Week 4 in Jerusalem: My IDF Squad, Antisemitism From Home Hits Home Here, A lesson That the Others are Human

Chag Sameach, Happy New Year. I am writing this from Jono’s aunts house where I am staying for the vacation. It is located in Telmond, a suburb in the middle of fruit fields outside the limits of Tel Aviv. 

I’ll start with how I spent Shabbat last weekend. Through my friends on the program, Jono and Amit, I have connected with a group of Lone soldiers who have come from abroad to join the IDF. On Friday night a week ago, we went to a free shabbat dinner at the Lone Soldier Center which was full of interesting life stories and good food. The next day, we were invited to a Shabbat lunch at another Lone soldiers’ apartment. Where Amit is drafting and Jono is exploring the possibility- I am not. Frankly I fall into “the army is not for everybody” category, although I’m sure I would feel different if I was an Israeli citizen where there is compulsory service. Apart from awkwardly finding ways to explain “I am not drafting but I still hang out with the army guys”, I am grateful to collect a new group of people. There’s a lot to learn from others who have a different life story and a different mindset.

On Sunday, my day at the office started with red wine and Apples & Honey, the typical foods of the Jewish New Year. It ended with cake to celebrate a coworkers birthday. Again, Israeli office culture is joyous, not dour. I read the Jerusalem Post every morning with my coffee. On Wednesday I read that the Beth Israel Sinai congregation of Racine Wisconsin had been vandalized with the Nazi symbol and the word Jude. Racine is the small town of 100,000 (at the time) where my parents grew up and Beth Israel Sinai was my dads childhood Synagogue. It’s strange when the Jerusalem Post and The Stand With Us social media team also now know of your parents small town- and not for not a good reason 

On our Tiyull this week, we went to Gush Etzion, a collection of settlements in Area C of the West Bank. Area C implies that it is under joint Israeli Palestinian control. The formal settlements were lost in bloodshed from Israeli control after the 1948 War of Independence and gained back in 1967. Despite this, the region remains full of tension and has been privy to a host of terrorist incidents in the last 20 years ranging from kidnappings, to stabbings, to car rammings. Feet away from the Infamous Gush Et Zion junction where 3 Israeli hitchhiking teenagers were kidnapped and murdered by Hamas terrorists in 2014 is an organization which is sowing the seeds of peace between Israelis and Palestinians by bringing them together in the same room. Since the intifadas, border walls, checkpoints, and gates enforce separation in the interest of security and create a negative image of the other; the Israeli who spoke to us said that his friends believed that all Palestinians were terrorists. Converseley, the Palestinian who spoke to us explained that his friends thought that Israel was just a giant military base where bloodthirsty soldiers enforced Israeli sovereignty. The conflict is so hard to understand from the outside and calling it Apartheid is a misnomer because among many things blames only Israel and confuses race and nationality; the Israelis and Palestinians are nationalities and Apartheid is a racial subjugation system. However, walls artificially seperate people and it is clear that the unintended social, political and economic consequences of separation will last lifetimes.

Gush Et Zion Junction despite it’s tragic history is a place of coexistence where both the yellow Israeli and green Palestinian license plates drive side by side. If a green or yellow licensed car breaks down, you best bet that a yellow or green License plate will pull up and they will fix the problem together.

See, we have the same human problems on both sides; a broken car, dreams unfulfilled, helplessness against governments who don’t share our interest of peace. We need to look over the mental and physical walls that separate us so we can understand that ‘the others’ are humans just like us.

The peace initiative
The infamous Gush EtZion junction