Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Coexistence Through Snow?

What is a mixed city? How can Jews and Arabs effectively live together as friends and equals? What is my role in building relations between two vastly different cultures? These are just some of the questions I have been struggling with for the past five months. As the time I spend in this complicated city progresses, the answers become more and more unclear.

I found something close to an answer yesterday while walking around a snow pile. Yes...a snow pile. It may seem like nothing, especially to those who have ACTUALLY been experiencing winter. But for someone who has been living in essentially an early spring for the past couple of months, seeing a pile of snow seemed miraculous (especially on an 80 DEGREE DAY!!).  If that was what it felt like for me, imagine what it felt like for the residents of Lod who always have winters like this, many of whom had never seen snow before firsthand. People from all over the city, Jews and Arabs, came to see this pile of snow that was brought from Mt. Hermon in Northern Israel. At Commando Square next to Lod's Municipality building, where the snow was situated, kids were able to climb the giant pile of snow and throw snowballs at each other to embrace this novel occurrence. This was a fascinating sight not only due to the immense amount of joy in the air, but also for the creation of a space where Jews and Arabs from across backgrounds could share that joy and leave judgments aside.

Instances like this provide positive evidence for me to support the notion of Lod as a mixed city. Looking at this snow pile, I could not help but see the entire population of Lod represented as equals to one another. I saw Arab and Jewish kids and adults inhabiting this space together that both of them valued and cherished, and realized that both Jews and Arabs truly feel like this city is their home. Just as Arab and Jewish kids can play in the snow next to Lod's government office building, Arab and Jewish adults can shop together at the shuk and attend a performance together at the Heichal Hatarbut (Culture Hall). If that is the case, and all the city's public spaces can be inhabited peacefully by both groups together, what is to say that Arab-Jewish coexistence is impossible and Lod cannot be a mixed city?

This idea also came to my attention this week after an emergency nationwide siren I participated in. Across the country, people needed to respond to a siren by sitting in their houses' bomb shelters for 10 minutes and simulating what would actually happen if they needed to protect themselves from a rocket attack. This was naturally very interesting for me, as this practice is something I find very unique to Israeli society. First of all, it was quite an experience to have all seven of us stuffed into a small bomb shelter (which just happens to be my room, so my roommate Dustin and I needed to clean it well before allowing five others to enter!). Secondly, the process of thinking of what actions to take in a life threatening situation really made me contemplate how my Lod community is measured. I began thinking that if an actual rocket attack were to occur and all of Lod's residents were in danger, I would feel strong solidarity and responsibility for every Lodian I know, including ones I don't usually interact with.

I felt especially strong about connecting with the Arabs of Lod during such an incident after observing a special lecture that my school has been administering this week. Since last Sunday, Elrazi has had an IDF soldier come and speak to the different grades in Hebrew about what to do in case of a rocket siren. One detail this soldier described in depth is how we have 15 seconds to run to the nearest miklat (bomb shelter), and if there is no shelter nearby one needs to lay down with their face toward the ground and hands on their head for ten minutes. Throughout the lectures I have observed so far, I could tell that my kids were getting bored and not getting a lot out of it. As my fellow Yahelnik Jodie put it, it is similar to when kids in the US are lectured about fire safety and are not fully invested because of the absence of immediate danger. However, even if my kids did not respond to it, I felt so much meaning in this setting. Observing my Arab students learning about the same security procedure I am familiar with showed me that ultimately, Israel cares about the safety of us all and the Arabs I work with are as much a part of Israel as I am. Throughout my studies and observations while in Israel, I feel I have been constantly been told narratives of division between Arab and Jews. The assumption of division can be easily gathered when looking at Lod, especially when you hardly see any Jews in the Ramat Eshkol neighborhood I work in besides a religious community that is there explicitly to work against the Arab population. However, when I saw my Arab students receive this security lecture, this division completely disappeared from my mind. In that moment, these Arabs were simply Israelis.

At the same time, it is important to note that the situation in Lod is far from perfect. True, I did see Arabs and Jews together enjoying themselves at the snow pile. However, they seemed to only situated near each other, and I did not actually see Jewish and Arab children playing WITH each other. This is similar to what I see at other city events, with Jews and Arabs only interacting within their own communities. I know there are parts of Lod where Jews and Arabs are friends and have great relationships. However, until this is normalized to the city at large, I cannot say Lod is at an acceptable point for Jewish-Arab relations. If we all live here, and we all identify strongly with this city and country, we should be able to forge durable bonds with one another. Until the point when I can walk around Lod and see Jews and Arabs interacting in a multitude of settings, I must continue to encourage efforts to build a strong shared society here that fully benefits all the residents regardless of their background.

But until then...let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!!!


It was great to see two of my fifth graders from Elrazi enjoying the snow!!

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