I find myself a couple of days behind in keeping up with my blogging … I often will tell people that the reason I have not started a blog is that I do not have that much to say all of the time. Being in Israel and on this particular trip, I do not have this problem. I find it a challenge to take the time to get out from inside onto ‘paper’ some valuable expressions of what I am processing from place to place, from experience to experience. And then to do so in the context of moving from place to place, reawakening the sleeping Hebrew lexicon in my brain and being a part of moving a group of sixteen teens around a foreign country sometimes leaves me without enough time or energy to actually filter all that I have to say.
At the moment it is 2:45 in the morning and I find it difficult to describe the scene to capture its surrealistic feel. We are at a spot near Haifa between a kibbutz and an Arab village. It is a makeshift campsite, but not really, more like a makeshift mini-convention center amongst a Galilean forest. I am sitting at my computer (yes here in the forest/campsite/convention center) while (I am pretty sure) the rest of my group sleeps. Among us are Israeli Arab, Palestinian Arab and Israeli Jewish youth. Most of them are not asleep, but thankfully pretty mellow. We are here to participate in (or at least observe) this night-long dialogue/program called White Night. The idea is for youth of Arab and Jewish communities to spend the entire night together … talking, playing and building connections with one another. the idea being that after getting to that point of being so tired and out of it, a more raw and real dialogue can occur.
We are taking a ‘break’ after food, ice breakers (not what they are called here, but an ice breaker is an ice breaker) and a very powerful movie called ‘My Terrorist.’ We awake at 4:30am for a walk/hike and then more dialogue and workshops that carry one through the late morning. This weird and unusual setting – filled with its absurdity and diversity is quite the appropriate place to reflect more on this place and the intensity of emotion it evokes as we confront its absurdity and diversity. We can move from a place like Yad Vashem that tells the tragic story of the systematic persecution and dehumanization of the Jewish people to a tour along the Separation Barrier that seems to represent a persecution and dehumanization by Jews of the Palestinian people and then to this setting from which I write in which Jews and Arabs sit a few feet away from meeting stoking the fire, shucking corn and drinking tea.
How can I begin to address the experience of Yad Vashem? I would like to think that in my world – that many of us have been to a museum of the Holocaust, seen one of the many powerful movies made about it or even studied it in school or on our own … and I can say this of our group. Still, to visit THIS museum in THIS place and encounter the story with THIS group as part of trying to understand the stories of the situation is something else … as I discovered for myself.
When we arrived at Yad Vashem we sat down together to prepare for some time in the museum, as we all would have the time to go through in small groups or on our own. I expected to suggest the highlights and send them on their way while I would walk though and check things out on my own – without any drama or intensity for me. As I suggested to the group that everyone make sure they visit the Children’s Memorial and then the Avenue of the Righteous (where trees are planted for each Righteous Gentile who helped to save Jews during the Holocaust), I was blindsided by the emotion that welled up inside me and at my need to stop and gain my composure. Where did it come from, anyways? We had not even entered the museum or seen exhibit #1! I think there was something very profound for me in that moment, for me as a Jew, to be inviting this group to share this story with me and my people. And even more, to think of that avenue of the Righteous Gentiles – those brave souls who had the courage to see beyond themselves and their own fears and limitations to listen to and respond with life giving action to the painful story of the other – at that moment was just something that touched me in a manner that I could not and did not expect. Each of us – as we gathered from our discussions after the experience – were affected and moved by the experience of Yad Vashem in ways that we expected and in ways that we could not expect: the one recorded survivor account that broke through our defenses; the actual journal that made it seem so real; the artifact or photo that reminded us of a loved one or moment in our own lives. It was an important trip for each of us as individuals and for us and the work of our group.
THE VIEW FROM MOUNT SCOPUS
This morning we heard a different story that sadly and frustratingly seemed to shadow all too similar themes. We were given a tour by a guide from the Geneva Initiative. This Initiative is the result of the work of high level Palestinian and Jewish civic leaders to create a plan for peace … to show that there is a plan and a partner for peace here. The tour around Jerusalem gave us the chance to examine the development of the Separation Barrier and its associated politics, the settlement movement and its affect on both the prospect for peace and the relationship between the Palestinians and Israel.
SECURITY CHECKPOINT – EAST JERUSALEM
Our guide was a Jewish woman who is the 14th generation of her family to live on this land … and that added an important element to her perspective and her work toward giving Palestinians their fair share of Jerusalem and stopping the inhuman treatment of Palestinians on both sides of the barrier. It is painful for me to hear stories and see evidence of the immoral and unethical decisions and actions of fellow Jews … in the name of ‘security’ and respodning to fear. I hope that I am ready to witness what awaits us when we visit Bethlehem and the West Bank in a couple of days.
I am still awake and my group (at least) is still sleeping … our 4:30 hike is only a few minutes away. The warmth of the fire and the intermingling sounds of Hebrew and Arabic voices offer a comforting counter to some of the realities of the country that surrounds us.