Day Six

This morning we went to a Lutheran church service (given in English) at the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem’s old city. We walked through the old streets full of merchants selling their souvenirs. I’m trying to gauge prices for items I want to buy for people at home. We walked to a small lunch spot for falafel and some of the best humus I’ve had.

We then went to the office of Rabbis for Human Rights (RHR), a watch group established on the ideals of Judaism as the founders saw them. The founder that spoke to us was raised in Pennsylvania surrounded by the idea that Judaism is about universal compassion and justice. The Israeli declaration of independence calls for equality for all people, regardless of race, religion, gender, etc; the RHR tries to see where Israel has succeeded or has not yet succeeded on these grounds. The declaration implies to me that the State of Israel was founded around the Jewish people, not the Jewish religion. I just realized also that the 1/8th rule applied for Israeli citizenship (based on the 1/8th rule used by the Nazis) allows for a diversity of people, as not all those killed in the Holocaust were practicing Jews. But I digress. Back to Rabbis for Human Rights.

According to the man who spoke to us, RHR was started during the first Intifada because the state of Israel seemed to be interested only in supporting the laws of the Shabbat and the dietary laws. The founders of RHR were interested in creating a Rabbinic presence to stand up on real issues. As he said today, true Zionism should be about creating not just a militarily strong nation, but a morally strong nation. RHR tries first to work within the democratic system of Israel’s parliament (which is arguably stronger than our own as a democracy) to affect change in policy, but is certainly not limited to that. They do fieldwork, go through courts and practice civil disobedience if need be. Talking about his work against Israeli home demolition of Palestinian houses, he said, “As a man sworn to uphold the Torah, there is no choice but to stand in front of the bulldozer.” Inspiring. He went on to say that we expect justice and mercy from God, but we are in no such place if we do not practice these tenants to the best of our abilities ourselves. He also said that the majority of both the Palestinian population and the Israeli population say that they want peace and a solution, but believe that the other side does not. This is clearly because there are limited images of each side to the other besides the extremists (the Shas and Hamas). Quick side story about this guy: he saw a young Palestinian man by the Separation wall being beaten by the IDF, and felt called as a Jew, Rabbi and Zionist to go to him and bear witness to the injustice. He walked through tear gas to the young man, who was strapped to a car’s windshield while being beaten, but was then grabbed by another soldier by the neck and head butted, being told “You’re under arrest! You’re under arrest!” He was then handcuffed and held on the hood of another car. Fortunately, the media was there and it became international news in journals including Newsweek. The young man was later reported to have said, “I was being beaten but then a tall man with a beard and Kippah told me not to be afraid.” Now that young man, wherever he is, knows that there are good Jews in the world. The Torah says something along the lines of, “if you change the life of one man, it’s like changing the world.”

Final quotation of the day: “In a democracy, some are guilty, but all are responsible.”-Rabbi Herschl

cat count: 7

-Ari

Day Five

Left Ramat Hashofet this morning for Nazareth, where we first visited the church built on top of the ruins of Mary’s house. There were many mosaics up both inside and outside the church, all donated by different countries. They all appeared to be heavily influenced by each country’s traditional artistic styles, but each one for the most part depicted white Jesus and Mary. Japan’s mosaic, though, depicted Asian Jesus and Mary, and it took me a minute to realize that that was more geographically accurate than white Jesus and Mary. How has Christianity come to such a place that the Messiah is not even depicted as he really was? What else has been changed from the real guy? I won’t get into my personal views on religion here. Another thing I thought of was the religious significance of God having made Adam from dirt, while using a woman, Mary, to create Jesus…something about Sacred Feminine concept…

After that, we toured “Nazareth village,” the colonial Williamsburg of Nazareth. It was a working grape, olive and goat farm set to mimic Jesus’s setting. Appropriate, since his childhood home was a few minutes away. In fact, the wine he drank on Shabbat was probably from that farm, as it was built on the excavated remains of an actual farm found there.

On our way to Jerusalem, where we are again tonight, we stopped at a few churches around the Sea of Galilee, such as those built around the Beatitudes spot, the loaves & fishes spot, and the Jordan River Baptism area.

It was relaxing to get a day away from much mention of the conflict, but at the same time, it’s always in the back of our heads. There were clashes here in Jerusalem in the Old City, which we’re not far from, last night, as well as in Ramallah, where we’ll be in a few days (?). Because Friday is such a big day for Muslims, and the closeness of Al Aqsa to the Western Wall, these clashes are most common on Fridays. Looks like things have calmed down and we should be fine for the rest of our trip…probably.

(Seriously though mom, we’re fine.)

cat count for yesterday: 4

today: 3

-Ari

Day 4

Spent the day touring another Kibbutz (MIshmar HaEmek). It was kind of relaxing to get away from intensive learning about the conflict; but then again, everything ties back in some way to the conflict. What an interesting concept, for the most part unlike anything we see in the U.S. The only comparable things to Kibbutzim in America that I know of are “intentional Quaker communities,” and other religious communities I’m sure. Traditional Kibbutzim are socialist, self-sustaining communities that are completely atheist (Atheist? I was surprised). They center themselves around being under the umbrella of the Jewish people, not the Jewish religion. They still recognize and celebrate the Jewish holidays, but secularly, as a way to connect with their fellow Kibbutzniks, not for religious purposes. In fact, people are allowed to live with and have children with whomever they want, and religious marriages (which are the only marriages recognized by the Israeli state, not Civil Ceremonies, etc.) are not allowed to be performed within the Kibbutz. They have managed to create such an environment where they connect in their culture, tradition, and family. More and more now, though, Kibbutzim are privatizing and allowing higher salaries for some members over others. The sense that I got was that the traditional Kibbutzim look down upon those who have privatized. I don’t really know much beyond that what the differences between privatized and un-privatized Kibbutzim are.

Then we went to get a quick lunch. I had falafel, which was so good that I was convinced I’ve never actually had falafel until today. After lunch, we continued on our bus, and saw several areas. The parts that stuck out for me the most were where the wall and the Green Line differ. The Green Line is where Israel recognizes the West Bank, and the wall (which is instituted for security reasons, which is highly debated in itself) was intended to follow the Green Line. The wall is pushed into the West Bank side, usually to be able to absorb settlements into the Israeli side. This “limbo land” between the Green Line and the wall is where not only settlements are, but many Arab neighborhoods are as well.

We had a Shabbat dinner back at the Kibbutz we’re staying at, and had a quiet night. Turns out the guy we were with yesterday, who led our Shabbat dinner was on the Canadian National Olympic wrestling team and so was his friend who he brought along with him.

Also, I suggest checking out Meg’s blog from today about the graffiti on the Separation wall in Jerusalem that we saw on Day 2.

-Ari

Day Three

We woke up this morning and got on our bus to a kibbutz called Ramat Hashofet, where we had a lecture/discussion with an Israeli originally from Canada (This is where we’re staying tonight and tomorrow night). This was the first exposure we really had to any Israeli issues, delivered from a fairly left-wing point of view. We went through a brief history of the founding of Israel, especially the various waves of immigrations, or Aliyahs. One of the first groups to make Aliyah to Israel was the German Jews, who quickly established themselves as the “upper class, cultured” citizens, using Westernization as an identifier. All subsequent groups to come to Israel, whether or not they acted with Western manners, if they were racially different, were treated as lower class. Early on, this hit such an extreme level that many immigrant Jewish children (especially Arabs or Asians) were stripped of their identity–sent to schools where they were only to speak in Hebrew and forget their own traditions and cultures, despite the fact that they were also Jewish. This was similar in almost every way to the Americanization of Native American children by the missionaries in the early 1800’s.

One place we stopped today on our way back from lunch in Barta’a, which is an Arab town through which the Green Line passes, was a point from which you could see both the Mediterranean and the West Bank at the same time. From that perspective, it’s easy to see why Israel can feel a bit nervous, having such a narrow country and surrounded by hostile countries. There we saw a drawing of Handala (google it) scratched into stone.

The major political party with all the clout is called the Shas; these are the so-called “ultra-Orthodox” Jews, who are sought out by other parties of the Parliament to form coalitions. For the most part, the Shas will back most law proposals set forth by the smaller party in these coalitions on the condition that there be special treatment of the ultra-Orthodox Jews in the state. The main example here is that their children do not have to serve in the army like everyone else if they are engaged in heavy religious studies. The Shas established power early on by going village by village and donating money to build schools and help communities. In return, they gained loyalty from the people and have maintained it ever since.

The problems within Israel are not well publicized. One of the biggest problems they face is not external, but internal; it is a question of identity. The problem here boils down to two main questions: Are Jews defined as a people or a religion? and Should Israel be run with a separation of church and state? Sam’s blog highlighted the question of people or religion and the 1/8th rule that if someone is 1/8 Jewish, then they can be a citizen of Israel, but this leads to the attraction of some people who are simply looking for a place to live; in fact, many completely secular people qualify under the 1/8th rule and celebrate Christmas! The early Zionist movement was even unclear about this question, and it is a major one if Israel is to move forward effectively. The fact that Israel faces such a question about its very identity reminds us how young of a country it is. I need to constantly remind myself of that; it’s a strange concept when considering also what huge impact its politics and actions have on the lives of so many people and other countries’ foreign policy. The next question arises from the first. As a country established as a Jewish State, it is understandable that they would have laws according to the Jewish faith, and have a political system appropriate to such circumstances. This is a country established for specific purposes, and if you don’t like it, you can leave. However, the Christians, Muslims and secular Jews can feel infringed upon by these laws. As a relatively minor example, many people who live here who would otherwise eat shellfish have never done so because those products are not Kosher and therefore are not imported or caught from the Mediterranean. This is home to many people, and the imposition of laws based on a faith other than their own is certainly oppression.

Now that I’ve had the opportunity to think about part of the Israeli side, I am starting to think a one state solution is best, because there are people here who are clearly not Zionists or even Jewish and this is their home also. This will take significant sacrifice from the Israeli politicians (consisting mostly of the conservative Shas), and is likely to never happen.

Very significant afterthought: Why does no one consider the “pure” Zionists who believe that there won’t be a true Jewish state until the coming of the Messiah? The bible speaks of Zion and the coming of the Messiah as two things that come hand-in-hand.

Also, in Jerusalem, I noticed that there was an abundance of street cats, so starting on our first full day, when we actually went out for the first time, I started a cat count. Yesterday was 27. Today was 12. The difference was city vs. countryside.

-Ari

Day Two

Day 1: We went through a complete second security check at the  gate in the Philadelphia airport to get on the plane. In Tel Aviv, some of us were held up for a bit at customs and asked questions about our group, which has 18 students and 4 teachers. They asked me my father’s and grandfather’s names. From the airport we went to the home of T. Melissa & T. Jon’s friends. At one point they mentioned that there was a huge market for American clothes in Israel. Not surprising, as Israeli consumers are eager just like Israeli business people to emulate their counterparts in America. The father of the household mentioned that with this transfer of industries also came the same negative effects, especially the increase of the divide between socioeconomic classes. Israel is such a young country that for the most part they are experiencing growth in their business sector, but if they continue to follow the model that we know to be unsustainable, then they are blindly following the same exact path on which some say we are too far down. We took the bus to Jerusalem and crashed at the hotel afterwards.

Day 2:  Today was the first full day in the country. We toured Al Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock on Temple Mount. We walked around Old City a lot, seeing most of the Via Dolorosa –  the way of the cross – and went to the church built on the spot where Jesus was believed to be crucified (though there are several spots that are believed to be that). This was one of the most intricate and dark churches I’ve ever seen. It made me realize just how much religion can weird me out. We ate a lunch of shwarma or falafel in a small café. We then listened to a presentation on settlements and house demolition and went out on a bus tour to see with our own eyes these realities. It has been well established by all countries except Israel that the settlements are against international law, yet no one does anything about it. Those who have the power of these laws are the only ones who would ever dare go against them, though even America has looked down upon these practices on paper. In reality, America is not doing anything regarding limiting Israel’s actions in the West Bank. We were talking amongst ourselves on the bus about how a one-state solution is the best way to go for everyone’s benefit, but at this point, there is such a feeling among many Palestinians that they have been wronged to such a level that there is no way for them to assimilate into Israeli culture. On the other side of that, the Israelis would feel that that solution would contaminate their Jewish state. On top of that, there would still be a clear race division that would play a role. Speaking of a Jewish state, that is such a strange concept. I can appreciate a place that is intentionally meant for a specific group, but when it gets to a point where it is hostile to any other group, especially a group that is native to the land, then it gets out of hand. Many believe that Obama is waiting for a second term to more forcefully push any communication between the two parties, so that if and when he hits a nerve in the process, there’s not much anyone can do, since he’ll be out soon anyway.

-Ari

Pre-trip

I’m leaving from my house for the airport at around 5:30 tonight to meet the group and get on a 9:00ish plane to Tel Aviv. I still haven’t completely finished packing. I was talking to a recent alum who went on this trip two years ago and he said by the end he was sick of eating shwarma and falafel. For now, I’m excited to eat the authentic cuisine and haggle at the street shops. This is a strange time for me, as my wrestling career just ended on Saturday and I’m about to go into a very real situation in a global/political hotspot to learn and maybe form my own opinion on the controversies. We’ll see how it goes.

Ari-