Hello from Israel! My fantasies of how beautiful this land would be were shockingly, almost surreally accurate. It’s incredible here. For those of you who are unfamiliar with the specifics of my project, I am including a brief explanation of it below. This post is organized into three sections: Project Overview, Picture Captions, and My Initial Reactions (Day 1).
This project continues an examination of environmental conflict and peacemaking in Israel/Palestine, and is the first time that I am traveling to Israel/Palestine (with a delegation of Oberlin students and our professor). My work will begin with a high school on Kibbutz Shoval (Kibbutzim are small agricultural communities) in the Negev (southern Israel), as I help with and learn about their environmental education initiatives. While on the kibbutz, I will also work with and interview community members working in local agriculture. This high school draws diverse students together for problem-based learning, with several environmental and agricultural/permaculture projects. I am staying on Kibbutz Kramim, a unique place where secular and religious Jews live together (this is very rare in Israel). Following my time at the school, I will visit cousins who live in a settlement of the West Bank as well acquaintances in Jerusalem and throughout Israel. I aim to better understand environmental and human struggles of the region.
From top left across to bottom right. I couldn't figure out picture formatting on this one, so these are in a random order...
1) Shomriyya - A town settled by Jews, evacuees of Gaza from three years ago when Israel pulled out of the Gaza Strip under Ariel Sharon. They have an amazing story, as a community that chose not to resist the IDF during evacuation. They left in dignity, many even singing, holding onto optimism. As a testament to their Zionist spirit, they have begun anew, rebuilding greenhouses and constructing new homes, schools, and synagogues. Their hopes to expand also exemplify the balance between natural limits and a Zionist drive to make the desert bloom. I don’t agree with their politics or religious beliefs (or zoning practices, for that matter), but was very touched by a feeling of shared of devotion to this land. They are hospitable, friendly, and tolerant of those who disagree with them.
2) We woke up and began day 1 with a tour of the region. Our Kibbutz is actually about 1 kilometer from the Green Line, so the tour began with drive past the checkpoint. From our front door we can see houses of Arab and Jewish settlements across the border. Maps of Israel make clear how small the country is, but this made it very real.
3) A community garden on Kibbutz Kramin, where we are living.
4) The view west from a deck at the Joe Alon centre, a centre and museum for Bedouin culture. In the distance, we could see Jewish and Arab settlements in the West Bank. Jewish settlement on the left (next to the tower), Arab settlement on the right.
5) Our group heads to the “Hospitality Tent” at the Joe Alon Centre, a museum and centre for Bedouin culture. A very friendly man served us Bedouin coffee. It was incredibly strong. They customarily serve tiny portions, and the teaspoon-sized drinks pack quite a punch – it was sour, bitter, and black. It was absolutely delicious and smelled wonderful (if coffee beans sprouted flowers, they'd smell like this - sweet and pungent). Imagine an espresso shot condensed into a thimble... They offered us three cups, each symbolizing increased levels of hospitality and friendship. ( I was struck by a strong parallel with the a Pakistani custom described in Greg Mortenson’s book, 3 Cups of Tea.)
As silly as it sounds, it is incredible to be somewhere Judaism is normal. I have obviously been in countless temples, Sunday school classrooms, etc… but never felt my Judaism so accepted in a normally secular environment. In this way, the airplane itself was an amazing experience and an exciting taste of what was to come.
Tonight is a community Sabbath, and we are beginning the evening with a candle-lighting in our program coordinator’s home. We will have a chance to celebrate with the entire Kibbutz community, and I am very excited to attend services. Here, we face North towards Jerusalem, as opposed to East.
I would write more, but need to prepare for the evening. Shabbat Shalom!