Wednesday, May 27, 2009

"The heart is a muscle the size of your fist. Keep loving. Keep fighting."

Shalom, dear family and friends!

Each day continues to be full of growth and experiences enough for a lifetime. I think it's safe to say that we are exhausted every night, but our eyes are a little more open.

After staying with Palestinian families for a night in Bethlehem, we had the opportunity to stay with Israeli families in a settlement in the West Bank. This settlement, called Efrat, is just outside of Jerusalem, and is home to about 14,000 (mostly orthodox) Jews. Many of them emmigrated to the Settlement from America or Europe during the turmoil of the 1960s and early 70s, in hopes of finding a peaceful community with shared values and beliefs.

The settlement is fairly modern, with swimming pools, tennis courts, schools, community centers, supermarkets, neighborhood organizations, and, as my host sister said, "a synagogue on every corner". It is a vibrant city where most everyone knows their neighbors. I was amazed at the beautiful, meticulous landscaping which contrasted with the rugged terrain just outside of the settlement gates.

We had the chance to stay with different families, with diverse backgrounds and political views. The family I stayed with included Artie and Anna, both Tai Chi teachers and writers, and their three daughters, who are aged 23, 20, and 17. Artie and Anna moved to the settlement after having a "spiritual revelation" that encouraged them to seek community within the State of Israel. It was important for them to live in Israel, even though they hail from Nebraska and Ottowa, respectively, because of the historical connection to the land. We were all struck by how tightly-knit the community was, how there was a place for everyone, and how each member supported each other in celebration and mourning.

Nikki, Kadie, and I had such wonderful conversation over pizza and ice cream, talking about all topics of life in Israel. We covered every topic, including:
1. Israelis dont have 100% faith in President Obama. They are holding their breaths to see what good he will do for Israel.
2. The most current and pressing fear for Israelis is Iran's nuclear threat.
3. Hitchiking is the most common way for Israeli youth to get around.
4. All Israelis must go into National Service at age 18. This may include joining the army (2 years for girls, 3 years for boys), or doing Service projects for a year. My host sisters had done volunteer work at alzheimer's clinics and daycares for their Service years. Orthodox Jews may be exempted from national service.
5. It is common for Israeli youth to take a year to travel after their National Service. Many of them have fantastic stories of travel and adventure, trying to understand what they want to do with the rest of their lives, professinally, before going to university.
6. There is a proper Tai Chi way of giving birth. Who knew?!

Later that evening, we listened to a presentation by the founder and director of Palestine Media Watch, and organization that researches what Palestinians are saying about Israel through media and educational outlets, including news, childrens programming, music videos and school curricula. His findings were indeed eye-opening. Even though much of the data came from extremist Hamas-run channels and from the Palestinian Authority, it was sad to see the impact that media has to influence thinking. In particular, I was thinking about the thoughts of youth who grow up to demonize "the other" because of the messages that media feeds them.

We had lively debate and discussion with our hosts, who were gracious enough to field our thousands of questions. The Israeli families with whom we stayed were so kind to us and I feel like I have so many more questions to ask.

This morning, as we were waiting to load up our bus to drive to Jerusalem, I had a brief but profound conversation with Ariel, another host brother. Ariel is just about my age and just returned from backpacking North America after his military service. He said, "I hope that you all will come back again, and that next time we can get beyond all the political discussion. I hope that we can drink a beer together and jam to music in the garden. This way, we will better be able to understand each other."

Right on, Ariel.

(Posted by Cath)

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