A tremendous privilege that comes with living in Israel is understanding the politics on a very experiential and personal level. Living in 2018 means a world of unlimited information at our fingertips, but what I have learned from living here is that being aware of the myriad “facts” tied to an issue is only the first step. Full and complete understanding only came to me after I began to interact with the issues on a personal level.
Mentioned in my previous blogs, Core18 is a program through Jerusalem U that has opened my eyes to the many diverse and complex issues that Israel faces today. Recently we traveled as a group to the city of Akko for a Shabbaton. Akko is a city that many seminaries and yeshivas opt out of visiting because of safety reasons. We therefore prepared to pack a ton of rich, unique and first experiences and learning into one short Shabbat.
Akko is a city that dates back to the 18th and 19th centuries during the Ottoman period. Since, it has been populated by communities and people of all religions, races and backgrounds, ranging from Jews to Muslims to Christians to Druze. The astounding diversity in the midst of a divided country is the city’s initial claim to fame, but upon looking even deeper, Akko’s true magnificence comes with the city’s enduring peace, seemingly against all odds. Most neighborhoods are integrated, and Jews populate the Arab shuk while Christian and Druish children play together in school. People on the streets interact in a fashion that I would describe as more than cordial...but dare I say friendly.
The element of our tour and education that brought it all home was our Arab tour guide. Through his eyes, 25 jewish teens were guided through the most diverse city in the country. Through the eyes of a kind Arab man who has faced inequality and injustice, our understanding came full circle. Although Akko is one of the most peaceful cities despite its controversy and diversity, it also reflects a larger paradigm in Israel – what feels like a very fragile and delicate co-existence among its Jews and Muslims.
Abdu, our tour guide, explained that the opinion of many Muslims in the city reflects their desire to maintain Israeli rule. Abdu encouraged his son to contribute to Israel’s national service, and he happily pays taxes to the Israeli government. He even said that he hopes Arabs don’t overpopulate and out vote the Israeli government because he is aware that Arab control could be detrimental to democracy and even civilian safety. Unfortunately, even though Abdu is a law abiding and patriotic citizen, his children receive a lower quality government funded education.Additionally, he has witnessed family friends be aggressively evicted from their homes, and he faces constant inequality and indiscretion in both significant and small, yet scarring ways.
If I’ve learned anything from this, it’s that we cannot judge a book by its cover. Put very simply, it is absolutely impossible to judge a person fairly or accurately without getting to know them as a product of their past, their struggles, their hopes and their intentions. Israel’s politics are deeply complex, but behind all the politics are people who fuel both sides, who are even more deeply intricate and complicated. Israel is a country that has risen out of great tribulation after centuries of anticipation, and it is home to a people who must strive even harder to understand and accept each other. A country cannot be great if lack of understanding and misjudgment are woven between its people. There is always room for growth.
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Sydni Burg is a 2017 graduate of Solon High School. She is spending this year studying in Jerusalem in a seminary called Midreshet Moriah. There, she takes religious classes on all topics, books, concepts and laws of Judaism.