Israel - Day 5

We learned of the ground invasion right before we went to sleep.  I woke up and went for a run on the boardwalk and I was not surprised that everything just continued as normal.  Tel Aviv is a unique beach city with so much energy.  There were many running groups, bikers, walkers and pools on the water with people swimming laps.  It is much warmer here than in Jerusalem.  More inhabited as well. 

We began our walking tour of Yaffo.  We heard a dual narrative on Yaffo, through a Tale of Two Cities Tour where we were guided by both a Jewish and a Palestinian who each showed us Yaffo through their narrative.  I believe the goal of the tour was to show us how these 2 people live peacefully side by side, intertwined, yet with their own story.  It is a port city, integrated with Jews and Arabs.  They addressed the difficulty of giving this integrated tour and talking about cohabitating peacefully with what is going on in Gaza.

These 2 men have worked together for years and are very close friends.   Again, the concept of being connected to a specific piece of land.  The Palestinians in Yaffo, defined themselves locally, not as Palestinians.  Very different for the Jewish people, comprised of a majority of immigrant people, that no matter where they lived in the "yishuv," defined themselves as a "Jewish people." 

The Palestinian guide (Yihab) started with this statement.  "Every time I am with Yuval I fall in love with him more."
He stated, "I grew up with fear and hatred and distance from the Jews."  What came out of his father were stories of terror.  His father was arrested, in jail, house taken away...I could go on and on.
Growing up he had a lot of questions but also a lot of hatred.  He wanted to kill the Jews.  He began working in the family restaurant and that was when his life started changing.  He began with serving the people (mostly Israelis) yet hating them.  Then one day a guy came in asking questions about Jews and Arabs and finally he said, I hate you, hate your people, shut up!  The Israeli said we have a common ground, I hate you and your people too.  Then over the course of the year the guy kept on coming in and the dialogue continued.  He began looking forward to the conversations.  Yihab was invited to his home.  It was as if he was a traitor by going, but he went and the conversation turned from political to personal.  Eventually he felt freer, to talk about whatever he wanted to, unlike in his own house which was "defined." He began to develop more relationships with Israelis.  He started feeling like a middleman.  A focal point between the 2 societies.  I could connect instead of divide.  Something human beyond Israeli, Palestian.  He began his dialogue work with different groups.

He continued doing this work, but his family disowned him.  They could not digest the work he was doing.  He became more connected to Islam and felt that he needed to reconcile with his parents.  Which he did.  Yihab tried to introduce his father to Israelis in his home and vice versa.  His father started being more tolerant.

He fell in love with a Jewish Israeli.  Married and was disowned by his father.  It took until he had a child and until they reconciled.  They have 2 sons and have created a Jewish/Arab day-care/kindergarten.  We asked how they are doing to deal with army service, and he said that he believes the army is hell.  He believes it makes men violent and women defeminized.  It was very interesting to hear the personal narrative of an Israeli Arab.  My conclusion of this narrative was that Yihab is an anomaly in the midst of the norm. 

Josh Lesser, Lee and I walked around the Old City and all the. Galleries.  It is where all the wedding couples took pictures when we were here 2 years ago.  We walked through the flea market and the antique market and the new gentrified area with little shops and restaurants. 

This area was much more crowded than any other area has been.  I had to get my favorite Abulafiah bagel toast!  As I was waiting to get my favorite "grilled cheese" the nice man helping me put a lot of pastries in a bag and said "This is from me to you."  It was promptly followed up by saying "Are you married?"  I guess he though the pastries would come at a cost :).  Pastries and bagel toast in hand I went to get my favorite missed yogurt and toppings, flakes chocolate, candied pecans and bananas.  YUM!

We went to this wonderful gallery that does parashat hashuva through graphics!  Aaron bought himself the print of his parasha "Shelah Lecha" 2 years ago.  I bought Ella hers today, "Tazria."  I would love for RSNS to get the whole Torah through this lens, it would be a wonderful teaching tool.

We went to The Hotline for Refugees and Migrants (HRM).    They mostly are still here from Sudan (11,000+) and Eritrea (34,000+).  They use a 2 pronged approach in assisting their target groups,  crisis intervention and legal action.  They assist foreigners under arrest and slated for deportation.  They go on trips to detention centers and come into contact in need, including survivors of sex and labor trafficking and unaccompanied foreign minors.  The director spoke to us with a sense of passion and sadness that Israel has dealt in this negative way with these target populations.  

We all asked why are there such stringent laws in Israel?  The fear of the millions of the Africans that could come over.  Not necessarily fear of the 40,000 that are here now.  Prevention techniques.

We went to Levinski park in south Tel Aviv where they are often dropped off after a stay in jail once they sneak over the border.  They arrive with no money, no Hebrew and no work permit, daily life often is a challenge.  In the park a 30 year old man from Sudan who has been here for 2 years told his story.  He went to university in Sudan and had to leave because of the genocide.  His family still lives in a refugee camp in the Sudan.  His plight through the mountains, encountering hardship from the Egyptians and then being taken for a lot of money from the Bedouins for help through the Sinai. 

All to get to Israel and to be thrown in jail.  He is now out of jail, living in a tiny apartment with 6 other men (only 15 percent of this population are women).  It is a slum lord situation where they are paying a lot of money for a dirty, small apartment.  In better neighborhoods in Tel Aviv the apartments of similar structure are far cheaper, but they won't rent to the Sudanese.

This is a hard thing to witness, the blatant disregard for people who have been persecuted.  The treatment of children is both the same and different as their parents.  They have the same status whether born in Israel or not.  They could be deported the same as their parents.  The difference is that they have a right to an education.  You should rent "Strangers No More," a documentary about the Bialik Rogozin School in Tel Aviv.  It is an educational campus that serves 750+ at-risk children k-12.

It was hot and I was tired and I couldn't even imagine how the men in park felt.  I was able to get on the air conditioned bus and go back to my semi-nice hotel :).

The directors final good bye was, "I hope you will have no sirens and no one will die."  Only in Israel!

They were doing a few drop offs on the way back.  There was the arts and crafts fair (that I usually go to, but it was hot and crowded) the beach or any area on the way back.  Fredi and I went to Basel square near Ibn Gabriol and Jabotinsky.  It is a cute area near where her daughters live.  Cute cafe's, stores and nice apartment buildings.  I very hip Israel neighborhood.

We got back to the hotel and we were getting ready for Shabbat when we heard a LOUD siren, we got out of our room and Fredi was going down the stairs and I was behind her but was told to go in a little safe room on the floor one flight down.  It was a long siren and I was in the room with a worker from the hotel, a colleague, a Princeton student on a choral trip and a father and his young daughter. 

Fredi did not know where I was and she got very nervous, which made me feel badly and made me recognize the anxiety the unknown in all of this.

We lit shabbat candles and walked to a service that is usually outside at the port.  They felt that it was safer to move indoors.  So the band broke up into smaller groups and went to different shuls around town.  It was a smaller crowd and a somber energy.  Each person who spoke, spoke with emotion and passion.  Passion for peace.  What I am constantly amazed at is how life goes on, accommodations need to be made, but life goes on.

The Rosh Yeshiva (head of the school) of the yeshiva that the 3 boys who got killed was at the service.  I ran into Jo Kay who was in Israel with her sister-in-law.  It is a small world.
We came back to have Shabbat dinner as a community and I ate my favorite, soup broth with "osem" crackers (the little pleasures-Fredi wanted me to cut that portion out, she thought it was inane, I thought you and I might need some levity).

One of our colleagues has a son in active duty with the IDF, as you could imagine, the stress level in high.  Les Bronstein, the rabbi up in White Plains, had his son meet us yesterday for the rest of the trip.  He is one year out of college, and it is so wonderful to hear his voice.

At the end of dinner another siren, a different safe room, different people, terse conversations.  We came out of that room and Fredi and I decided to relax in our room.  Fredi thought she heard another siren, but it was not one, but we got ready to leave the room once again.  We were told that statistically there will far fewer births nine months from this time period, because most people sleep with their clothes on, I can understand this statistic. 

The actual act of being in a safe room does not produce anxiety for me.  Although it is so disruptive to your daily dealings.  I can not imagine if I were Israeli and needed to get things done!  Lee and I have a deal, if we are not together when a siren goes off we will text each other to confirm our whereabouts and that we are fine.  

As I go to sleep on this Shabbat I need to acknowledge that I have many people I love dearly with me in Israel who are living through this experience with me and feel the safety and connection to the Jewish people here.  I also want to acknowledge that there are many people I love dearly who are not with me in Israel, and seem to be experiencing worry and anxiety about the situation (I feel that too) and worry and anxiety about my being here.  My intention is not to give anyone more to worry about.  My feeling is whether I am here or not, it is a situation to have sadness, worry and anxiety about.  I am sorry to cause you any more then is already there.

So many Israelis have expressed extreme gratitude just because we have "shown up" in Israel.  It is amazing what just "showing up" signifies.

Shabbat Shalom