Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A difficult day

Hi, everyone. First - I want to respond to a few of the comments I've received before telling you about today's activities in the Negev. I'm so glad to hear you're reading and that it's provoking thoughts, responses, and further questions.

I want to address the idea of transparency and the sharing of information. I want to clarify that there are certain things I cannot or do not want to share in a public forum. I don't want to be so bold as to say that my blog is the hottest show in town (rest assured, it's not) but then again, I have no idea who is really reading it. That's the blessing and curse of choosing to let your own private thoughts and ideas roll out of your head and onto the internet. This is my first time participating in a trip like this and for a variety of reasons I have chosen not to share every detail of this adventure. (So, think of it this way: maybe it's an opening to talk in person upon my return!)

Second, I want to address Rawabi. (Figured out the hyperlink thing - Someone posited that the city of Rawabi is a PR effort influenced by Israelis to quell the concern over human rights violations in Palestine. After reflecting and discussing it with several other trip participants, here's what I've concluded: does it matter? Does having the "right" answer to that take away from the fact that there are human beings living in Palestine who deserve to develop their land the way they see fit? Would it take away from the fact that there are engineers, investors, architects, city planners, and a barrage of highly educated people living in the West Bank who have chosen - influenced by who knows what? - to build this truly impressive project?

The reality with Rawabi is this: anyone can look at it any way they want to. That's the beauty of ideas and opinions. Here are mine: Rawabi is a really aggressive, intentional, and brilliant marketing campaign that went so far as to place promotional folders - including swag - on each seat in our minibus so we had souvenirs when we concluded our visit. I mean, that's savvy. That's legit.

One of the things I didn't write yesterday was how Rawabi's developers sought advice from world-renowned Israeli architect Moshe Safdie, touring the Israeli town of Modi'in with him and surveying his extraordinary Mamilla Mall for inspiration. I did add that there are plans to create a collaborative industrial park for Israelis and Palestinians. I could say a whole lot more, and I'm sure someone could refute it all, but this was my experience, and I am hopeful and excited about the development's impact on the greater community.

Okay... so now let's talk about today. 

Today was immensely difficult. First we toured a variety of Bedouin villages in the Negev that fall somewhere on a spectrum of "recognized by the Israeli government" and "not recognized by the Israeli government." And it was heartbreaking. It was really, truly devastating. One of the places we visited was a village called Wadi Alinam about 3 miles south of Be'er Sheva. And to tell you that it felt like stepping into a New-Orleans-one-day-after-Katrina-war-zone-scene would probably be accurate. But, I wasn't in New Orleans the day after Katrina so I can't speak to it. I can only hypothesize.

It was total poverty; total disconnection from the outside world. I would imagine anyone with any ounce of empathy in their soul would have probably felt like crap being there. I cried a lot. I could not take my eyes of a three-year-old boy with snot running out his nose who I kept waving at but would not smile. He was bow-legged, it was challenging for him to walk, and he had the saddest brown eyes. And maybe he was there to pull at my heartstrings, or maybe he was there to rack up donations... but ... truly? I think he was there because he literally had nowhere else to be but with his parent who was there to thank the Americans for visiting and showing their support. 

So, that was tough. 

Our tour guide was a man named Dr. Thabet Abu Rass who works for an organization called Adalah - the Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel. He reminded me of my very dear friend Jordan, a woman who has worked on behalf of the underserved and underprivileged all her life, constantly fighting an uphill battle chained to bureaucracy and ignorance the whole way. It was just really, really hard to listen to him tell his story and what he tries to do through this organization. It felt much more hopeless and bleak than, say, the bustling developments of Ramallah and Rawabi from yesterday. 

We came back from the Negev after visiting the women's NGO Lakiya - an organization that has spearheaded the advancement of women in the Bedouin villages of the Negev for the past several years - to listen to a panel of representatives from various human rights organizations in Israel: ACRI ( the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, Gisha ( - the Legal Center for Freedom of Movement, primarily focused in Gaza, and B'tzelem, ( the Israeli Center for Information on Human Rights in the Occupied Territories. Each representative shared a little bit about themselves and then a small snapshot (mostly bleak, but with some small degree of hope) onto the future they see. To offer one quote from that panel that I think encompasses the general gist of all that was offered: "There is a deep and real tension between the security people want and the human rights that all should be afforded... people are deeply afraid and believe that you can only have one or the other." (paraphrased)

Therein lies both the impetus for Partners for Progressive Israel creating this trip and the general outlook that seems to prevail in many of the discussions. It's depressing, but it's the sad truth.

Yes, Israel is no different from any other flawed country run by human beings with different objectives - some good, some not-so-good. Yes, we live in a time and an era that is so tinged by apathy, anger, and mistrust. Yes, I want to bang my fists on the table and cry because today was really upsetting and I wish I could have just buried my feet in the sand at the beach with a copy of "Us Weekly." But that's not why they sent me here. 

These are the complexities of the world we live in, and of this country that so many of us love and respect and hold close to our hearts. There are things that we cannot begin to comprehend and there are things that smack us directly in the face when we confront them - and they get inside us and make us angry, make us feel helpless, and either push us to act or get us to turn a blind eye. 

Sigh. Big sigh. Not so simple. 

I'm going to spend some time these next few days thinking about what it really means to pursue justice - tzedek tzedek tirdof - and to shape a life in step with our imperative for tikkun olam. Not only as a future rabbi, but as a person. As a compassionate and (typically) level-headed human being. Any advice on doing that? I'd love to hear it. 

Until tomorrow, lots of love from TLV.

Oh - and PS? No way I'm running for public office. I'm leaving that up to my incredible and highly capable husband



  1. The world doesn't need more people running for public office anyway. But, it does need more passionate storytellers, communicators, thinkers, and empathizers - all roles you fill beautifully.

  2. I agree with Adam. My advice is to keep doing exactly what you are doing. We need honesty the way you tell it - bravely with an open-mind. We need questions to contemplate. We need to be educated. Most people are so busy they don't make the time to read about what is going on in Israel and it is hard to know what to read which is in part what Partners is all about. The situation in Israel (and the world for that matter) is all so complicated politically, but if one looks at it humanely, I think it less complicated. Thank you so much for sharing your heart and soul with us each day.

    On a different note, do you not want me sharing your blog? I find it so beautiful, I want to share it and put it out in the universe.