Last Day, Sunday

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Sunday was our last day of the JCPA Mission Trip, and we started it by visiting the Hand in Hand Bilingual School. The school has been in the news recently because it was a target of arson attacks by some Jewish extremist teenagers. It's one of the few schools in Israel where Muslims, Christians, and Jews study together in both Hebrew and Arabic, but some people are inexplicably opposed to the idea of inclusive learning. 

The campus feels warm and welcoming; there are potted plants and student artwork everywhere:

We sat round-table style in the library and a few students shared their experiences with the school. They told us that while they disagree about a lot of things, they have benefitted immensely from co-education, both linguistically and culturally. 

Let me clarify something here: most Palestinians, secular Jews, ultra-Orthodox Jews, and Christians, prefer having separate schools in Israel. People often like to compare Israel to the US in the 1960s, but in the case of education, the comparison isn't apt. Different types of schools have different courses of study, and even at this bi-lingual school, the students eventually have to choose a "track" that will determine which college entrance exam they take. However, I think it's really valuable to have these bilingual schools available as an option for Israeli school children. It might be nice to have more integrated extracurricular activities available for the population at large, but integrating the schools wouldn't be possible without overhauling the current curriculum.

After the students spoke about their experiences, we met with Ron Gerlitz from Sikkuy, an organization that works to achieve equality for Jews and Palestinians. He gave a brief overview of the situation as it now stands, including recent efforts by extremist Jews to take away Palestinian rights. Like many of the speakers on Palestine that we heard that week, his main focus is on the Palestinian economy. It seems that Palestinian economic stability is the foundation on which a peaceful two-state solution can be built. 

I got a picture with a teacher from the school before we left:

Me: 'So, do you guys need SLPs?'

Our next stop was the Foreign Ministry, where we got a cafeteria-style lunch. A series of three meetings followed, one with Amir Ofek, the next with Gideon Behar, and the last with Akiva Tor. Mr. Ofek discussed the Boycot Divestment Sanctions movement: in the view of the foreign ministry, it gets a lot more attention when Jewish groups talk about it, so the first rule of BDS is to not talk about BDS. I'll follow his advice in this post, starting NOW. 

Mr. Behar gave a presentation on anti-Semitism in the world today, which I was disturbed by. He shared some pictures that have been circulating online of people making 'Heil Hitler' style salutes in front of various concentration camps. I understand that Jews aren't everyone's favorite group of people, and I believe that many people who were complicit in the Holocaust were victims of circumstance and/or brainwashing. I know that some people think Jews are greedy, dirty, manipulative, whatever. But how can anyone be faced with so much death and come away thinking that Hitler did the right thing?

Sometimes I feel like if I could just understand a terrible thing, it would be okay. Like at Yad Vashem, the Holocaust museum, I had a feeling that if I just followed the story, if I could know what each perpetrator was thinking, then it would make sense, and I could squeeze it into my worldview, which includes the idea that people are basically good. I kept hoping that we would round a corner and see a plaque or hear a story that would justify why the Nazis and Nazi-occuppied Europe did what they did. That didn't happen, but even as I'm writing this I'm still clinging to that hope. It would be easier to feel good about the world if that story existed. 

So maybe the Nazi sympathizers who were visiting these camps and seeing all this evidence of death, maybe they felt scared by the story, and maybe they want to identify with the relative victor, which is why they walked out and made the "Heil Hitler" salute, because it made them feel safe. That's my feelings-based conclusion. My logical conclusion is that this theory of mine doesn't hold much water, and fear of Hitler's cruel methods is at best a contributing factor to their active anti-Semitism. Actually, I understand Holocaust deniers much better than these anti-Semitic activists. Who goes out of their way to visit the site of a former death camp for pleasure and an anti-Semitic photo op? Okay, you don't like Jews, but come on! 

(I don't mean to focus too much on the Holocaust in these posts, and I want to acknowledge that there have been many genocides before and after the Holocaust, and I don't think that Jews have been singled out for suffering in the world. When I think about the Holocaust, I try to think about it as a lesson in both Jewish and human history. I don't think "Never Again" should only apply to Jews.)

Our final meeting was with Akiva Tor, during which we had a 'lively' discussion with him about how to keep a strong and supportive relationship between American Jews and Israel. 

Our trip ended in a visit to the Frank's house in Jerusalem, which was beautiful. It was only a few of the JCPA leaders with the Frank Fellows and the Franks for the first hour or so, and we asked the Franks what their intention was for the fellowship. Larry told us that their goal is for us to "open our Jewish hearts," to whatever we are passionate about. I have been thinking a lot about what that means during my time in Israel, and while I can't outline a clear vision for my future community work, I do feel very invigorated by the Poland trip coupled with the Israel mission. I want to be a good ambassador for my generation, but I have a lot to learn about how to do that effectively. 

I got a lot of pictures at our last dinner, but most of them are un-postable because I can't seem to hold a camera still. Here are the ones that aren't hopelessly blurry:

     Me and Larry Frank.

   Me, Josh, and Brandon.

   Geri Palast and Ira Youdovin.

   Me and our Israeli tour guide, Tamar Gur. 

   Daniel Shapira and Carol Brick-Turin.

    Susan Turnbull and me.

    Laurie and Jeff Gross.

Daniel Shapira and Ethan Felson.

After the farewell dinner party, we drove straight to the airport. We all said goodbye, and most people hurried off to their flights, and I was picked up by my in-laws at the airport. I felt sorry to end our trip, but also excited for the next leg, which involved spending a few days in Tel Aviv with my sister-in-law and her housemate prior to the arrival of my American family!

Marina Gafni

Marina Gafni is a 28-year-old speech pathology student. She lives with her husband in San Jose, CA.


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