Monday, October 12, 2015

Surprises and Expectations

Meeting with Shalom Azran, the head of Lod's Education Department
At the Elrazi Arab primary school

At the Levi Eshkol Jewish primary school

At the Ayalim Student Village in Lod

Every day I spend in Lod, I get a new surprise about what life is like in this fascinating city. One that has mainly been on my mind connects to the relations between Jews and Arabs in Lod. Before I arrived in Lod, I had learned about multiple efforts for Jewish-Arab coexistence in the city, and had positive thoughts about the state of Jewish-Arab relations. My optimism was reinforced after speaking to the head of the Young Adults Center here, who explained that though there are strictly Jewish and Arab neighborhoods here, Lod is truly a mixed city and the diverse groups here have been able to live peacefully without any violent demonstrations.

This notion was challenged this week after some of Lod's Arab population held a violent demonstration against police officers last Wednesday. This demonstration follows the massive trend of terror attacks against Israeli civilians that has escalated recently. There were dozens of attacks this week alone, and they occurred throughout the country in places such as Jerusalem, Jaffa, Petach Tikva in the center and Kiryat Gat toward the south. As someone who is living in Israel now and has needed to take precautions due to the escalation of terrorism (Our group needed to postpone an upcoming day trip to Jerusalem, and we got kicked out of a taxi this week when we said we wanted to go to Jaffa), I have been naturally curious as to why there are so many attacks happening now, and even more curious as to why tensions are compounding in Lod. Everyone I talk to seems to be confused as to why exactly Palestinians are acting up so drastically at this moment. When I asked my program's local coordinators what sparked the demonstration in Lod, for example, they could not give me a clear answer and assumed it just had to do with the racial tensions that have been an ongoing issue here. As time progresses, I hope to better understand what is provoking this surge of violence, and specifically how it relates to the community I'm working in.

The divided nature of Lod, despite its reputation as a mixed city, also came across during a conversation I had with my new host family during Shabbat dinner. When I told my host family I am planning on working in an Arab school, they all were very confused and had very concerned expressions. They said that even though Jews and Arabs live close to one another in many parts of Lod, it is very unlikely for them to interact in any case and even more unlikely for a Jew to volunteer to work with Arabs. They were so confused that one of them asked me if I was Arab, even though I was wearing a kippah. This reaction came as a great surprise to me, not just because of what I've heard about Lod's reputation as a mixed city, but also because of how similar this family seems to the ones from my home synagogue. This family goes to an Orthodox shul and follow many Jewish traditions, but they were very liberal about Shabbat observance. They were fine with using electronics, and they even offered to drive me home after Friday night dinner. Also, they spoke near-perfect English and they were able to discuss American popular culture to a tee (They had me at Friends and South Park). Due to the similarities I found between this family and Conservative Jewish families from my home community, I knew that the division between Jews and Arabs from this family is indicative of a more widespread division between Jews and Arabs in Lod. This made me realize that my work here is so much more valuable than I expected. It is not only my responsibility to teach Arab children English, but I am also responsible for teaching Arabs about the Jewish and Israeli cultures and showing them that Jews can be partners rather than adversaries.

This mentality played a major role in my selection of my morning volunteer placement, which I needed to submit at the end of last week. My first choice, the one I am most likely to be placed in, is the Elrazi Arab primary school. When I visited this school, I was immediately drawn by the energetic and friendly children who were very eager to talk to and play with me. I was also able to help lead some games in an English classroom there, which gave me experience working in that environment. Though knowledge of English is not very prevalent among Arab children due to its status as a fourth language (after spoken Arabic, written Arabic, and Hebrew), the kids were very enthusiastic about learning English and I was able to communicate with many of them in Hebrew. I expect that the lack of knowledge of English and the fact that there is only one English teacher would make this job difficult. However, I came to Lod to work with Arabs, and I am sure that I can find an effective way to help these kids improve in the areas of English in which they are having difficulty. I am also confident that having a position at this school would greatly enhance my knowledge of Arabic and Israeli Arab culture and the kids would be able to understand a Jewish perspective, which would significantly benefit both sides.

On another note, last night I saw Matisyahu in concert in Jerusalem and it was by far one of my most fun nights in recent memory. Even though I only very familiar with a couple of Matisyahu's songs, it felt so powerful to watch him perform in Jerusalem after all the violence that has occurred there recently. Not only is Matisyahu a great talent, but he sent a strong message that Jews and Israelis will not allow terrorism to let go of our beliefs and make us scared. It was also very fulfilling to be back in Jerusalem and participate in such a special event next to the walls of the Old City and Mt. Zion, sights that hold so much historical and religious significance. And, of course, One Day and Jerusalem were off the hook. I am posting videos I took of the concert below, so you can get a glimpse of how special it was.

And now, I am in the midst of my last week of orientation. Just one more week until my work begins, and I am really looking forward to it. Will definitely post more updates soon!

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