Its been a week since I’ve returned from Israel and now that my head is clear of jet-lag, allergies and fever I’ve decided to take the time to reflect. I left for my trip to Israel with a lot of assumptions about Stand With Us, the people I accepted to meet on the trip and what I would get to see — and as usual when you assume you make an ASS out of U & ME. Nothing is ever simply black & white.
In my last post “The All-Nighter” I mentioned that I had heard from friends that Stand With Us was more of a Right-leaning organization and was unsure how that would effect my experience. What I failed to realize in the beginning was that the role of every Taglit Birthright Trip is to promote the beauty, people & culture of the State of Israel. There would always be that bias and Stand With Us was no different in this regard, but it was also the only politically themed trip. While many of us still wished we had been given less of a one-sided Israeli view and more information on Palestinian refugee conditions, no other Birthright Trip other than ours had a Palestinian Speaker (Journalist for Jerusalem Post) or went to the Security Fence at the Bethlehem border. Both of these additions made our trip truly unique and were greatly appreciated. Being the only political trip, our bus had a wide range of political beliefs when it came to Israeli policy. From the 18 year old who participated in Seeds of Peace to the 24 year old who believes in stronger militarization to defend and stake claim in the land we “know” to be ours, and everyone else who fell on either end of the spectrum or in between.
It always bothers me when people look at issues, conflicts and people only in black & white. Nothing is ever that cut and dry. Several of the people on our trip admitted that they expected to see a war torn country with guns, bombs & bloodshed – and instead they found a beautiful country in the desert with trees & fruit, booming cities and a rich history & culture. When you are there its hard to imagine how so much conflict could occur over such a small piece of land. But, it has – and when young Israeli soldiers (20-22 yrs) who were with us have no childhood recollections of a peaceful time with Muslims/Palestinians, but instead remember suicide bombings and war then it sets in
. . . how very different it is over there.
For the first Shabbat when we arrived in Jerusalem we had Rabbi Motel Wolf with our group (Side note: coolest Orthodox Rabbi and former Deadhead/Buddhist I’ve ever met). One of the stories he shared with us sticks out in my head – he spoke about how recently a Muslim school bus driver for one of the Israeli public schools went into a school and began shooting everyone. Several children & teachers were injured &/or killed (I don’t know the details). Immediately after the incident every Muslim/Palestinian school bus driver was fired. Rabbi Wolf, having two young children expressed to us his relief when he heard how the school officials handled the situation. Now, I can understand the fear and the relief that Rabbi Wolf felt – but I strongly disagree with their decision. Not only is this profiling racist, but it fuels more anger & hatred from those who might not have felt it before. You have just taken away a man’s only source of income to take care of his family, because some other man he doesn’t even know was a hateful extremist. Imagine if something like that happened in the U.S. — a black bus driver went into a school and began shooting, and then as a result every black bus driver in the town was fired. Can you imagine the uproar if that were to happen in the United States today?
That being said if a Palestinian & Israeli were standing side by side – do you think you could tell the difference? Without traditional religious symbols/clothes – you most likely could not. The majority of Israeli Jews are actually not European Jews, but descendants of immigrants from Arab countries. People in the United States and all over the world tend to be completely unaware of the ethnic & racial diversity within the Jewish people. Our own tour guide’s Father was originally from Afghanistan and one of the soldiers with us was an Ethiopian Jew. If there hadn’t been an Israel most of their families would have had no place to go for fear of being killed or pushed further underground in hiding their religion than they already were.
For many Jews, Israel is not only home, but also a refuge from persecution and genocide. Besides the Israelis of Arab & European descent, there are currently over 60,000 Jews of Ethiopian descent in Israel and there are also populations of Moroccan, Brazilian, Argentinian, Cambodian and Indian Jews. At the Birthright Mega Event to Celebrate Tel Aviv’s 100th Anniversary, there were over 3,000 young Jews – what a truly amazing experience to celebrate and interact with Jews from all over the world.
Over all for me it was the people that made this trip the truly unique and educational experience that it was – from our guide Elad & our leaders Brett, Sam & Maya, to the Israeli soldiers & security that became a part of our group. Even after having been to Israel twice before I was still able to go places & do things I had never done. I thank you all & Birthright for the amazing experience.
Feel free to check out more photos of my trip to Israel in the “Gallery”