Rocks in Talpiyot, Jerusalem
I’m that over achiever alternating between two internships while abroad. When I decided I was going to come to Israel for the summer, I contacted all my parents’ friends in Israel and told them what I was looking for. Something with writing, editing, social media, or marketing… something that could, at least loosely, fit into my two majors: Marketing and English. So, when I landed two internships, one for development writing in the non-profit world, and one for marketing in the startup tech world, I simply had to take both.
Four days a week, I work at Shatil,a human rights and social justice nonprofit project of the New Israel Fund. I’m on the development team, so I write everything from grant proposals to report updates, to news articles and one page summaries of projects. I’m also going to work on the English social media page in order to influence do-gooders abroad. Every day that I leave Shatil, I am proud of what I have accomplished for the day, as well as for all of the accomplishments of Shatil itself.
Once a week, I head in the other direction from my house to OurCrowd, a crowd funding platform for entrepreneurs and angel investors. What do all those words mean, you ask? Basically, if someone with a great idea and a good amount of finances wants to make their idea work, they can submit it to OurCrowd. OurCrowd is accredited in a way that investors know that the companies OurCrowd deals with the real deal. People with a lot of money called Angel Investors come to fund the projects and help them take off. (You might be thinking about Kickstarter – close, but no cigar. They’re very slightly different. You’ll be able to read my blog post about those differences soon.)
Anyway, at OurCrowd, I’m on the Marketing team, which is exceedingly exciting. I am currently helping design slogans and prepare for a marketing campaign called “What’s Your Big Idea?” that will debut in August. I’ve been writing blog posts about various things, and I’m even working on making an infographic. Of course, all that is in addition to fun interny things like updating databases and websites.
So one could say that I’m getting a really great depth of knowledge while in Israel. I’m getting hands on experience with two of my possible career goals, and spending time in another country while doing it. A country full of history and culture. A country full of beautiful landscape and exciting technology. A country rooted in the past and the present. The country of my people.
The country that is giving me extreme anguish.
I came to Israel for the first time in 2007, for my Bat Mitzvah. I knew then that I wanted to come back. At that time, I experienced an interesting type of religious awakening – not only for myself, but also for what Israel meant as a Jewish country. The idea of mikvehs and separate parts of the holy Western Wall. Wearing skirts in certain locations because my thighs and knees were immodest. Feeling anger at my tour group for traveling on Shabbat, but not knowing how I felt about a day of rest that didn’t involve music or art. This 2014 trip has included a myriad of religious-related questions. When I go running each day, should I be allowed to feel comfortable wearing whatever I want? Does my fondness for Women of the Wall impose my westernizing secularism?
This time though, Israel is handing me a new struggle: being supportive of this amazing country, while speaking out to criticize some of the socially and governmentally enforced problems. These problems include the often inhumane and unfair treatment of the people who live in the territories, the racism that occurs in Israel proper, and the reluctance of the Jewish world to try to see the other side of the horror story. My goal to bring back to school this year is that one can love Israel while being critical of some of its actions. However, this struggle is not one for the short run.
Flowers in Talpiyot, Jerusalem
I have a few pieces of dialogue that showcase this struggle. The fight for human rights is being downplayed by those who believe that Israel can do no wrong. When I met a co-worker at OurCrowd, another summer intern from the US, we got into the dreaded conversation after I told him I was only there once a week.
“So what else are you doing with your other days?”
“Uh, I’m working at a social justice and human rights nonprofit. Doing grantwriting.” I wanted to be both impressive and cautious. I knew the atmosphere I was in.
“Does it have a specific type of human rights?” He didn’t ask it directly, but I knew where he was headed. I brushed it off.
“Uh, so, it’s a project of the New Israel Fund… it’s meant to increase Democracy across Israel by helping people in whatever they need. So housing issues, poverty, education, anti-racism…”
“But for who? Like, The Palestinians?”
I took a moment to compose myself. “No, for anyone. For example, the project I’m working on now is on health care in the north. The Galilee region has really bad health care and this project brings together a network of people who are working to create better health services across the region. For anyone. Doesn’t matter who. Jews need it just as Arabs do.”
“Oh, okay.” He let the conversation drop, although I would have many others like it in the weeks to come.
When people ask me when I’m going to make Aliyah, which happens almost every day, I usually have to lie. “I need to get through all my education before making that decision,” “it will depend on the people in my life,” “depends where my career is headed.”
The real answer is something along the lines of, “I fundamentally disagree with this country from a moral, religious, and political standpoint. Living here, as amazing as it is, would succumb me to a place where human rights are not valued as much as ancient law.”
I know that’s a drastic statement to make. It’s especially dramatic at this moment in time, when Israel and Gaza are clashing over yet another series of rockets and air raids. To be critical of Israel right now, in her time of need, is something that left wing Jewry all over the world are struggling with. People are attacking Israel because Israel wants to exist. There’s no denying that. People are also attacking Israel because Israel hasn’t been good to many of its people. There are people denying that.
Recently, I was in a cab in Jerusalem. The driver and I started a conversation, he kindly correcting my broken Hebrew. He asked me why I was in Israel, and I told him that I was working here for the summer. He asked where, and I hesitantly answered “Shatil.”
It’s a mystery what will happen when you say that word to an Israeli. Some have never heard of it, some don’t want to speak to you after they think you are an “Arab lover.” Some ask for elaboration, to which I say “social justice and human rights.” Almost always, there is a response along the lines of, “Oh, so helping Arabs?” The reply, as I stated partially to my fellow intern: “No, helping whoever needs it. Ethiopians, all spectrums of inequality for women, Bedouins, Russian speakers, people without housing or health services… And yes, making Israel a truly inclusive land for all the people who live here.”
Human suffering doesn’t go away in wartime, especially now. In fact, in Israel, where life goes on almost as completely as before, it must be addressed. People from every background and demographic around this country suffer despite what is happening with Hamas. Enabling them to stand up for themselves will make a stronger country, with more people who can advocate for true democracy.
Those of us working in human rights right now face this delicate situation that Ayala so eloquently describes in this article. If more people truly paid attention to the suffering of their neighbors, who knows what might be different?
After a moment of pausing, the taxi driver looked at me in his rearview mirror. “Ah, Shatil!” He said. He knew it. He smiled. “Shalom.” Peace. “Yafeh, yafeh meod.” Very very good. He went on to tell me a story, most of which I didn’t fully comprehend, but I understood the most critical part; Shatil had helped him and his family. He beamed the rest of our taxi drive, and encouraged me to keep practicing my Hebrew. When I got out of the car, he said the Hebrew phrase for “good luck.”
Good luck for what? For my time in Israel, my two internships? For my learning at university, which we had briefly mentioned? For trying to understand what it means to love a country while feeling sick of many of the occurrences in it?
Every day here in Israel is a unique one. I don’t know which fresh fruit I’ll pick off a tree or which person will smile at me on my very sweaty runs. I don’t know if I’ll finish a proposal for an anti-racism conference, attend a health forum in Haifa, go out for lunch, or write about Israeli startups that are going public on NASDAQ. Whatever I do, I’m getting myself into the most amazing positions I’ve ever held and the most interesting and important work I’ve ever done. Especially in the thinking sense; I’ve never thought so much and so critically about anything as I am currently thinking about Israel and its people.
Differences in opinion are tremendously important, and opinions need to differ. Dialogue though, is what will continue to move us forward. Even with awkward situations where I feel the need to hide one of my positions here in Israel, I ultimately learn every time that the way to take this anguish and make it constructive is through speaking up. I am that over achiever; the one who won’t stop until Israel is once again the country I’m undeniably proud of.
Dusk approaching Talpiyot, Jerusalem