Monday, March 28, 2011

Bombs and Bedouins

Where to begin. So much has happened in the last few days! Between the bombing in Jerusalem, my weekend retreat, and all the learning I'm doing in class everyday, my mind is completely full. I'm loving (almost) every minute of it.
As I'm sure you all know, a bomb went off last week in Jerusalem at the central bus station injuring
many and killing one woman. This is scary on so many levels. First of all, it was the day I moved into the Shirat Devorah apartment (about a 7 minute walk from that bus station). Second of all, I heard the bomb go off from my class/apartment (which happens to be the same place right now!). The class I was in at the time is a writing workshop (which is amazing, by the way) and we were reflecting on our Purim experiences - most of which were filled with simcha (joy). When we heard the blast, our class of 5 girls all got very quiet. We thought of all the possible explanations for the unsettling sound and tried to go back to work. Then the sirens came.
And didn't stop. At this point, we needed to stop class and figure out what was going on. We got on our computers and took out our phones and within maybe two minutes, we were all receiving texts from our Madricha (house mother, program manager) asking us where we were and telling us to stay inside. You know that full body feeling of dread you get when you know something terrible has happened? That totally happened. As our news pages started loading and we scrambled to find a radio station, the shock started setting in. The news came in pieces. Bomb. Bus. School dismissal. Maybe more. Sirens sirens sirens. I've never really experienced this feeling before. It was one made up of fear for my safety and the safety of all those I care about in the area but more than that, there was a deep sadness. My thoughts immediately went to "How is it possible that people can do this to each other? What is this world we're living in?" As we started getting more news and phone calls, it started to set in. I knew this news would make it to America in no time and wanted to contact home and let people know I was ok. The thought of any of my friends/family seeing this news without hearing from me first was terrible to think about. Our phones weren't working, because so many people in the area were trying to make/receive calls. The news wouldn't update quickly enough. We cried. And held each other. One of my roommates realized that had she gone to a meeting she had planned for that day, she would have been on that bus. I realized that I had stopped at that bus station every day for the past week and a half. The idea of our safe space being shattered was so very real. Then the questions. Why are we all safe and others are not? Are we really safe? Why am I choosing to live here right now? What a day. Talk about being forced to bond really quickly! I feel so lucky to have been in this supportive community with these wonderful girls. Our program director and madricha came over as soon as they could. Our hugs lasted so much longer than usual. Our appreciation for seeing each other was so genuine.
After a while had passed and we got more news and had talked to our families, we realized we needed to take our minds off of the news stations and all the possible"what ifs." We ordered pizza and
made popcorn huddled together to watch happy movies. Even though I was so happy to have these girls and this community though, it was the most homesick I've felt since I've been here. My honeymoon period was certainly ended abruptly and I was forced to really examine what my connection is to eretz and am yisrael (the land and the people of israel). To test out my (up until this point) theoretical position of nonviolence and overall belief in the good of humanity. Faith in something greater. If I have all these things, then I won't be afraid, right? I wish it were that simple.
The next day, like nothing had ever happened, we went on a field trip to Tel Aviv. Leaving the apartment for the first time was surreal. Having been locked inside this imaginery safety bubble, with nothing to scare me but my own thoughts, I hadn't really thought about what it would feel like to go back into civilization. Into the center of a city (where I happen to live) that is constantly targeted. I felt this feeling of persecution welling up inside me - one I have tried to separate from my Judaism at all costs. I kept thinking, "Am I going to succumb to this? Live in fear? Breed hate of those who are different than me?" That feeling was more terrifying than any idea of physical danger. Our field trip to Tel Aviv was cold and rainy and all of our heads were elsewhere. It was amazing to watch life keep on moving like nothing had even happened. Israelis are tough. They wont let anything stop them. I
don't know how they do it (although I am starting to think there is a lot of internalized trauma going on...).
While we were on the field trip, my friends/roommates/co-students Viktoria and Verity finalized some plans to go on a Non Violent Communication retreat with Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank. Nothing sounded more appealing than getting out of the Jerusalem to be in the desert and under any other circumstances, I would have been SO down with that environment. But I definitely hesitated. I was so charged with all these new emotions and trying to sort them and figure out how to process them that the thought of being immersed in an atmosphere where I would have to directly confront these newly informed feelings was definitely scary. I checked in with myself about what my hesitations were, what the reality of the safety situation was (traveling to the West Bank during a time of rapidly increasing tensions between Israelis and Palestinians), and what the benefits would be of staying or going. After probably too much deliberation with myself and my roommates, we decided to go. We met up with Viktoria's friend Yonatan and headed - where else - to the central bus station to start our journey.
The second we arrived to the EcoME village and I took a deep breath of fresh, desert air, I knew we'd made
the right choice. This place is incredible! All the inclinations I had had about this being exactly the environment I needed to be in at this moment were realized very quickly. Let me back up a second. EcoME is a newly established community based on the idea that everyone and anyone is welcome. It is a community that aims to foster peace between people from different places and between people and the environment (compost toilets - so awesome). Since it is relatively new and not in a permanent location yet, it is made up of a bunch of bedouin style tents right now. The people who started it are incredible and beautiful people, of course. As were all the people who attended this workshop. Right - a word about NVC (nonviolent communcation). This is a conflict resolution model developed by this guy Marshall Rosenberg in the 60's. It teaches people how to both express their own and hear others' feelings and needs in order to reach common goals. Makes a lot of sense, but there are certainly drawbacks. I won't go into any detail here but definitely ask me more about it if you're interested (or read more here: I'm very biased coming from being an AVP (alternatives to violence) facilitator because I am such a believer in that model. Nonetheless, I definitely gained a lot more skills and more importantly, made amazing connections with the other people there. I'm still processing the whole weekend (after being immersed in full days of classes starting Sunday) but some snapshots of great moments for me were: lighting Shabbat candles and singing and dancing with a whole group of people from all different backgrounds (Israelis, Palestinians, and internationals) to welcome Shabbat; sitting around a campfire under the stars telling stories of transformative life experiences; being in a role play involving Israelis and Palestinians discussing the recent violence and figuring out ways, together, to talk to people about the conflict and hear each others stories; falling asleep in the sun after eating the most amazing dates of my life; AMAZING organic, vegetarian, meals; compost toilets; having fresh tea during workshop breaks; sunsets; stars; transcending boundaries (whatup goucher) of religion and culture; singing in english, hebrew, arabic; sleeping on the ground and being so happy about it. And so so much more.
Some not great things about the weekend: IT WAS SO COLD. I'm not that great at dealing with cold. Also, it POURED the first night we were there. Is it supposed to pour in the desert? Nope. Was I prepared for freezing weather? Nope. (Although I did wind up wearing all the clothing I brought at once, pretty much. I was still cold.) Also, I had a very unfortunate encounter with some ants/fleas/bugs on the last night in which they decided to eat my face. No, I will not post a picture of it. But picture chicken pox. All over my face. Not cool! And itchy. So not cool. Once I thought I had finally made peace with my disfiguration (which, trust me, was a process unto itself) and we were back in Jerusalem, I went to the shuk Sunday morning to get some breakfast and as I was buying an apple, the guy was like WHATS WRONG WITH YOUR FACE. Oh dear. Only in Israel.
Much more to come about all the incredible mind blowing realizations and connections I'm making to what I'm learning in my classes! And how my hebrew is improving by the hour. And how at this point, it is already difficult to think about leaving in 3.5 months. I have so much more to learn! Until next time...



  1. OMG that last part about the shuk scene made me choke a little on my water. I am curious about how the AVP approach compares to the nonviolent communication style and what the drawbacks were. Thank you also for describing your experience with the bomb, since of course I was thinking about you every second and wondering where you were and how you dealt. So happy you're with good people! EMAIL ME. And I'll write back. I promise!

  2. Imagine growing up in a country which most of your neighbors not only refuse to acknowledge your right to exist (despite mandates and UN recognition), but have vowed to destroy. You experience periodic bombings and terrorist attacks, as well as loss of family, neighbors and friends. This is your daily reality.

    Now imagine that most of the founders - your family - were holocaust survivors who lost most everyone and everything they every knew in a war targeted specifically against them, and only for their religion.

    Finally, imagine what that does to your psyche, your way of seeing the world, and and your national identity.

    Sorry you're getting a crash course so early in your trip, sweetheart.