By Denali Sagner
As our final week on the NFTY in Israel program comes to a close, I and my URJ Crane Lake Camp peers have gotten a chance to look closely at the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from multiple points of view.
We began our week with a discussion about Syria and the complex and devastating conflict occurring there, with the view of a small Syrian city and the sound of bombs going off in the background. Our physical proximity to the conflict, yet our cultural and emotional detachment from the Syrian world struck a chord that would continue on for the rest of the week. We were able to physically see explosions just miles away, however, it was difficult, if not impossible, for me and many of my friends to wrap our heads around just what was unfolding in front of our eyes.
This phenomenon continued on as we visited Yad Vashem, the Israeli Holocaust museum, the next day. We connected our experiences from our week in Eastern Europe to the modern state of Israel and tried once again to comprehend something much bigger than ourselves. To me, Yad Vashem was a striking representation of the Israeli culture and spirit. The museum, a long, tunnel shaped building, takes you from a dark and grey entrance to a bright balcony overlooking the hills of Jerusalem. From the darkness of the Shoah, the nation of Israel rose to become the beautiful homeland it is today, as shown by the architectural design of Yad Vashem.
Later in the week, we visited Ein Rafa, an Arab village near Jerusalem, where we spoke to a women about her life as a Muslim in Israel. Her coexistence with the Jews in the area was inspiring, but her stories of close friends and family who had experienced violence and discrimination for practicing Islam showed us that we are far from peace. Again, Group 9 came to understand a small piece of a problem crossing boundaries of both race and ideology. We were spoken to that afternoon by Neil Lazarus, who explained much of the conflict in the Middle East and Israel’s role in it. Being able to understand what is happening in the region around us put much of what we had learned in perspective and gave us insight into current events that affect us both in Israel and at home in the states.
This knowledge of the Middle East and all of the places we’ve visited over the past month has made me feel both big and small. I feel that I am living out the history of the Jewish people, and that my footsteps on places such as the ruins of Masada or the steps of Hebrew University carry just as much weight as those who came before me. This, however, is balanced out by the feeling that I am one of many Jews who have come to Israel, and I will certainly not be the last. Understanding the conflict between Arabs and Jews both on a national level and a personal level showed what seems like a problem with no solution that was much to extensive for any one of us to solve. However, experiencing compassion and hospitality from an Arab family showed us that small acts of kindness can be the first step to mending hole that is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
As the final few days of our journey in Israel come to a close, I know that Group 9’s experiences over the past week will lead us to be understanding and aware of the world around us.