The Culmination!

In previous posts I have shared how learning within a multi-cultural narrative was new to me.  I discussed that I was used to having conversations about Israel with people who, like me, were very positive toward the country.  My discomfort being the minority within my cohort by being more central in my politics, I felt contributed to my feeling of alienation.  We had the ongoing dialogue of everything that Israel was doing wrong.

Recently on Yom HaShoah, the group conversation centered around the feeling of guilt for declaring ourselves as winners of the guilt war.  Many asked how can we feel this way while Israel is currently oppressing a people.  As we went around the room and more and more people spoke , it was all starting to sound the same, my reaction grew more and more visceral.  Why shouldn’t Jews have a day memorializing a devastating atrocity?  Is there anything declaring Yom HaShoah exclusivelly for the Jewish victims?  I told the group, the Arab community has declared Nachba, is this not the Jewish equivalent?  Yom HaZikaron has become a memorial for all soldiers and all victims of terror.  Doesn’t that count for something?  I felt like some things should be held sacred, with Yom HaShoah on the top of the list.  After all one doesn’t give a eulogy at a funeral for even the worst person that isn’t favorable to the deceased, and that is the sacredness that I felt Yom HaShoah should hold.

I have realized that I don’t have to compromise my political position to be sensitive to a layered narrative.  There are ways to focus on the positive characteristics of Israel, without ignoring the ramifications of decisions that were made with good intentions.

Various Narratives: Encounter, Yad V’Shem and Perspectives

At the point in the Kesher Hadash program when we were preparing for the Encounter trip I felt pretty rooted in my opinion, what I lacked was the ability to advocate for it.  In advance of the Encounter trip I worked to steel myself to the visceral feeling that I knew it would bring.  I knew my opinion would greatly differ then others in attendance.   This feeling that had become all too familiar throughout the semester.  I believe it helped that going into the experience, there was no denial of what the objectives were.  I knew what I would be hearing from the speakers, two months into the program it had become familiar refrain.

Speakers were comfortable knowing that just by the virtue of us being there, that we were ready listeners.  They were also very poised, it was obvious that for most of them they had given the speech in identical contexts and to similar groups multiple times.  The program took a smart pedagogical approach in not trying to manage the narrative of those who were presenting.  This enabled the Palestinians to not worry if they repeated something that someone else had said, as well as the listeners were able to hear repeated themes through different voices.  The speakers’ repetition of the stories, helped in distinguishing the commonalities: the systematic oppression, the inability to move throughout the country, the struggle in obtaining building permits, and the unjust military oppression and occupation. It was a smart technique which gave everyone involved the space to express and gain what they needed to.  Something that I noticed in this environment was the art of utilizing of facts to support one’s narrative.  For me, the criticism of these was important in understanding where the various sides diverge.  Recognizing the lack of effectiveness, or infrastructure of the Palestinians is always going to be credited to the Israeli government, and not to their self-elected government.  A government that everyone seems to roll their eyes and shrug that it is merely serving as a figure head.  I noticed the lack of critical questions posed by the group, however this also gave me the forum to develop the skill and appropriately explore my own questions within the framework of Encounter’s Communications Guidelines.

Yad V’Shem was also very much a compilation of narratives, but as time goes on it relies more and more on others to give them a voice.  The voices echoing within this context are less nuanced because the nature of the museum is based on artifacts, which the visitor needs to weave into a story.  This it does not offer the benefit of the personalization that an individual can offer.  People who have the forum to tell their own story offers a unique perspective.   The advantage to this being missing is that when visitors peruse the exhibits alone they may be more apt to add their own lens and customize it for themselves.  At the same time the autonomy that the visitor assumes is proportionate with the loss of the voice within the story.  The control that remains is amongst what is being presented within the exhibits.  They are carefully curated, often permanent installations within a moderated environment that for the visitors evokes an emotional story as well.

Perspectives was not as much of a response to the Encounter experience as I was hoping.  The speakers did not seem to have a coherent thread.  I wish the two days were organized in a more thoughtful way.  The introduction by Danny Tirza, explaining the rationale of some of the military decisions was a nice way to begin.  The rest of the day seemed that it was merely a collection of interesting individuals without cohesiveness.  I was particularly interested in the settler’s narrative.  While sitting in the meeting with Gush Etzion residents what I heard was; why shouldn’t we live here, we were here first, and I moved from an urban area to be surrounded by the Judean hills.  One point in particular that peaked my interest was the suggestion that the narrative was reversed from what we had heard at Encounter.  The settlers explained that they suffered from being persecuted and racism.  The recent elections were a very pervasive topic.  Later the conversation centered on the controversial Bibi video, which was released the day of the elections.  The content of this video included that the Arabs were being bussed to the polls, “voting in droves,” which didn’t sit well with many.  For me, this offered a fascinating insight, Western conception of politics cannot be imposed onto other societies.  Ziv, the more vocal of our speakers, said that Americans do the same thing when candidates say that the Republicans are getting to the polls, so liberals need to get out there and vote.  In a society where the political parties are defined by ethnic, cultural, and religious interests is it any different?  For me this isn’t a resolution, yet it is something that is important to keep in mind when assessing the system.

A Progression of Relationships

I came into this experience with a perspective informed by my experience living here in 2002-2004.  I was living in Jerusalem, in Rehavia, during the second Intifada.  Those feelings were stoked by my community, who largely shared similar views.  I went to advocacy sessions-including some that were produced by the Israeli Consulate, I attended rallies, started organizations, and I educated.  The people in the Jewish community that weren’t pro-Israel were on the fringes.  I had never spoken to a Palestinian.

Since joining this cohort of Kesher Hadash we have had three opportunities to engage with Arab Israelis and Palestinians.  The first was Encounter.  This was a great way to hear personal narratives that were similar to each other.  It helped to learn the rhetoric that was repeated amongst various speakers.  This repetition in stories helped me to curate the information, I decided what I would embrace, as well as what I would not immediately subscribe to.

The second is an ongoing joint meeting that Kesher Hadash has been participating in with students at the David Yellin School of Education.  The group is diverse featuring both Israelis and Arabs in addition to us.  Within our first month of meetings we had a retreat. At the retreat we did an ice breaker exercise while we were hiking at Neve Ilan a bit outside of Jerusalem.  Within this context we separated ourselves into partners, and were then asked questions that both partners would have to answer.  We switched partners multiple times during the walk.  As a result of this experience the conversation was normalized, we discussed things we love about Israel, the challenges, and if our lives are different or if they are really rather similar.  I was honest about my politics and asked my partners what they felt about radicals.  All of them said that they knew of people that were considered extremists but they weren’t people that they would socialize with.  This helped me contextualize the narrative that was not my own.  This activity enriched the conversation by making it less intimidating, more manageable, as well as more substantive.

The third opportunity that I had to engage with Israel was an elective trip that three members of our cohort opted to take part of.   We made a stop at the Sakhnin College of Education in the Arab village of Sakhnin.  Here we did a similar program where we got in small groups with the other students who were hosting us.  There was a point in the conversation where the group was discussing their political views on the Israeli Arab conflict.  I was the only one that said that I was more central, and that I strongly believe that there are victims on both sides of the issue.  Rose, the Arab Israeli in the group, quickly agreed with me.  At the end of the conversation Rose huddled next to me and started asking me questions about my life outside of school.  We related to each other, she asked if it was OK if we continued talking, that day we spoke through lunch, and still talk almost daily.  Rose was extremely earnest in her effort to get to know me, and had incredibly wise insights for her age.  This is a personal relationship that I have felt lacking in other contexts.  It came unexpectedly but I am extremely grateful to have Rose in my life, and I know she will be a big part of my continued growth.

Can the Multi-Narrative Approach Work in Congregational Schools

Do Multi-Narrative Perspectives Work in Congregational Schools?

The multi-narrative perspective is one that is new to me, and the central area of focus of Kesher Hadash.  We have studied these perspectives in a variety of contexts, and examined them even more in depth while participating on the Encounter program.  This left me with the task of trying to piece together how, as an educator, I should apply this information.  This is something I have had a really difficult time rectifying; how does one incorporate a multiple narrative Israel curriculum into a congregational school setting?  I understand the importance for me to hear varying perspectives so I might represent this to teenagers and to adult students.  However the bulk of the students in a congregational school are under the age of 12. What would a curriculum look like that accommodates these ages?  Would it be worthwhile to teach the subject to all ages? I am not certain if a curriculum like this already exists, but I suspect that to get the perfect balance of perspectives it would have to be created.  I see it as potentially being very problematic, after all how does one make sure that students are getting enough Israel content while ensuring that the multi-narrative curriculum is also presented?

At an age when students are at the beginning of learning how to questions and think independently. Including subjects like these in an age appropriate manner would conceivably be very limiting and, as a result, very difficult.  Some ways that this could possibly be done may include learning about the people and religions that inhabit the area, perhaps even beginning to learn how to label a map of the region.  But I can’t see how there would be an opportunity to get into the duplicitous nature of the subject matter in any depth, within time limitations and developmental learning constraints.

Perhaps this information is more important to disseminate to the older students.  The problem with this is that the reality of the American congregational school world is that post b’nai mitzvah that class sizes significantly shrink.  Don’t we want these students to apply Judaism to their lives, particularly during the turbulent times of being a teenager, would adding another element to the curriculum take away from that?  Is this education left for us or the rabbi to instill?  Perhaps the parents should be involved in the decision of how, or what, information from the other perspective should be presented to their children.

Although I had wanted to arrive at a statement either for or against implementing a school wide multi-narrative curriculum that I could incorporate into my educational philosophy, I don’t believe a blanket statement is possible.   No response would be applicable to every circumstance I might find myself in as a professional.  An answer is something that must result from conversations held within the institution.  It is imperative that a school program present both perspectives in a fair and balanced way, without negating a differing points of view.  If this decision is made for the congregational school, it would need to be a consistent with the culture of the institution including what the rabbi promotes from the pulpit.  A multi-narrative perspective approach must permeate the culture of the institution and be something that the community makes a commitment to stand by.

 

In the Galilee- Day 2

Today was another packed day, compounded by difficult weather conditions.  The day began with a trip to Tzippori.  The national park features ruins from an ancient Jewish community from around the time of 200 BCE.  This is where Rabbi Judah HaNasi codified the Mishna. The group spoke a lot about the political environment at the time, what it meant to live as Jews under Roman rule, how evidence of the Roman influence can be seen in the homes and in the Mishnah.  This discussion was also brought into the modern conversation of how Arabs might feel today.

 

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Braving the hail and rain did not keep the group from the next stop which was HaMidrasha at Oranim.  This organization focuses on the re-framing the Jewish Israeli identity so that it is something more than just secular and religious.  Three 18-19 years olds spoke about the leadership mechinah program that is offered and why they made the choice to defer national/ army service and take a mechinah (preparatory) year.  This visit concluded with Devora Evron, who is the Director of the Women’s Institute of Jewish Studies.  She spoke about the importance of study, and the necessity for equality in religious education for women and men.  Leaving Oranim there was a definite air of hope for change from both the students and Devora.

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Both visits today seemed to focus on how, as Jews, we navigate the complexities of our reality, within this religion, the country and world.  Perhaps in mishnaic times the balance was struck, but how do we negotiate this balance now?

After a day of heavy discussion…and weather… we concluded with a cooking lesson from a Druze caterer in Sajur.  The group made two dishes, but then after sitting down the food just kept arriving.  Needless to say the group left very satisfied, and hopefully with a bit more culinary technique.  Dinner was a welcome respite, however I think the group sat down this evening to dinner with more of a framework for how to discuss differences, and how to openly listen to diverse viewpoints with an open heart and mind.

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