This post was brought to you by Jocelyn G and Bruce M…

Today we left Tel Aviv and drove north along the coast to Atlit.  Atlit was a British detainee camp that was established in the late 1930’s to prevent Jewish refugees from entering British Palestine. Tens of thousands of Jewish refugees were interned at the camp during and after WWII.  Though little of the original camp remains, the museum had constructed a series of life sized dioramas (a processing shed, a barrack, a transport ship) to try to convey the experience of fleeing the Nazi camps and ending up detained on a similarly looking camp run by the British.

From Atlit we spent late morning touring the Jewish artists colony in Ein Hod and enjoying an overly abundant lunch in the  Arab Ein Hawd.  Between the two Ein’s we tried to tease out the story of how the Arabs had abandoned the village, the artists had started their colony, and the Arabs had established a new village higher up in the valley. Is it an “abandoned” village if the Israeli army attacked it three times?  Do you leave an Arab village alone during the civil war if there is shelling of the main coastal road from the hills?  What does it mean to be an unrecognized village?  Why does it take 40 years to get a road and 50 to get electricity?  And not to diminish the previous troubling questions, we left wondering how the HaBayit restaurant could release a cookbook so we could revisit their cooking.

Our last stop of the day before leaving the coast and heading inland to Nazareth was Juha’s Guesthouse and Tours in the Arab fishing village of Jisr az Zarqa. Juha’s Guest House is a social business begun by Ahamad Juha, a Palestinian living in Israel and Neta Hanien, an Israeli Jew. Upon our arrival,  we were introduced to two people: the student leader Mahmoud and Genevieve Begue, the Educational Manager of the “Youth Leaders”– the youth leadership program in Jisr az Zarqa.  Youth Leaders empowers local kids by teaching them English and training them to guide tours in English in the village.

Early in our discussion, Genevieve explained that Jisr az Zarqa has been a community isolated from other Arab communities that stigmatized the town due to its Bedouin origins and collaboration with the Zionists prior to the 1948 Israeli War of Independence. The years of isolation from other Arab communities and surrounding wealthy Jewish communities left residents despairing of the possibility of new economic opportunity.  Juha’s Guesthouse has become the center of a web of new community energy and new relationships and opportunities for the village – drawing in international hikers walking the Israel National Trail, Israelis wanting to enjoy the beautiful stretch of beach and groups like us interested in learning about models for Palestinian-Jewish relationship building.

During our discussion, Genevieve shared that her graduate studies in Peace and her experience over the last four years in Jisr has made her realize that the concept of coexistence was not working as a construct to resolve Jewish-Palestinian conflict. A better focus is relationship building– it is more important and effective to focus on getting to know one another by listening and building commonalities— and when disagreements arise, we agree to disagree”

After a walk from the guest house to Jizr’s beautiful stretch of beach, we watched the sunset and then boarded our bus to Nazareth.

For More info on Jisr az Zarqa, see Neta Hainen’s TEDx talk at:https://youtu.be/ZdNcOy_eAB0

Bruce and Jocelyn

This post was brought to you by Susan K…

Today was a rich and full day.  We started the day with a tour of the Old City of Nazareth led by Ramzi.  Nazereth is primarily an Arab city, with Muslim and Christian inhabitants.  As it was the home of Jesus for much of his life, and is the site of the Basilica of the Annunciation, it is a very popular destination for Christian tourists.  Along the way Ramzi showed us powerful street graffiti, demonstrating Palestinians’ sorrow and anger over destruction of villages and loss of many Palestinian lives (termed martyrs) during the process of the creation of the state of Israel, as well as current mixed feelings of anger, loyalty to their people, and hope.

We toured the grand and striking Basilica, which, in the Catholic tradition, was the site of the annunciation of the birth of Christ and also housed the site of Mary’s home.  Although the exterior was completed in 1969, the interior contains stunning and and spiritual tributes to Mary from a wide range of time periods, including beautiful artistic tableaus contributed by countries across the globe.

We next met with Shireen, a self-possessed and very accomplished 23 year old Muslim student at the Technion who is instrumental in staffing the NGO Founders and Coders, which teaches coding and hi-tech skills to local and international students in an intensive four month program.  She answered our many tough questions with integrity, depth, and honesty–regarding her mission to promote accessible and pragmatic education and skills, and also her identity as a non-traditional Muslim woman making her mark on the world.  She impressed all of us with her maturity, inquisitiveness, warmth, and drive.

We explored the winding streets of Nazareth rich with scents of spices, kanafeh (extraordinary sweet cheese-filled pastry), and plentiful markets.  After lunch we headed to Haifa, where we met with representatives with Bet Hagefen, an established organization dedicated to multiculturalism and understanding among the city’s Arabs and Jews.  We learned that in Haifa there has been a pattern of Jews and Arabs working and living together with less tension than in other parts of the country–at least partially related to the fact that the city is more secular than cities such as Jerusalem–without the holy sites that have been a source of such struggle.  We learned about programs that Bet Hagefen is doing bringing Arab and Jewish children and teenagers together–although we learned that by and large they remain in separate public schools.  We were reminded  of how people can remain committed to their own narratives–our speaker mentioned that the socialist foundation of the country mitigated the impact of income inequality, when in fact extreme income inequality has become a major social problem in Israel in recent decades.  If someone is attached to a particular mission and belief structure, it may be challenging to broaden one’s perspective.

We toured upper Haifa and enjoyed an overlook featuring the city, the bay, and the spectacular Baha’i gardens, learning more about the history and geography of the city and the region, as well as a bit about the unique Baha’i faith.

We next traveled to Isfiya, a predominantly Druze village high in the Carmel mountains near Haifa.  We learned about the Druze faith and culture from our knowledgeable and spirited guide Ha-el.   The Druze have lived in the region which is now the Israeli Galilee, Lebanon, and Syria for hundreds of years.   Their language is Arabic and they share cultural similarities with Muslims of the region, but their faith is distinct from Islam–it combines elements of Islam, Judaism, Christianity, and a spiritual essence similar to Buddhism.  Their faith and practice is in many ways secretive–one cannot convert to the Druze faith, and adolescents make a decision whether to practice a religiously observant or secular path.  They believe in reincarnation, and that one is obligated to lead an honorable life to pave the way for the next life.  They have a strong sense of family and community, and cluster in  mountaintop villages. Distinct from some Arabs we have met, who have identified themselves as Palestinians living in Israel, Ha-el described that the Druze hold loyalty to both their faith community and their nation–he clearly calls himself an Israeli.   Also, the Druze have made a commitment for their men to serve in the Israeli army, which can be particularly challenging if Israel is in a conflict with another nation which may have Druze serving in their army as well.

The village was stunningly beautiful atop the mountain, and we were treated to a delicious feast in a traditional Druze home–along with fabulous music provided by a local Oud player/singer and drummer.  We all relished the hospitality, and were sated with the flavorful food, music, and spirit.  Rumor has it that our rabbi did a bit of a dance routine which was captured on video and may be auctioned off to the highest bidder.

We had discussion and debriefing from Ramzi and Gal on our way home–a beautiful day of learning, relishing, and bonding among our group and very knowledgeable and generous guides.

This post was brought to you by Julie K…

Tel Aviv 2018, the “White City”, a bustling, intense, work-hard, play-hard, modern city with high-minded parents. A liberal haven (in an increasingly politically and socially conservative Israel) A rash but stimulating environment for artists and entrepreneurs (but perhaps with diminishing opportunities and challenges for young Israelis?). Just what the Founders intended when establishing the first Jewish city in 1909?

The stage was set for this pondering by our visit to the Trumpeldor Cemetery (where many of Israel’s political and cultural leaders are buried) and to the Beit Hair museum, where on one floor the office of Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv, is preserved, and on another floor, a massive, reverberating stretch of loud extravagant graffiti art by Portuguese street artists is displayed in an exhibit that focuses on urban art.

Our afternoon was spent absorbing the chaos and fun of the Carmel shuk and nahalit Binh Amin art market —- we are well stocked with new jewelry and dried fruits and nuts!

We welcomed shabbat with the reform congregation of Kehilat Halev. The Rabbi and community members shared with us the challenges of developing nOn-Orthodox egalitarian congregations in Israel that is dominated politically and socially by male orthodox rabbinate.