Israel/Palestine Preparations

28 February 2017 – Tara Kleponis

After planning for months of traveling to Israel and Palestine, the trip is finally days away, and I’m struggling to fathom just how soon I’ll be abroad. As soon as I learned about an opportunity to travel to an area with a culture so rich and a conflict so deep that the only way to understand is to go, I knew I had to be there. This is a once-in-a-lifetime trip where I will experience religion and disdain, homestays and hotels, bussing and hiking, new foods, new oceans, and so much more. I’d never imagined that my senior year would include a journey to a region brand new to me, yet here I am, packing my suitcase and gathering my passport.

In Israel and Palestine, I will be speaking to locals to hear their stories and learn about their cultures. As there is conflict ongoing in the area, I will be sure to hear stories that contrast with one another in belief and action, yet every single one will be true. Why is that? Each person has had their own experience, and some have dealt with situations which have caused them to look at the world and their neighbors in different ways. While abroad, it is not the job of us Westtown students to draw conclusions about what we encounter, but to listen respectfully and learn from those we meet.

I cannot wait to explore a place so different from the one I know, and hope to see the world in a new way, or a bigger way, upon my return. Here I will share my personal experiences from Israel and Palestine–talk to you soon!

“The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance, it is the illusion of knowledge.” -Stephen Hawking

I did not want to come to Israel initially.  

Israel is often discussed in the context of the occupation, Gaza wars, and violence of the IDF.  Westtown is pro-Palestine, as most Quakers choose the side of the underdog.  During the two weeks I spent studying the Israeli-Palestinian conflict earlier this winter, I read many articles scrutinizing Israel and uplifting the Palestinian voice.  When the Jewish Student Union brought a speaker from the Anti-Defamation League to speak on anti-Semitism, the Jewish students asked her to speak about the anti-Israel movement prevalent on college campuses, because we felt to ignore it would not address the elephant in the room.  I did not want to come to Israel because I felt extremely conflicted.  I would read one article saying the IDF is a moral military and is always on the defensive side, and then watch a video of an Israeli soldier denying an elderly woman access into Israel to get the medicine she cannot get in the West Bank.

To me, being Jewish means being a good person even in the most difficult situations.  Every Shabbat we read from our prayer book, “When you come across a sheaf in the field, do not turn back to get it.  It shall go to the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow–in order that God may bless you in all your undertakings [Deut. 24.19] Happy are those who consider the poor [Psalm 41.2] May we together with all our people respond to the needs of others, from the fruits of our harvest this week, we share with others.  And so we gain blessings, our lives have meaning, our lives have love.”  Being Jewish means tzedaka, always giving back and helping those who cannot help themselves.  The most charitable people I know are Jewish:  my grandparents; aunts; cousins – every one of them does what they can for the betterment of others.  Wherever I find myself in the world, be that Paris, Cuba, or India, I have found a community amongst Jews.

Among all Jews is an understanding of suffering, persecution, and oppression.  Our holidays celebrate victories – with Chanukah, the victory over the Greeks, with Purim, the fall of the evil Haman, and, most importantly, Passover and the exodus from slavery in Egypt.   But our suffering is not ancient, as every Jew feels the tragedies of the Holocaust when the world turned a blind eye while Hitler ordered the systematic deaths of six million Jews in Europe.  I do not know of any other group of people that has faced as much hatred for as long as it has existed.

If this is Judaism, then this should be the Jewish state.

I didn’t want to come to Israel, yet here I am.  I wanted to live as a Jew but I wanted to be separate from the State of Israel.  The separation was more comfortable than accepting the reality.  After 18 days of touring the country and meeting many people working for the advancement of Israeli life, I see that the reality is far from the dream of Eretz Yisrael.  I have a choice – I can go back to America and forget the stories of the people here.  I can be a good American Jew, read JPost, support Israel without question, do a Birthright trip, and turn a blind eye to the injustice.  But if you know me, you know I cannot do that.

I believe the future of Jews is intertwined with the future of the Jewish State.  My future will reflect Israel.  Jews believe that life is full of tests from God.  I believe that our relationship with Palestinians is our current test.

After living here for 3 weeks, I am less confused but more conflicted.  I feel like I can argue both sides of the conflict.  On the one hand, Israel needs to be safe.  There cannot be stabbings and bombs going off on a regular basis.  It not only kills innocent people, it also perpetuates a culture of fear.  When Israelis hear that Palestinian children read books in school calling Jews rats, it evokes memories of the Holocaust, when German children were taught Jews were like rats and Hitler used pesticides to exterminate millions in gas chambers.  When I asked an Israeli what he thought of the IDF, he looked confused. “What do you mean ‘what do I think’? There is nothing to think about, it is a must. There is nothing to question, it must exist if we are to exist. The IDF does what it needs to do to protect the citizens of Israel against people who detest us.”  

But if a Palestinian mother loses her son when he is shot by an IDF soldier, she will hate the soldier who shot him and the country the soldier shot him for.  In effect, she will hate Israel- the Jewish state.  So on the other hand, the majority of Palestinians do not hate Jews; they just want to exist in peace and have freedom, but can not because of extremist groups that perpetuate fear.  Animosity grows every day under the occupation.  

I have come to see corruption in both governments and believe they lack the leadership and courage to bring peace.  Some say there has been no effort to make peace.  Some say treaties and negotiations between Israel and the PLO have been created but are not being honored. Unlike many who feel truth lies between extremes, I believe it lies in the eye of the beholder.  Everyone seems to have their eyes on Israel and the more eyes that are on Israel, the more truths there are.  

As outsiders, we choose to see the side that enforces what we already believe, which is why it is so hard to see the truth in the other side.  It has become clear to me, however,  that there is always another explanation as to why things are the way they are.  Yet, suffering has no boundaries, politics, or religion.  

I can spend hours fighting both sides in my mind, reading articles, watching videos, and praying for peace.  I do not choose to retreat in the face of suffering but I do not know what I am supposed to do to; I have a feeling it will become clear when the time is right.  As a Jew, it is my responsibility to manifest the Jewish state, a state in which Judaism exists in its true form:  love of all humanity.  Religion, like everything, can be a force of evil.  Yet I have seen spiritual leaders use religion as the greatest force of good.  As Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”  Israel is not the only place with injustice.  My Dad once said “history does not repeat itself, it rhymes,” and I am slowly understanding what he means.

I do not walk away from this trip with bold assertions about what needs to happen for there to be peace, nor with a firm grasp of everything that already is happening, for that would be naive.  I will not speak on behalf of all Jews everywhere nor will I speak on behalf of Israel to people who want to start arguments or people who believe they understand everything.  I will, however, continue to learn and to listen because I choose to be invested in the wellbeing of the state of my people.

I know when I go home distance will make it easy for me to forget the sense of community I feel here.  All I  will have are pictures and memories of the breathtaking nature and the kindhearted people.  I did not want to come to Israel, but things have a funny way of working out.  Now, I do not want to leave.





P.S. I wrote this post during my last few days in Israel but did not have time to edit it. I am home now.


So you came to Israel alone?

“Yep,” I smile and look down at my fidgeting hands. “I came here because my parents have friends here, but when I arrived, I didn’t know anyone in the whole country.”

I am leaving tomorrow, and looking back on it, I did not think I was going to make it this long.  When I first arrived, I called my parents and begged to come home.  I was honestly terrified.  When I walked down the streets, I thought “am I going to get stabbed?” and as I feel asleep and heard airplanes passing by, I thought “Are they going to drop a bomb?” Hebrew letters looked cold, hard, and unforgiving and the language left me isolated.  Not having anyone I could talk to was really hard, because as my friends know, I need to talk.

This is easily forgotten, though, because after some time these feelings fade and are replaced by the excitement of the adventure.  So when I think about my trip to Israel, I will think about all the amazing moments and forget how scared I initially felt.

This post is for the wanderlusting Westonian planning their own Senior Project.  Get as far away from your safety net as you can, fall head first into the world, and allow it to catch you.  Trust me–it’s so worth it.  But here are some things I used to stay balanced in the free fall.

Music and a book: when I was alone, music was with me. When I needed to escape, I had the land of my book.

Whatsapp: although it is important to disconnect, sometimes it really helped reaching out to a friend or family member who cheered me up and gave me the confidence boost to go out and make new friends.

Breathing: falling asleep, driving to a new place, meeting someone new, taking a deep breath calmed me down.

Openness: this may seem obvious, but there are different social norms and way of doing things here. I had to get really relaxed about plans and trust everything was just going to work out-which it has.

JournalI just write down everything I do and every thought I have.  It helps me clear my head so each day I have a fresh set of eyes and an empty mind.

Stretch: not only does it release muscle tightness, it releases mind tightness.  I felt much better after five minutes of stretching as if anxiety was held in my back or quads.

Confidence: this is the hardest, but I just keep telling myself that no one cares and if I embarrass myself I will never see them again.  I have yet to feel embarrassed.  Saying what I think, trying something new, meeting a stranger, this is what has made the trip interesting even though it was the hardest to do.

Westtown: finally, I have kept Westtown with me.  When I explain Quakerism and my school to everyone I meet, I am reminded about why I am here in the first place.  Westtown trained me for four years for the world–giving me the ability to find peace in silence, community amongst strangers, and strength in myself.


סבבה: sababa = awesome, cool

As the days go by, things get easier- being busy is good! I’m even learning a little Hebrew.

I went to Haifa (Baha’i Center) and Akko (Sufi monastery and a Mosque). It seems there is peace and tolerance and that Arabs have a good life there.

I spent the Sabbath on Kibbutz Magal. A Kibbutz is a neighborhood of communal living. It feels a bit like a university campus- with a dining hall, convenient store, a cafe, and lots of homes. Each Kibbutz has their own thing, and Kibbutz Magal has a Netafim factory that makes drip irrigation systems. This kibbutz also has an amazing stables (with jackals, bunnies, snakes, dogs, goats, birds, horses, and more) where mentally and physically disabled youth come for rehabilitation. I stayed with a wonderful family and enjoyed the sunshine and peace of the countryside. The Kibbutz lies between Arab cities and very close to Palestinian territories. I’ve been hearing a lot of different point of views because everyone I meet has one.

Today I met up with close family friends Arnie and Ellen in a residential area of Tel Aviv. We walked down on the beach and had many conversations about life in Israel, where they come for a few weeks throughout the year.

Here are some pictures from my travels!



All is well. Much love,


A Stranger in a Strange New Place: A Jewish Right of Passage

It’s 12 am, the end of my second day in Tel Aviv, Israel.  I just finished writing 15 pages in my journal and have yet to cover today… so yes, a lot has happened, and yes, I am exhausted.  The thing they don’t tell you about traveling is how challenging it is, especially alone.  At Westtown I can go into a friends room, but here I am my only support.  Thankfully I have wifi and can keep in touch with my friends, but in the end when I turn off my phone it is just me here.  I still try to dive into every situation with an open mind and have learned so much already.


The El Al flight was easy and, luckily, I slept through most of the chaos.  I have never been on a plane where people walk around so much.  At day brake, the Orthodox Jews stood in the aisle to do the Amidah (morning prayers) while crew maneuvered around passing out glatt kosher breakfasts and children ran around.


My first day in Tel Aviv was warm like the sun and cool as the sea breeze.  I had a wonderful roof-garden lunch with Nurid (with whom I am staying) and went out that night with some young Israelis.  The people here are so friendly and open, but they are very intense.  Everyone has served in the military and there is a sense of urgency about the impermanence of life.


Today I went to the Pelmach Museum and met young visionaries who work to improve the lives of Ethiopians and Palestinians. Tonight I had a very interesting talk with Avishay about Israeli politics and it is just as, if not more complicated than American politics.  I feel like this trip is a “right of passage” for a Jew because I am facing the contradictions of a Jewish state.  It is a state founded in the name of freedom, to be a refuge for the suffering, but has not fulfilled its promise to all its people.


I am safe and am in good hands.  My mind is expanding!  Part of me wants to run away and return to the safety of my own bed and the other part is filled with the adrenaline of the adventure.  Tomorrow, I am of with Amos to tour Haifa and Akko and then I will spend the Sabbath at a Kibbutz.


Until then, much love,









Israel: Goodbye “peace,” hello “shalom”

I can’t believe I’m actually starting my Senior Project. I’ve been planning trips in my mind since freshman year- and now I’m finally off.


For the past few weeks, people have been asking me what I’m doing. “I’m going to Israel,” I say. “But not on the school trip, I’m going by myself.” This is often surprising, so I elaborate, “I’m studying water in the Negev Desert, working with Jewish feminists, meeting Bedouin teens…” and that’s not even the half of it. I am going to be traveling the country meeting, living, and working with many Israelis from all different realms of life.


Tomorrow, my trip starts and I will arrive in Tel Aviv and meet Avishay. Now, however, there is much packing and preparing to do!


I will be posting all about my trip, so check back in often.









A Hopeful Cynicism – Mike

First off, I should apologize for not posting sooner. I came down with some kind of nasty infection about 3 days ago, and while I feel better now, nobody wants to read posts about how long it took me to read Lolita(quite a while) or how fun being sick is(not very).
When I wrote my resolution to the Israel/Palestine conflict last year in Hiroshima-9/11, I thought I had everything mapped out. Two state solution, path of the Wall/Border/Fence, resource allocation, etc. What I forgot were the people, the ones who have the power to put my resolution into action. While I have immensely enjoyed speaking to a vast array of people with a vast array of views, it hasn’t brought about the impact that I thought it would before I took off in Philadelphia. Namely, it hasn’t made me hopeful that a solution is possible any time soon.
Before you scream at me through your monitor, I will explain. What I mean to say is that by hearing almost every imaginable viewpoint from either side, it has further complicated the conflict in my mind. Two quick examples:
1.)The definition and implication of the word Zionist. Even some of the most “progressive” Israelis that we talked to, i.e. Arik Ascherman and Lydia Aisenberg call themselves Zionists. Zionism is a big, confusing word that in my opinion does not merit a specific definition. Google it and come to your own conclusions, as I’d be foolish to even attempt to define it. What I do know is that Zionism has huge implications and a wide range of impact. What’s concerning about the word itself and its many definitions is the fact that most Palestinian “progressive” groups who we talked to are completely unwilling to work with Zionists. Their reasons range but their conclusion remains the same: they won’t work with Zionists. Clearly, you can see the problem. If even the most progressive groups are unwilling to collaborate, then, put simply, who will?
2.)The disunity of the Palestinian people. This issue is a bit more hard-hitting because it’s one that I hadn’t heard about until David Mendelson educated us about it in one of our many meetings. Until that time, it had been my belief that the Palestinian people were only in a conflict with outside forces. I now realize that the Palestinians have each other to deal with us well. Besides the obvious split of Fatah and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, respectively, the Palestinians are divided into different ethnic groups, religions and viewpoints on the conflict. While they all want peace in some way or another, the catch is in the details.
These two issues alone could spark a novel(and I’m sure they have). Unfortunately, they are just two of an ever-growing mental jigsaw puzzle I have, and they all must fit together if there is to be any hope of seeing something beautiful when the puzzle is put together. While it is appalling to hear kids my age say that they hate all Jews(!), I have been able to draw some hope from these jagged puzzle pieces.
The Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum came as a all-too-solemn reminder of where I come from, and it was an experience that I’d prefer not to blog about in great detail. And while it was a bleak reminder of a bleak past, it had a hopeful message: Even the Holocaust ended. So I’d prefer to approach the rest of this trip with a hopeful cynicism, to draw every last bit of hope out of everything we hear, but at the same time, to remain realistic.
I hope to post something lighter(sorry to depress you) before I leave, as there is quite a lot of good to share. Until then, I shall react and reflect.

Mike D.

A Transformation of my Ideals (in under 48 hours)


Let me just start out by saying that the two days since I last blogged have been emotionally exhausting and it is past ten at night here, so my train of thought may be a little off. We have been staying a Ramat Hashofet Kibbutz in Israel, and talked to mostly Israelis about their perspective on this conflict. Yesterday we spent the day with a man named David. He was not born in Israel, but has spent a large portion of his life here. He works with an organization called Givat Haviva which is a learning center in Israel that works with both Israelis and Palestinian to break down cultural barriers. David is a brilliant man and I learned so much about cultural history of the Jews. He also took us into a town called Barta’a which is an Arab town that was split in half by the green line in the late 40’s, making half the town citizens of Israel and half citizens of Jordan. This, of course, creates an interesting dynamic within the town and taught us a lot about the tensions for Arabs with Israeli citizenship between both Israeli Jews and Palestinians.

Today we visited a Kibbutz about ten minutes away called Mishmar Ha’emek. We spent our time there with a woman named Lydia who has lived in Israel for 45 years and also works at Givat Haviva. We toured the Kibbutz and learned that a Kibbutz is basically an intentional socialist community. All members live on the Kibbutz, the work they do is to benefit the Kibbutz, and all the money they make must be given to the Kibbutz. In some ways, it is similar to communes that we hear about in the U.S., but a Kibbutz is much more accepted and part of the Israeli culture than communes are in the U.S.

Since I began learning about the conflict, I have also looked to Israel for blame. And here I am, in the middle of Israel proper, spending two days with Israelis who very much believe in the State of Israel. One of them served in the Israeli army and would willingly go back if called to protect Israel, and one is a self-identified Zionist. You can imagine my initial rejection of their ideas. But getting to know them and listening to their ideas showed me that it wasn’t so easy to paint them into this stereotypical “bad Israeli” corner. Both spend a large amount of time working with Arabs in both Israel and the West Bank. When we visited the town of Barta’a with David, we met someone who he considered his brother. They both clearly care about Palestinians, and are actively working towards peace and equality among Israelis and Palestinians.

You may be able to imagine my confusion. A whole new side of this conflict was opened to me in just two days time. I wrote the following paragraph a second ago to describe how I have been feeling. It came out as a blabbering mess, but I am going to leave it in that form to show you what has been going on in my head for the past two days:

Of course Israel should exist! The Jews need and deserve a homeland! But at the same time, I don’t think what Israel is doing is right. The Palestinians were already here. Someone can’t come and take someone else’s land. Israel has no right. But they do! They have been oppressed for thousands of years. Hell, six million of them were murder less than 100 years ago! They need a place where they can express their own culture in beliefs safely. This is where their origins are. Of course they would be called to move back to this land. But, it isn’t safe here. No wonder they have been the aggressor. But that doesn’t excuse their actions. They have still pushed thousands of people out of their homes.

And it goes on…

Hopefully now you can see how, after two days, I am thoroughly “pooped”. There was a point this afternoon where I wanted to go back to my room, watch a stupid movie, and not even think about the words “Palestine” and “Israel” ever again. It is just so overwhelming. I never thought that it would be like this. I knew I would be challenged, but I honestly couldn’t foresee just how pushed I would be. Just imagine taking something that you think you understand pretty well, and having it flipped completely upside down in the course of 48 hours is mind blowing. Before coming here I didn’t consider myself “anti-Israel”, but I did mostly side with Palestine. Now, I have been exposed to the richness of the Jewish culture. It is truly impossible to understand without experiencing it firsthand.

While I am totally confused and turned around by my revelations of the past 48 hours, I have nothing to say to David and Lydia but “thank you”. Without them I would still be blind to half of this conflict, and I am extremely grateful that they opened my eyes.

Now that I have rambled on for a really long time I am first going to apologize for doing so (sorry) and then I am going to sleep.

לילה טוב (good night),