Saturday, June 8

14 Jun

Last night, our entire group gathered for Shabbat dinner, including our lovely professor Lori Lefkovitz and her wonderful husband Rabbi Lenny Gordon. After a chaotic day, I felt at peace coming together with the people who have become like my family for the past few weeks. For me, Shabbat is a day of relaxation and reflection. Today I am reflecting on our Jerusalem journey as a whole and the strong bonds that have formed within the fourteen students in this group. We began to reflect as we went around the table last night to say what we were individually grateful for this week, what we have learned in Jerusalem, and what we will take away from our Jerusalem experience. My classmates brought up some significant points that I feel are truly important to share.

 

One of the greatest things I think we have all learned is that Jerusalem holds intense importance for many groups of people. Here there are holy sites for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. People come from all over the world to see this magnificent city and all that it has to offer. In a way, our group is so privileged to have been able to spend three weeks in Jerusalem and tour its historical and religious sites. Some of us are not even twenty years old, and we have already been to a place many of our ancestors never had the opportunity to reach. Not everybody has the chance to visit or live in this desired land, but we were lucky enough to have spent three weeks learning and appreciating Jerusalem’s incredibility. We have gained such appreciation for our opportunities throughout our time in Jerusalem, which I am sure is a gratitude we will never forget.

 

Another topic of conversation that has been thematic throughout our entire trip is Judaism and its relationship with Jerusalem. Half of us have been raised either religiously or culturally Jewish and have come to Israel with a decent amount of knowledge about Judaism. The other half ranged from knowing a great deal about the Jewish religion to next to nothing. What has stood out to some of the students who are not Jewish is the great amount of knowledge they have gained about both Jewish and Israeli culture. Some students came here knowing hardly anything about this place or its people, and they feel as though they have come to a great understanding in Jerusalem. What I know that I love, and a feeling that my classmates share, is that we have learned so much from not only our classes, but the people on our trip. We have learned from each other’s perspectives, backgrounds, and cultures, and I think that having both Jewish and non-Jewish students in this group has been beneficial to learning about Judaism and Israel.

 

An experience recognized by almost all of the Jewish students on this trip is the way that their views on Israel have both stayed the same and changed. All of the Jewish students have previously been to Israel, and this trip has been a time to verify certain beliefs and challenge others. Here many of us have randomly run into friends and family from home, proving that for many people Jerusalem is a place for connection and unification. Jerusalem brings Jews together, which we have definitely experienced over our three weeks here. This trip has also been a way for us to expand on and change our opinions of Israel that some of us gained through Birthright. Five of the Jewish students have been on Birthright, and many of us believe that Birthright teaches Jews to love Israel without understanding its complexities. Through classes and conversations, our eyes have truly been opened to the conflicts that this country faces that we were not previously taught. What is extremely special for some of us, however, is that we have learned that we do in fact love Israel, even if it is for a different reason or in a different way than we thought from Birthright. 

 

A couple of other perspectives shared at dinner last night include gaining an open mind about Judaism and learning why people identify with it. Many members of our group who did not know a lot about the Jewish religion have learned enough about Judaism to really understand and accept it. Those of us who are Jewish have also gained a sense for how Jerusalem is significant to the other monotheistic religions, and have learned why this place is important for everyone, not just the Jews. Some people have even learned why their families identify with the Jewish religion. It is not just a practice affiliated only with religion; Judaism is a culture and community that people can identify with both in Jerusalem and throughout the rest of the world. I can definitely say that I have learned a lot about myself and my connection with Judaism on this trip as well.

 

As we moved throughout the circle sharing our feelings about Jerusalem, I mentioned the way the city brings me a sense of peace that I have yet to find almost any where else. In the hustle and bustle of the city during the week, Jerusalem feels chaotic and like many other cities. Yet, at the same time, the people are so genuine and the place is so beautiful that I feel a constant sense of serenity. Two of the only places that make me feel this way are my synagogue and Jerusalem. I feel the most at peace on Shabbat in both places. Jerusalem is magnificent in the way that it shuts down for the Sabbath, and I feel the same peace at my synagogue on Shabbat as I do in this city. Shabbat is a time when I can forget all of my troubles and feel at peace, and Jerusalem truly brings me this calmness. I have come to love this city and the way that it changes my emotions. Jerusalem is such a powerful place for both myself and millions of other people. 

 

Psalm 137:5 says, “If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget its skill.” Tomorrow we leave Jerusalem. Having already seen many parts of this country, I’m struggling to grasp the idea of leaving this city. I do not know when I will be back, which I think I can say for all of us is a scary thought. If we have learned anything, it is that this place holds meaning to everyone in very different ways, but it signifies a tremendous moment in our lives. We are young and gaining great experiences, and Jerusalem is a place where we have spent three weeks of our college years. This may seem like a small amount of time, but we have obtained a great mount of knowledge and perspective in Jerusalem. We may be taking different insights away from our Jerusalem experiences, but all that we have learned we will carry with us for the rest of our lives. I am sad to leave Jerusalem, but I know that I am leaving with an incredible new sense of myself, my religion, and my people. I will never forget this place, and I am confident that I will one day return.

– Anna Meyers

7 June 2013 – Gay Pride All Around

12 Jun

When I first woke up, the sun was barely rising. Kalev, our beloved Israeli cat, was lying in front of the house by the sidewalk, enjoying an early morning nap. Everyone else, as him, kept on sleeping. But my eagerness for today was a bit too much to allow me to go back to sleep. Or so I thought. After an hour of doing nonsense, my body fell back into the mattress and my brain back into another world.

The second time I woke up, movement surrounded me. People everywhere rushing to finish packing for the day, getting breakfast, or cutting up strands of a tie-dyed shirt to get some colors in their outfits. The excitement in the room was palpable.

Soon after, everyone was on the bus to go to the bus that would take us to the bus that would drop us off at the start of the parade. From one city to the other, people were migrating for this one event, one of the largest events in Tel Aviv. Around 100,000 people were supposed to attend, and 100,000 people did attend.

The Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade was, in all its glory, the most exhilarating and striking of the tours we’d done so far. Drag queens and kings strutting in amazingly tall stilettos, BDSM lovers chained to one another, gay lovers holding hands and dancing together and making out. It was so open and so wonderful, so absolutely gay (in both meanings of the word), not really a scene one would associate with the general Middle East. Lesbians and gays and bisexuals and transsexuals and asexuals and pansexuals and transgenders and allies, all walked down the main street of Tel Aviv in a hot summer day.

 

Northeastern students immersed in the complexities of modern Israeli society.

Northeastern students fully immersed in the complexities of modern Israeli society.

Guy Fawkes at the Parade

Guy Fawkes taking a break from going against the system to join the Tel Aviv Pride Parade.

Balloons over the parade.

Balloons over the parade.

Man teaching his son how to use a water gun to refresh the people in the parade.

Man teaching his son how to use a water gun to refresh the people in the parade.

Man spraying the people in the parade with water.

Man spraying the people in the parade with water.

Parade going down Ben Yehuda.

Parade going down Ben Yehuda.

The burden of being a photographic journalist.

The hassle of being a photographic journalist.

Sarah, Marissa and Eva s at the parade.

Sarah, Marissa and Eva at the parade.

Celebrating at the parade.

Celebrating at the parade.

Onlooker to the parade.

Guy Fawkes taking a break from bringing governments down.

Guy Fawkes taking a break from bringing governments down.

Father-daughter love at the parade.

Father-daughter love at the parade.

 

Soon after the parade, we wandered off to the shoreline to participate in a large beach party hosted by the city of Tel Aviv. By now, most of the group had been divided and had dispersed to their own places. Sarah, Marissa, and Eva joined me in the beach festivities. However, between the music, the crowd and the sun, we soon found that Sarah was missing her iPhone, which had last been seen next to the venue of a large concert. Fearing having lost it or someone stealing it, we went together to try to find it only to come back not only empty-handed but without Marissa too. Now having lost both an iPhone and a person, we resigned ourselves to waiting until the closest possible time to when our bus was set to leave and, worst came to worst, leave without either of them.

Beach party at the Tel Aviv shoreline.

Beach party at the Tel Aviv shoreline.

 

 

 

Of course, that is what happened. Marissa was still lost by 4:30, when we hustled to get a cab to take us to the bus, one that we were now verging on losing. While we could take any bus back to Jerusalem, everyone was waiting for us and we didn’t want to be the last.

Finally at the bus, we discovered that half the group had left and that Marissa had gone earlier on another bus back to Jerusalem. With only the burden of having lost a phone remaining on us, we wearily journeyed back to the holy city.

Back at the apartment, after a nice cold shower and some rest, movement was seen once more. People lugging around chickens, asking for salt, cleaning the tables or simply getting dressed, everyone around me was getting ready for tonight’s communal Friday night Shabbat dinner. Much like last Friday, people prepared different dishes (all of which were incredibly delicious) and bought several wines. However, this Shabbat was different for two reasons: first, Lori and Lenny both joined us, and second, it was much better. Lenny led the services and prayers while we all sat eager to commence the feast. Even though we were all tired from a long day, the conversation was packed with energy and liveliness.

Food prepared by the students.

Potatoes and salmon prepared by the one of the students.

Group Shabbat dinner.

Group Shabbat dinner with Lori and Lenny.

 

Overall, this was an absolute dream of a day. Now tanner, full, and with no energy left in me, I carried myself to bed, only to find myself woken up the next day with the sun coming up and Kalev, yet again, sitting by the sidewalk. 

– Maria Amasanti

June 9: The Last Supper (And The Last Hike, and the Last Lecture at Hadassah)

12 Jun

First and foremost, happy half-birthday to Chloe. I promised her I would give her a shout-out for this special occasion. Now, onto the real blog: It’s very rare that you get to meet people who helped make history – but today, we were lucky enough to do so. Arye Naor was Government Secretary under both of Menachem Begin’s governments, and played a role in making peace with Egypt in 1979. Today he told us just how that came to pass, against all odds. Many Prime Ministers had tried to make peace with Egypt in the past, but the attempts were fruitless. He explained that due to particular circumstances and determination, peace was achieved under Begin, and he will be forever remembered in history for that.

This lecture was one of many unique experiences we have had in Jerusalem, and it felt right to be doing something “uniquely Jerusalem” on our last day there before Tel Aviv. Following the lecture, we took a hike down Mount Herzl and got stunning views of the city. It was nice to have some time to reflect on the weeks we had in the Holy City before, all while enjoying the Jerusalem scenery. At our group dinner tonight, we were asked to go around and share something unique that we gained in Jerusalem, which we would take away with us.

When I was first posed with that question, I didn’t have any idea what to say, but after a little thought, I knew exactly what I was taking away that was so special: the connections. Over the past few weeks I have grown so close to the people on this trip, and they have really opened up my eyes. In addition, I have run into many people whom I never expected to see, and met new people through friends on the trip. I’ve always felt that my impressions of various places have been hugely shaped by the people I experience them with, and Jerusalem is no different. To share this special city with the incredible people I have met during my time here, along with people I have known for years, is an experience exclusive to Jerusalem – will keep it with me for years to come.

As everyone went around and said their piece, I realized how much everyone on the trip had impacted my views on Israel, and how much I learned from them. It was so interesting to be here with people who have an array of beliefs and opinions and I think that this dynamic really made the trip special. I’m really pleased that I got to blog about our first impressions of the trip, and now I get to close out our time in Jerusalem. So far, this trip has surpassed my expectations, and I’m truly looking forward to the new adventures and perspectives that Tel Aviv will undoubtedly bring us.

– Jenny Travis

Palestinian Lit, Religion and more Tayla, 6.6.13

8 Jun

On Thursday we continued discussing in class with Professor Lefkovitz a series of writings by Palestinian writers and I have to say, the style of writing is really distinct and very interesting when you get the feel for it. The stories we discussed today are called The Bread of Sacrifice, and The Little One Goes to Camp. The two stories both deal with the idea of life as a Palestinian and do so in very interesting ways. The first story was an in your face, beat you over the head with it kind of story. The few metaphors employed were very obviously stated, the bread of sacrifice was an allusion to the bread of the last supper, the bread in the story was anointed in blood by a young Palestinian woman and was given up to the soldiers so that they may live another day. The story as I said was kind of in your face, hostile, and was overtly political.

the second story was more nuanced. The story was one big allegory about a family in what is referred to as “a time of fighting”. The young boy in the story finds 5 lyres and the whole family fights over how to split it up and who should get it. In the end the boys cousin steals it from him after the boy gets hit by a car, but they boy isn’t angry just sad he lost it. The lyre as a metaphor is great, its more subtle, lets you feel more for the characters and less like you’re reading a story intended to prove a point. 

The two stories led us into a discussion about what makes good literature. It was a cool discussion because here we all are coming from different backgrounds. We all are coming at the literature in different ways and that allows our class to have a really good active dialogue on just about everything. Its a good point to be made that not only the point of a piece is always up for discussion but also whether or not it is good or not can be debated based on where a reader is coming from.

Following the discussion of literature with Lori we had a talk by Lenny about the Abrahamic religions. He started with the rise of Christianity out of the temple period of ancient Judaism, proceeded to a discussion of rabbinic Judaism and then finished the course with a brief introduction to Islam. One of the takeaways of this talk was that all of the religions really are so very similar in their practices that it’s quite absurd for them to have such a history of fighting one another. Particularly when discussing Islam and Judaism. Islam was built on the foundation of Judaism and a lot of the practices were morphed from Judaism to simply be a more “pure” practice, which is what Islam prides itself on. A lot of the Pilliars of Islam are similar to some very important Jewish traditions like giving to the poor, and like Judaism its not about the charity coming from the heart its more about the act of doing it.  It was really great to spend a class on the religions that are all so related but in history are so divided.

The final part of our day was another tour with Tayla on Mount Olives. We started at the very top of the mountain and walked our way down. From the top was visible the Dome of the rock. Then we wound our way through a Jewish cemetery that is believed to be the best place to be buried for the return of the messiah, to the bottom where the Church agony (or Gethsemane) is where Judas betrayed Jesus. The thing that Tayla kept saying and the thing that I kept feeling was that this mountain represented a long history of people looking towards Jerusalem, the old City, and longing to be there. The Jews who long to be buried there, Christians who long to walk where Jesus walks and Muslims who believe that a bridge will be built from the Mount of Olives to the Dome of the Rock during the final Judgment believe it to be the site of the Messiah and the final Judgment. In all of these traditions this one mountain has become sacred, special and a place of waiting and longing.

The end of our day was in the old city for the City of Lights Festival, which is an art festival with installations all through the old city that are made of light and sound. Some were projections on the wall while other were actual light sculptures. The festival was a great way to end the day, there were vendors selling everything from popcorn to glow sticks in the city and tons of small kids running around excited. It was really cool to see all the amazing light sculptures around this ancient city. 

Bus tour of Jerusalem

6 Jun

Tuesday after class, we went on a bus tour around Jerusalem. It really made me open my eyes and realize how gorgeous and magnificent Jerusalem is. I also realized that in these past two weeks, I had really confined myself to a small area of Jerusalem. I got really comfortable keeping to Ben Yehuda and Jaffa street, as well as the old city and the Mamilla area and of course, my favorite place in all of Jerusalem, the Shuk. Just driving five minutes past all of my usual spots, it was as if we entered a new city. We immediately saw spectacular views to die for, while simultaneously learning so much about the history of Jerusalem with all the political and religious conflicts involved in each area. Most of the places we saw were far away views of residential areas or places that are considered to be low income housing developments that began in the 50s when people began immigrating. The coolest and most complex sight we saw was the wall/fence that divides the West Bank from all of Israel. The most fascinating thing we saw was a tiny town in The West Bank that was a Jewish settlement. Considering how unsafe those areas are to visit, it was intriguing to get a good look at them from as close of a view as we could and observe from a far.

Our first official stop on the bus tour was in the area of the Knesset called government hill. We stopped at, in my opinion, the most beautiful park in Jerusalem. Directly on the other side of the park, you see a clear view of the Knesset in all its glory. We started off by learning about how when the country was developed in 1948, there was conflict because the city became divided which left citizens without access to the religious sites in Jerusalem. There was a green line which was the cease fire line between Jordan and Israel. Jordan had claims over East Jerusalem and the West Bank. Hebrew University had to build a new campus because their campus was on the Jordanian side of Jerusalem. We learned that in 1948-1949, the government was formed in order to build a capital city against the United Nations. There were no embassies built in Jerusalem because before the division happened, Jerusalem was supposed to be an international city, so all embassies were built in Tel Aviv. It was amazing to in this park that was practically on the border, so new and modern, basically representing the New Jew. Something else I learned is that the national symbol for the state of Israel is the menorah. I had no idea states had symbols and it really put a lot of things together for me. I always wondered why their were menorahs everywhere, for example, we saw them all over the supreme court when we went to visit and I remember thinking to myself, of all the things to put on the wall why a menorah, why not a Jewish star or an Israeli flag.

Our second stop was an amazing view point. More than just a view, the lookout also was a point of controversy. According to American officials, this land was technically an illegal settlement on Palestinian territory. We learned that during the 67 war, the feeling in Israel was that there was a common fear amongst Israelis in which they had to worry about being “eliminated” We discussed more about the six day war (the ’67 war), and we learned that Israel did in fact shoot the first bullet. We continued to learn that in three hours, the Israelis destroyed the entire Egyptian Air Force on the ground. This really got people changing the way they view Israel and its citizens. People shifted their views from seeing Israelis as weak and frail to powerful. All of a sudden, we were no longer closed by barbed wire, but rather, we became an empire. One would think that all of this success would be a good thing for the Israelis, however, it was as if too much gain is actually a loss for the Israelis. Rather than rejoicing in success, Israelis began to think that although they were successful, they were going to have to give back most of the territories. The most important thing for them was that they would never have to give back the old city and to keep Jerusalem united. As of June 26, there were new boundaries that included everything pre 1967 (west Jerusalem), east Jerusalem and more areas that were considered the new Jerusalem. Many Palestinians were displaced but were offered Israeli citizenship. However, they declined citizenship, which I can understand because they would become citizens of a state that did not necessarily feel like it belonged to them. This left many Palestinians without citizenship anywhere, and this is still an issue in present day. This makes things very complicated for Palestinians from the West Bank because they can’t come into Jerusalem without a permit, which people don’t really receive unless its for work.

The 3rd spot we visited had a clear view of where Ariel Sharon built a fence to divide the West Bank from East Jerusalem. We could see the wall and how the wall extended into a fence. We learned that there was a dilemma of where the fence would go. How would it divide Jerusalem? East and West? It was hard to imagine that we would have to re-divide Jerusalem. We concluded by learning that Ariel Sharon decided to reinstate the ‘67 divisions which ended up dividing Palestinians from Palestinians. The juxtaposition of the amazing land that is Jerusalem, with all its struggle and conflict, really left me longing to learn more, so that some day, I can do something to influence the way people see Israel, and especially Jerusalem, in order to bring Jerusalem to its initial goal, a land for everyone to share and enjoy.

A Journey Through Mea Shearim

4 Jun

Today began much like any other day in Jerusalem. After waking up early in the morning and having some breakfast, we ventured out of our Rehavia apartments to Hadassah College. However on this sunny Israeli morning, our group was modestly dressed from head to toe. Women wore maxi-dresses and cardigans; men wore hats and kippas. We were all prepared to venture into one of the most conservative neighborhoods in all of Jerusalem, Mea Shearim.
In class today, we discussed areas of tension in Israeli society and politics. Although Israel claims to be a Jewish state with a common heritage, the country is fragmented along different categories of personal identity. For example, if two Israelis self-identify as Jewish, it may seem that they would have a lot in common. However, one must consider many factors when talking about Israeli Jewish identity. For example, are they Ashkenzai (a Jew of European family origin) or Mizrahi (a Jew of Middle Eastern family origin)? This question really surprised me because it has been something that I have been almost completely oblivious to during my time in Jerusalem. I really can’t tell the difference, but for some Israeli Jews this distinction is something that causes division and discrimination. Now let’s say they’re both Ashkenazi, are they conservative, practicing Jews, or are they secular Jews who are only really ‘culturally Jewish?’ Do they follow a certain dress code? What area of the country are they from? After a few minutes of this dizzying conversation it was clear that Israeli religious identity was not as simple as it would seem.
Moving to the political realm, our class discussed the tensions between leftist liberals and rightist realists in Israel, especially concerning the Palestinian conflict. The political right believes that security of the Israeli state and preservation of its autonomy is the ultimate priority. On the other hand, the left advocates for a two-state solution for the peace and harmony of Israeli society. The tension is further compounded by the fact that not all Israelis are Jews. Some Arabs and Jews obviously have their own conflicts among each other, and furthermore, not all Arabs are in political harmony either. “Israel and its Complexities,” indeed!
After our lecture, Elan spoke to us about what we could expect for our next portion of morning classes, a visit to the Mea Shearim neighborhood. Elan gave us a glimpse into the lifestyle of the Ultra Orthodox in Jerusalem. Before we walked through the neighborhood, we discussed the relationship between time and progress. Many of us Americans believe that time and progress have a positive correlation. As time passes, we think that nearly everything that is new and innovative is beneficial to our society. The Ultra Orthodox community in Mea Shearim widely believes that progress after a certain point became a detriment to their religious lifestyle. The political and social trends of a post-industrialist world became a threat to their ability to live according to Judaic Law. Because of this, the Ultra Orthodox community has largely isolated itself geographically, socially, and economically to preserve the values of a time when the Jewish people were more in touch with God.
As we approached the neighborhood, we were told to stick to small same-gender groups while walking down the main street. I understood this point. As much as I was eager to see how this community lived, I also wanted to respect their lifestyle. If I lived in an unconventional community, I wouldn’t appreciate large tourist groups walking together and taking pictures of me and my neighbors like we were in a zoo. At the same time, I was taken aback by the large signs in English and Hebrew compelling women to dress modestly if they wanted to enter the neighborhood. Of course, I was fine dressing in a long skirt and long sleeves to make sure both I and the residents were comfortable, but it was strange to see such a sign only blocks away from Haddasah College. It seems that this neighborhood in the heart of Jerusalem represented the clash of cultures in Israel that we were discussing this morning.
We were told to look out for the following things as we walked through the neighborhood: dress code, how people walked, gender, economy, institutions, walls, and architecture. As we strolled down the street, it seemed as if we had entered a completely different city. Modest apartment-style residences lined the street with clothes hanging from balconies to dry. At street level, there were small shops to meet the needs of the residents. The majority of the shops sold Jewish religious items. There were stores for kippas, prayer shawls, framed pictures of famous rabbis, head coverings for women, and general Judaica. I noticed how there were very few secular stores aside from a few convenience and grocery stores. The walls were made of the familiar Jerusalem stone, but were plastered with large black and white posters in Hebrew that displayed political or religious messages and community announcements.
I never saw men and women walking together down the street. Many of the men kept their eyes to the ground as they walked passed women. Obviously everyone within the neighborhood was very modestly dressed. Men wore black suits, black shoes, white shirts, hats, and had long beards with peyot. Women had high necklines, covered arms, long skirts, covered hair, and usually a baby or two on their hip. It seemed that the dress code was meant not only to maintain personal modesty, but also as an equalizing uniform to prevent showing off personal wealth. There was nothing flashy about the appearance of the residents. It seemed like they appreciated the simplicity and constraint of their way of life.
After a quick debriefing session, we were free for the day. Many of us headed back to the apartments to rest and relax. During this time I was able to reflect on how the Jews of Mea Shearim fit into spectrum of Israeli society. It seems as if that this journey from the cosmopolitan commercial neighborhood near our college to this isolated conservative community represented some of the interesting areas of tension among Israelis. For example, although Israel was founded by the New Jews who were largely liberal and secular, this small community is very religiously conservative even to the point of being opposed to the Zionist cause. However, despite the myriad of differences between the two groups socially, politically, and religiously, both of them would consider their primary identity to be Jewish.
This clash between secular, liberal Jews and Ultra Orthodox Jews brings to mind the famous poem “Tefellin” by Yona Wallach. While the content of the poem is extremely graphic and controversial, it seems that Wallach was discussing this tension of Ultra-Orthodox and secular Jewish identity in Israel and the struggle some Israeli Jews have reconciling the two.

Panneau_mea_shearim

Sarah Sullivan

Libi B´mizrach- My Heart is in the East- 6.2.13

3 Jun

“Jerusalem is my anchor on the earth” Professor Lefkovitz said to us on the first day of class.  She told us that wherever in the world she goes, she always finds herself coming back to this magical city.  This sentence truly struck home for me.  Ever since I visited Israel for the first time exactly one year ago on Birthright, there has been this pull inside my heart telling me to come back.  When our plane touched down just 2 weeks ago, I was filled with a warm familiar feeling that I could not describe.  But I think that Professor Lefkovitz was able to put into words what I could not: Jerusalem is my anchor in the world, wherever I may go.

The way I feel toward this land, and many American Jews feel, is expressed perfectly by Dan Nichols who wrote a beautiful song called “My heart is in the East.” The song is based off a quote by poet Yehudah Halevi which say’s “Libi b’mizrach v’anochi b’sof maarav” (my heart is in the east but I am at the ends of the west).  Both Nichols and Halevi share this deep love for a country to which they have never even visited.  Dan Nichols expresses this sentiment in a love song to Eretz Israel, the following of which is an excerpt:

My heart is in the east/ libi, libi b’mizrach/ I want to see the dawn of hope in your eye/ I want to brush the tears from your cheeks when you cry/ I want to smell the blossoms in your hair/ I want to hear the sound of your song in the air/ I want to taste the honey on your lips/ I want to dance with my hands wrapped round your hips/ I want to lift you up and watch you take flight/ I want to know that you’ve found peace tonight/ My heart is in the east/ libi, libi b’mizrach/ My heart is in the east/ V’anochi b’sof maarav/ I think about you most every day and wonder when I’ll finally get the courage to say/ I wouldn’t be the man I am without you/ I wouldn’t see the world the same if you hadn’t come true.

The strong connection to the land of Israel is one which not only I connect to, but Jews all around the world.  This relates directly to the lecture that Dr. Elan Ezrachi gave us this morning in class on Jewish immigration to Israel.  Immigrating to Israel is called making Aliya.  The word Aliya in English translates to “ascent,” as if one is rising up when claiming Israeli citizenship.  While most Jews that immigrated to Israel at the establishment of the state in 1948 were secular Jews, the word Aliya also echoes an honor of blessing the torah.  This correlates making Aliya with a very holy act.  Today, in Israel, there are over 100 ethnicities of Jews that have come to Israel and made Aliya.  American Jews, however, only make up a minor percentage of the population.  There are many factors that play into this reality.  For me personally, I would make Aliya in a heartbeat if Israel were not a 12 hour flight from my home and my family.  As Americans, we have been raised with valuing family above almost anything else.  I could never raise my children in Israel knowing that they would never truly get to know their aunt and grandparents.  The people who make Aliya are looking for something more than family, and they want to make a reality out of this dream of Israel as their home.  Dan Nichols song is sung as if he is on an airplane, dreaming that his destination is Israel.  The end of the song say’s “when I touch down in an hour or two, I’ll still be dreaming that I’m coming home to you.”

The reality is, however, that as much as I feel a connection to Israel, so do many people.  After Dr. Ezrachi’s lecture we had Lubna and Eman, two Palestinian girls studying at Hadassah College in Jerusalem come and speak with us about their perspectives on the situation.  This was especially powerful for me because until I was a junior in high school I was completely pro-Israel and advocated for a one state solution.  My junior year I participated in a program through NFTY (North American Federation for Temple Youth) that brought Palestinian students to speak with us.  I had never spoken with a Palestinian before, and meeting this boy put a face to the Palestinian side of the conflict.  I realized that I couldn’t hate him anymore than I could hate anyone else my own age because he was just like me.  In fact, he felt so strongly about coming to speak with us that he disobeyed his mother, who forbade him to participate in the program and was not speaking to him as a result.  This boy completely changed my view of this conflict and the world, igniting a passion inside of me. This experience led me to write my college essay about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and ended up getting me into Northeastern.  Speaking with Lubna and Eman brought me right back to that first day five and a half years ago when I realized how passionate I was not just about Israel, but more importantly about people.  Both young women are stuck in the middle of a conflict they didn’t ask for.  They are stuck in a mess of their own dreams, their families’ wishes, and the demands of two opposing governments, none of which can seem to find any common ground.

There are a few points that stuck with me the most after our conversation with Eman and Lubna.   The first of these is that Eman does not hold citizenship to any country.  I did not think this was possible, but aside from that I can’t imagine how it would feel.  Would it feel as though I belonged nowhere, or would it be liberating to belong to no governing body but my own?  Eman made this decision because she refuses to choose a side.  She does not believe either is correct, and she does not want to restrict and label herself with a citizenship.  She said that many of her Palestinian friends have chosen Israeli citizenship and given up their right to travel to Mecca.  They did this out of a desire to feel equal.  Eman believes that citizenship is not real equality, it is just a paper and there is no real equality in this divided state.  She believes that the basic issue comes from the way you raise your children.  If you raise a child full of rage, they will grow to hate not only others but themselves as well.  No state can reach peace with a generation of children full of rage and hate.

Lubna, the second woman we spoke with, echoed this idea.  She told us that she teaches a class of third graders, and when she brings up the conflict they repeat the hateful, closed-minded ideas of their parents.  These children are too young to have a real opinion of their own; they just repeat what has been instilled in them.  This is a two sided problem- I know that I was so pro-Israel not too long ago because I had no concept of any other solution.

Another issue that the women talked about was the issue of Israeli- Palestinian relations on a personal level.  They both hated Israelis until they came to Hadassah College and had the chance to meet Israeli students face to face.  Lubna and Eman made many Israeli friends and a new hope for the future was formed.  However, after the attacks on Israel from Gaza this past November, the friendships were broken up when the Israelis retreated back to their roots.  Lubna and Eman talked about how their friends refused to speak to them, as if the attacks were somehow the fault of these two women.  It really broke my heart to see how superficial these relationships were, and that we still have so much further to go until Israelis and Palestinians can just act like normal people with one another.

A final point I would like to make comes in the language that the women used.  Throughout the whole conversation, the two women spoke of a dream of harmony between the two nations.  It wasn’t revealed until the end, however, that when Eman meant harmony she mean a two state solution, while Lubna saw harmony as an integration of the two peoples living at peace in one democratic state.  This brings up the fundamental problem of what peace is and what it will look like.  Everyone can aspire to “peace,” but that does not mean that we are all aspiring to the same future.  As much as I learned in class today, I believe I left more frustrated than I started out.  If two women from the same side of the conflict aspiring to a peaceful future cannot agree on what that means how will two defensive militant governments ever find their way?

– Jenna Sweig