MONDAY, DECEMBER 28, 2015 – DAY 1
As a journalist, I am going to try to show you a narrative – present a story – with facts and ideas. Of course, it bears no question that there is bias. I saw things I don’t remember and not every note I have taken made it to this blog – already, in my opinion, too long. Consequently, don’t take my words for more than their value – don’t quote me either. But rather, consider and decide for yourself (with your own experiences and investigation) in regards to Israel and its neighbors. And, let me know if you come up with an answer; I don’t have one yet.
I chose this program because of my identity. I am a Muslim American-Pakistani, but I grew up in a predominantly Jewish town and knew all seven rabbis that ran the synagogues in Sharon, MA. My work in Interfaith Action, now known as Youth LEAD, Inc., brought me to every place of religious worship. I could write a paper on the difference between Sukkot and Shabbat as well as I could contrast Christmas to Kwanza. When I came to Wellesley, I left a living laboratory of pluralism, or what Rabbi Meszler used to call it, for another pluralistic incubator. Despite being a Muslim student, my first mentor and friend on campus was the Jewish Chaplain, whom I had met when I began my job at the Office or Religious and Spiritual Life on the first day of classes.
My interfaith experience gave me an understanding of the Jewish faith and its similarities in mine. I am also interested in politics and have spent a great deal learning about the conflicts in the Middle East and in Israel. I work as an Opinions Editor for the Wellesley News, so whenever there is a conflict, my staff and I handle the controversies and broadcasting of Op-Eds. Simply put, the Israel-Palestine conflict is woven and integrated into much of my own life: personal, academic and public.
So it goes.
12:25pm Arrive at Ben Gurion Aiport at LY flight #2
We left JFK around 7 PM and landed in Ben Gurion Airport, near Tel Aviv at 12:45 PM the next day; the flight was ten hours. I spent most of the time in the process with Jacob, meeting the rest of students on trip was awkward and forced, but most seemed friendly enough. Actually, I was worried about my identity. Now, that may seem odd, but hear me out – I grew up in a town where there was a number of people (though few) who openly disliked me because I was Muslim, and therefore, in their contrived opinion, against Judaism and Israel. In reality, it felt like college orientation again; we didn’t know each other, but we did know that AJC had selected each of us for a certain reason and all we could do was trust.
For most of the plane ride, I slept. Sandwiched in the middle row by an elderly man and a slightly younger, but also old woman. The man’s hair was pure white; he wasn’t bald. The woman had dark brown hair, mostly like dyed and a heavy accent. Both assumed I was Israeli and headed home. Both spoke Hebrew, though the man was more fluent in English. We didn’t talk much aside from comments of common courtesy.
I fell asleep for 6 hours. I woke up around 8 AM, Israeli time and watched Paper Towns and then Southpaw. Finally, the pilot announced the plane was landing.
I think Israel – or at least Tel Aviv – looked like I imagine. Scorched white, stone (cement) and flat. Clear skies and old buildings and old cars. A new skyscraper next to smaller, weathered buildings. Palm trees. Physically fit people. Mostly white and Jewish. Informal.
I wasn’t sure if the vertigo was from the plane ride or being in a non-English-speaking country.
The airport looked like a museum with its high-rise ceilings and stonewalls. Metal pipes fit within the interstices of the stone and in the corners. It was clean, polished and surprisingly empty. Except for the all very young passengers of the El Al flight.
A tall man in a suit waited for us with a print-out of the group’s name. He spoke English and welcomed us to Israel and led us to the security checkpoint. I was the only one with K circled out of H K S T on El Al post-it note on my passport – so I had to go through additional security. Meryl waited with me as the rest of the group went off the hotel. I sat in a somewhat enclosed waiting area near the security offices. Within ten minutes, a woman, with my passport in hand, asked me to come with her to the office. She asked simple questions: what, who and why. She asked where my parents were born and my grandfather’s last name. I didn’t know the answer to the latter to my embarrassment. She then told me to go back to the room and wait.
I spoke for an hour to a Middle Eastern woman from Canada, Dina. Her parents were Muslim but she wasn’t. She was visiting her Russian Jewish boyfriend who lived in Israel. Her carry-on was taken away at the Canadian airport. She works for American companies.
I spoke to Meryl for a bit too. He worked previously on cruise ships and had traveled quite a bit, but Tel Aviv was his favorite city. He was born here and grew up here, and lives in a town outside of Tel Aviv – about twenty minutes away.
Quite some time passed and I was interviewed by a young man who didn’t care much for eye contact. He asked why I was on the trip if I wasn’t Jewish. Where did I go to school? What the application was for the trip? What was the purpose of trip? He scribbled my answers onto a profile they had of me – probably from the original papers sent by AJC to them ahead of time. He asked me to leave and sit outside.
Twenty minutes later, I got my passport back and Meryl walked me out of the security line.
Jacob was waiting with my bag. We said goodbye to Meryl and took a taxi to the Leonardo Art Hotel. Tel Aviv is beautiful. It’s straightforward and it’s a developing cosmopolitan city – some places are marked by history, others are steel and concrete.
2:30-3:30pm Welcome and Orientation
The Leonardo Hotel is perhaps most noted for its artwork covering the walls and its location right beside the Marina. I quickly changed my clothes and joined the rest of the group. I felt embarrassed for making them wait, but I also knew I shouldn’t apologize for the racial profiling. We all ate in a beautiful room at a long table with a buffet style lunch. You could see the clear blue Mediterranean Sea from the room. The food entailed sandwiches; I didn’t each much, but the coffee was wonderful.
4:00-6:00pm Tour of Jaffa with Tarbush Tours
Adrienne and I went back to our room and collected our things. We then took a Maya Tours bus to the old city of Jaffa where a man named Ilan was waiting for us. Ironically enough, our tour guide’s name was also Maya, though she bore no relationship to the company as to give way to questions of ownership or, even nepotism. He was an eccentric comedian with a blunt, harsh sense of humor (and asked a little too much about my romantic life). He was politically incorrect and sometimes religiously offensive, but he was an enjoyable tour guide to have and his ‘historical’ stories varied by the context and environment of the tour group. Jacob later explained the relatively “smart and rude” culture of Israel. And really, it wasn’t a bad thing – I found Ilan to be endearing at sometimes and understood that cultural differences didn’t warrant judgment but reconsideration. The Tarbush tours took us through the winding pathways of Jaffa and through the artisan and posh stores. The artisan neighborhood was mostly empty on a Monday night.
7:00pm Group Dinner at Wilhelmnia restaurant
We then went to Sarona – a Templar village next to the army base that is rumored to go 30 levels down. There, we ate at a wonderful dinner at Wilhemnia and got to know each other a little bit with short introductions and a comparative discussion regarding our newspapers. I think it was during those moments I realized I would (and did) like everyone on the trip. Each person brought an invaluable quality and personality. Mary finally arrived with Rachel, and our group was complete.
Overnight Leonardo Hotel
We all took the bus home and fell asleep. The hotel room was nice; the bed isn’t as soft as those in the US but the room setting is clean. The floor was tiled in a way that resembled hardwood.
I went to bed around 11 PM and woke up at 5 AM.