets respectfully in his honor. There was a clip of his wife thanking Israelis for their reaction to the assassination. This all came after we saw videos of opponents of Rabin in previous rooms, chanting mobs calling him a murderer. Yet, Rabin was a martyr of the state and all people respected him for that.

After the Rabin Center, we had a short break. Naturally, a majority of us headed to the beach for a few hours. After some tanning, swimming, reading, and napping, we got back to the hotel in time for quick showers and all met in the lobby with still-wet hair for our next activity: a trip to Jaffo to see a mechina, one of 40 around the country. We had a good idea of what a mechina is after our visit to one in the Negev, but we got a good additional overview description. We met with one of the leaders of the mechina, Guy, who told us that the point is to postpone army service by one year and to spend that year enriching one’s life so that these 18 year olds will have a meaningful army experience. This mechina was founded with the reform movement and has 50 students. They live in the space we visited, where they share apartments, a study, office, and kitchen. Food, housing, and activities are all included in the fee students pay, which ends up being only about $1,000 thanks to the generosity of government grants and donors. The mechina believes that in order to become a leader and get ahead, you need to experience things in a real way instead of just talk about them. For that reason, none of the staff members are live-in. Students run their own schedules and manage themselves. It’s an intense year of study, during which topics covered range from Judaism and politics to Pilates and Zumba. Students decide what they want to study, and there are no grades to be accountable for, but the students choose to be there and want to learn. One of the most core elements of this mechina is the volunteer work they do in Jaffo. It’s more than half of their curriculum. Students get to choose where they want to volunteer and what they want to do, and then they spend about 18 hours a week there doing just that. This mechina focuses on volunteering rather than army preperations. There is a different type of mechina for every sector of society, though: Arabs, Ethiopians, Jews, secular, religious, etc. All of these mechina are founded on the same fundamental goal of getting young adults to take themselves more seriously. Overall, it seems like a great concept, and we spoke to a few of the students living there who all appeared fairly mature. Guess it works! After the mechina, one of the students came with us as we ventured into the heart of the Old City of Jaffo. After getting some amazing views and overlooks of the Mediterranean and of Tel Aviv, myself and three other girls walked along the beach for a few miles back to our hotel, stopping for dinner on the beach along the way. (And yes, I really do mean ON the beach – feet in the sand and everything!) It was an amazing walk and Jaffo was a quaint place to visit: the contrast between it and Tel Aviv is so stark yet they are nearly one city. ImageOur view of Tel Aviv from Jaffo
-Marissa Florio

A Little Bauhaus, A Little Berest

14 Jun

Today was our first real day in Tel Aviv. To tell you the truth, I’m having trouble getting a sense of what this city is all about. In Jerusalem, you could tell by the way people dressed, the old Jerusalem stone, and the quaint, peaceful atmosphere that it was an ancient city with religious roots. Although my impression of Jerusalem became more nuanced, my affection for it’s ambiance never faded. As we walked the streets of Tel Aviv, I found myself thinking, “What is this city?” It seemed to be very eclectic, grabbing bits and pieces of other cultures to create something new. Interestingly enough, this idea of eclecticism came up quite a bit in our morning tour of the city.

Our tour guide took us down one of Tel Aviv’s tree-lined boulevard’s to the Shalom Center. There we got to learn about how Tel Aviv was founded. Wealthy Jews left Jaffa in order to design a new Jewish city nearby. What started out as a small village has spread into the metropolis which is now Tel Aviv. I found it interesting that in the original design for their city, the founders did not make the center of town a place of prayer or religious observance, but rather a secular-style Hebrew-speaking school. I think that this is an excellent example of how Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are different. The deeply religious population of Jerusalem places so much emphasis on the Old City and its Holy Sites, whereas the founders of Tel Aviv wanted the emphasis to be placed on higher education and the formation of a Hebrew-Jewish national identity. This vision has resulted in the hip, trendy city we know today.
As we walked down the boulevard, our guide taught us about the architectural styles that dominate Tel Aviv. We saw a multitude of buildings in the International style. When Jews from the Bauhaus fled Germany to Tel Aviv in the 1930′s, they brought with them a clean, sleek building style that emphasized utility and function. Our guide pointed out how these buildings were designed to serve the individual, disregarding ornamentation. This reflects the trend of self-examination that was common among writers and artists of the first half of the twentieth century. At the same time, there were ornately decorated buildings peppered in among the International style ones. These buildings were in the eclectic style, which blends influences of many cultures to create one beautiful aesthetic.

After a bit of shopping in on Shenkin Street, our group met again at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art. I was blown away by the vastness of the collection of contemporary art housed in the museum. As an art fan, I was very excited to make my way through the many exhibits the museum had to offer. Although I enjoyed Douglas Gordon’s expansive exhibit, I was most blown away by the Israeli artist Deganit Berest’s collection of works called “The Conspiracy of Nature.” If you are unfamiliar with Berest (which I was before my visit to the Tel Aviv Museum of Art), you should take the time to Google her, because my words can’t possibly do her justice. The collection featured photos, paintings, sculptures, and prints. The styles were all so different that I had to check several times that I was still looking at the work of the same artist. Even though stylistically the pieces were extremely diverse, they almost all had similar themes. Berest played with mediums by using distortion to reveal something new to the view about the subject. Whether it was highly pixelated photos or static-y paintings on canvas, Berest was constantly forcing the viewer to rethink their understanding of mediums and perception.

While I don’t really know what to think of Tel Aviv yet, I’m excited to get to know it with my friends as our trip sadly comes to a close.

Shalom,

Sarah Sullivan

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Deganit Berest “Hello, First Grade: L1-3,” 2011, Tel Aviv Museum of Art

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Deganit Berest, “Sea Level: Diver #4,” 2008, Tel Aviv Museum of Art

June 10th, A Day in the Negev

14 Jun

I cannot believe that our time in Jerusalem is over!  It passed so quickly and we are left with only 10 days left in the trip.  This morning was especially difficult to get up because we had to stay up super late last night to pack and clean the apartment.  At 7:30 this morning we loaded all of our bags onto the bus to leave.  We said our goodbyes to our adopted cat that we named Kelev (meaning “dog” in Hebrew) and our friendly neighborhood shop owner Yaakov.  After that we were off!  Many of us slept on the bus ride, but for what I was awake during it was a beautiful ride.  It is so interesting to watch the terrain transform into desert the further South you go into the Negev.  Our first stop was at Kibbutz Hatzerim.  A kibbutz is a community based off of socialist values.  Each individual living on the kibbutz gives their entire salary to the kibbutz and in return the kibbutz takes care of all of their needs.  It was so beautiful and looked really efficient.  There were lots of small houses, a community center, a dining hall, a synagogue, schools, and a hospital.  This kibbutz also has a factory where they produce an innovative irrigation system for agriculture called a dripper.  A dripper is basically a hose with tiny holes and little devices that control the rate at which water leaves the hose.  They export the drippers to countries all over the world; when we were there we saw shipments ready to be sent to Morocco and Spain.  It was really interesting to see the inside of the factory and how all the machines work together to produce the dripper.  Our tour was given by a man named Irri Kassel.  He talked to us about the history of the kibbutz and about his own life a bit too.  He was the executive director of the Reform movement in Israel!  It is amazing all of the influential people we have met on our trip.  Sometimes it is easy to take all of the opportunities we are getting for granted, but these really are once in a lifetime opportunities that we are experiencing.

After we left Kibbutz Hatzerim we went to visit Prime Minister David Ben Gurion’s desert home and grave.  His vision was to see the desert bloom and to bring people to populate it.  The Negev is over 60% of the land in Israel.  Ben Gurion knew that if they let go of the Negev, Israel would be over run and have no chance of survival.  It was with this idea that he built a port in Eilat, the very tip of Israel, and encouraged people to move to the south.  Today, his dream has been realized and the Negev is flourishing with life.

After the kitbbutz we visited a mechina in Sde Boker.  A mechina is a pre-army program for IDF soldiers just out of high school.  The basis of the program is to teach the solders about leadership, making ethical decisions and promoting complex thinking through a series of exercises, studies, and volunteer projects.  The mechinot were founded on the idea that high school teaches you to think with a one track mind which cannot accurately prepare a student for IDF service.  I love that the mechinot are a very interactive learning experience for the soldiers that promotes creative thinking and an open environment for dialogue.  I think that programs likes these are very important when you are preparing a kid for as large of an commitment as joining the army.

Ben Gurion’s grave site has a spectacular view of the desert.  Rather than being buried on Har Herzl with many great Israeli leaders, Ben Gurion and his wife Paula chose to be buried side by side in the Negev in hopes that their graves would bring people to the desert which they loved so much.  I think that the first thing that struck me when looking out at the beautiful view was how small I felt. Looking into the vastness of the Negev landscape truly makes you feels as if you are a part of something much larger than you can ever know.  Our tour guide Talya described this as seeing the direct results of God’s beauty and grace on earth.  She said that normally, living in a city, we see beauty in architecture which, though possibly inspired by God’s grace, is manmade.  Whether you believe in God or not, there is no doubt that there was something magical about staring into the natural beauty of the desert which seemed to have no end.

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            Next, we all piled back into the bus and napped the whole way to Tel Aviv.  When we got to our hotel on Ben Yehuda Street we bid farewell to Talya.  It was sad for all of us, seeing as we felt at that point that she had become a part of our group.  It is rare to find someone so passionate about what they are doing, but Talya’s passion was contagious and we were all sad to see her go.  We left her with a thank you card and I added a little Hamsa that my mom had painted for me before I left to go abroad in January.  I didn’t need it anymore, I have found my luck on this trip and have 13 new friends to look after me, so I thought it only right to leave it with Talya as a parting gift from all of us to her (sorry mom!). 

            With that, we settled into our rooms, ate dinner, and watched a beautiful sunset over the beach for our first night in Tel Aviv.

-Jenna Sweig

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