I honestly don’t think I understood Israel before. Really truly understood, that is. I now get the grunt and grind of daily life. The paranoia of safety and protection permeates the most closely woven of the strings that make up Israeli culture. Everything in Israel comes down to safety- independence- the ability to survive and the pride of being Jewish. For centuries it was taboo, dangerous or embarrassing to claim a Jewish religious identity- regrettably this is true even in some places today. I think it is brilliant how valiantly the Jewish state has fought to retain its statehood and culture. I love that Israel is a melting pot, accepting Jews with open arms from all over the world. Always, the first question asked in Israel is, ‘are you Jewish?’ The significance of that question should speak for itself. The insider/outsider or who can be trusted is a major question there.
My major beef with Israel is the education. I don’t mean the ABC’s (in Hebrew called the AlephBet) but rather the cultural awareness, or lack thereof. Obviously they are exposed to the history of the State of Israel and focus on the Jewish heritage as the common, uniting factor. However, there is very little focus on the similarities between them, the Christians and the Muslims. I realize this goes back to survival instinct, but it is fostering an us versus them mentality. Survival is one thing, but the reality in Israel and in the Middle East is that it is a place of religiosity of all three major religions and a lack of understanding of the commonalities and differences of each other will only lead to more separation and more fundamentalism. The lack of desire to learn about the peoples surrounding them will only harm the Jewish State. Understanding and a desire to learn is the first step to building a lasting peace.
A silly boy in my Ulpan once told me that attempting to learn, to study another culture is offensive because it puts your ‘subjects’ (a rather cynical way of looking at the situation) into boxes, into a scientific-esq situation. I completely disagree; for if people never step outside their culture, if there is no desire to learn about cultures outside your own, how will progress happen? How will understanding unfold? How will people learn to look past appearances? How will prejudice be combated?
I believe that Israel will play an extremely important role in the future. Israel is the shining beacon of light in the Middle East, of progress, where so much of the region is crippled by poverty, illiteracy, and political Islam. Israel has the potential to become a major world player, an innovator and a leader. This will not happen until changes are made on a grassroots level to increase the understanding of the other. At a party I attended on the Israeli Independence Day I was asked by some friends (after learning my background) if ‘I liked Arabs?’ My response- “I like people.” Look at people, not at what defines them.
I guess what I have learned is this: You will never know it all. Keep seeking. Keep learning. If you think it can’t be done, push harder. It is possible. As JFK once said, “We need people who will dream of things that never were.” The world exists to be explored.