Purim and the Basics
Since being in Israel, I’ve had the opportunity to increase my cultural knowledge and navigational skills in many ways. I learned how to read and speak basic Hebrew, although it seemed impossible at first. I got more comfortable practicing my new language skills in front of friendly and patient Israelis, even if they usually respond in English. With this, I have made not only Jewish Israeli friends in the university, but also Arab Israeli ones from both Christian and Muslim backgrounds. My favorite part of being here so far has not only been the ability to experience Jewish Halloween, but also the frank discussions I’ve had with students about the current U.S. political climate, and how their experiences affect how they perceive it. Even when I thought I was the most open-minded American, the perception of others surprised me and made me think much more about my bubble and what people from other cultures have to deal with first in their own communities and country.
Other than talking to new people, the food is a very, very important aspect of traveling for me. Thus far in Israel, it has all been incredible and the produce is also far superior to what I’ve eaten in the states. Reasonably priced hummus and falafel stores are everywhere, providing you with the tastiest renditions of chickpeas that you can ever ask for. Israeli salads consisting of tomatoes and cucumbers never seem to get old because of the abundant herbs, spices, and fresh squeezes of lemon juice. Perhaps the only disappointing thing so far has been the weather but, to be fair, it was winter when I arrived. I let the Middle East fool me into thinking that it would be warmer than my home in North Carolina. One tip I’m glad I followed is the idea of layering, since walking around town and the bright sun can make you feel deceptively warm. Plus when summer rolls around in April, I’m going to be glad I didn’t pack too winter-y. However, the best part about being here in the spring semester is getting to experience the Purim holiday. Even when the most conservative jews tell you about the story of Esther, they include the commandment of drinking yourself silly in order to lose the ability to recognize the bad guy. It's essentially four straight days of partying in costume between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem and I highly recommend it. I'm still baffled as to where all these day drunk Jerusalemites came from and why they only come out on Purim..
Being here isn’t as overwhelming as I thought it would be. Although going to Israel was daunting due to the security orientations and increased protection everywhere, getting used to it was easy. I began to feel comfortable because of this, plus the easygoing nature of the locals. What’s great about Israel is that it feels like you’re in the Middle East and also Europe (although I’m much less afraid of pickpockets here than when I visit my European family).
The Diversity and Coexistance program has brought us to different communities in Israel that all exemplify diversity amongst communities and the importance of cooperation. My favorite example was a group of Bedouins in the south of the country whose main focus is on the improvement of women’s place in the community. By working on providing formal and personal education to the women, the quality of life for these women no doubt improved. Bedouin women are now going to higher education more so than ever and have more of a voice in the domestic sphere.
This provided a helpful connection for me in the actual Diversity and Coexistance class because of the discussions of multiculturalism in modernity. Mainly, there seems to be a problem within heavy political discussions concerning multiculturalism since groups always seem to clash, or rely on their culture in ways that oppress different groups, such as women. While a breadth of cultures might include ones that oppress women, with slow steps, we can preserve culture while improving oppression and quality of life. The Bedouin women are not only empowered financially and personally, but preserve their culture by weaving traditional Bedouin fabrics.
However, this is not to say that I am suddenly knowledgeable concerning all the issues within different cultures. Mainly, this program has begun to teach me how to keep an open mind and communicate with people in helpful ways. It helps that I love talking to strangers and have a dark sense of humor (which many Israelis vibe with). Essentially, being here is teaching me that the issues I hear about at home are far more complex and varied than what we are presented by the media or even in the classroom.