So I know its been months since I've updated and I apologize for the absence. At this point, it would be impossible to give a full report of everything I've done in the past 2 months, but I will try my best to hit all the highlights.
After my last entry, WUJS went on a 5 day tiyul (hike) in the Southern Negev to Eilat (the southern most point of Israel). The hiking was challenging and amazing, I enjoyed each day more than the last. We had an incredible guide, Aya, who I could not get enough of! You can see her in my pictures (Southern Tiyul). We finished the week of hiking with a Shabbaton at Kibbutz Ketura. It was my first real stay at a Kibbutz and I enjoyed learning about the socialism of the society there. (Everything belongs to the community, cars, money, etc!) Ketura is also the location of the ARAVA institute for environmental studies. Clive Lipchin, one of my teachers in Arad, is the director of the institute. Unfortunately the institute was away on a trip, so we didn't get to meet anyone. Just visiting was cool though, as the Arava Inst. is the premier environmental teaching and research program in the Middle East and is home to students from all over the world, including Jordanians, Palestinians, Israelis, North Americans and more. All in all, the trip was a much appreciated breath of fresh air (literally) and my appreciation for the desert grew even greater.
On the last weekend in Novemeber I decided to take a friend's recommendation and participate in a program called 'Encounter'. Encounter is an educational program for people from the US who are studying/spending time in Israel to be exposed to Palestinian life. The trip began in West Jerusalem (belongs to Israel) and we spent the following 2 days in Bethlehem (in the West Bank). Over the course of the program we went to a Palestinian school, met with youth activists, community leaders and 2 representatives from the PLO's Negotiation Support Unit among other things. I also stayed overnight with a host family in Bethlehem who was Orthodox Christian. Of all the experiences I've had here, this one is by far the hardest for me to describe. Partly because I still haven't been able to fully process what I saw and how I feel. As a non-native to this area who is about to start working for an Israeli-Palestinian coexistence organization (OneVoice), I feel obligated to try to see ALL sides of the conflict and know people on both sides of the wall. (For those of you who might not know, Israel is in the process of building a huge, cement wall between Israel proper and the West Bank in response to a series of terror attacks in 2002. The stated aim of the wall was to prevent suicide bombers and weapon smugglers from entering Israel's territory from the West Bank.There are many arguments for and against the wall's construction.) I have to say that upon my return to Jerusalem, I actually felt culture shock coming back into Israel proper. A whole lot of crazy emotions...
On December 6th, the 2nd night of Hanukkah, we departed from Arad to spend a week in Jerusalem. Jerusalem week was a welcomed change of scenery for all of us WUJS-niks. We stayed in a gorgeous hotel right near East Jerusalem that had delicious food! In addition to celebrating Hanukkah in the Jewish capital of the world (and eating way too many sufganiyot (read: jelly filled donuts)...we also got to visit the Kotel (western/wailing wall) the Knesset and Supreme Court, take a tour of Nachlaot (one of J'lem's oldest neighborhoods) with AYA, walk in the footsteps of the Marmlouks (historical tour of Moslim Quarter), tour the Churches of the Christian Quarter (again with Aya!), and much more. One of my favorite activities was visiting Hadassah Hospital. We met a Doctor (Child Oncologist) who made Aliyah to Israel a few years ago from Connecticut. We also learned a lot about the hospital and the mission of Hadassah. Hadassah is a unique and amazing place that is more than a medical center, is it truly a bridge to peace that forges links between patients and staff of all nationalities, races and religions. In a place where there is so much division of every kind, it was amazing to see a state-of-the-art medical facility that accepts patients exactly as they are... human beings. I actually felt so comfortable in the hospital that it reminded me of the times I used to visit my Mom at Beth Israel Deaconess Hospital in Boston. I have always had this sense of calm, comfort and security in hospitals -- strange, I know. Anyhow, on our last day of the trip we divided up into our 3 tracks. Peace & Social Justice (PSJ) students visited the Museum on the Seam, a socio-political contemporary art museum. Their current exhibition is called "Coexistence" (was in Hartford in 2007) and brings the universal message of diversity and acceptance of the other to the world community. The museum was amazing and I highly recommend it to anyone traveling to Jerusalem!
After Jerusalem week had officially ended, we went out separate ways and I traveled a short 10 minutes to meet up with Shay. I stayed with him at Hebrew U for the night and the next day went to Ramallah with Jason (a friend from WUJS). The trip to Ramallah was a short 20 minutes and my first time traveling on a Palestinian bus. Although it stalled once en-route, the trip was smooth and not too crowded at all. I'm going to leave it up to you to look at my pictures from Ramallah, as there are many. Basically, we met up with a friend of Jason who is from Hebron and studying law in Ramallah. We walked around a bit, visited Arafat's tomb, and went to the Palestinian Legislative Offices where we were fortunate to meet with the Secretary General. We asked him a few questions about the current situation (Hamas-Fatah power struggle) and he gave us some typical politician-like answers about what needs to happen in order to move forward. We had a great meal at a local restaurant, bought some Palestinian treats and headed back to Jerusalem. I'm really glad that I got to experience Ramallah, even for just a day, and meet some of the people who live there. Despite the fact that many of my WUJS friends and almost all of my Israeli friends thought I was stupid/insane for going. I then headed north to Haifa to spend the rest of my mini-break with Dina. We had a great time hanging out with her friends and celebrating her 20th birthday! I always love seeing Dina, being with her feels like being with family and that is something so valuable - especially when your family is thousands of miles and an ocean away!
I came back to Arad feeling refreshed and ready for my final 2 weeks of classes. Along with the regular classes and Ulpan, we had 2 field trips during this time. The first was Arad: Art & Culture, which by the title you can tell we didn't have to travel far. We visited 3 museums in Arad, including the doll and glass museums (see pictures). We then went to Tel Arad, the site of the ancient city upon which modern Arad was founded. Finally, we stopped at the other merkaz klitah (absorption center) and celebrated Hanukkah with new immigrants from Ethiopia. The kids loved the sufganiyot we brought (again, see pics). The second field trip was on Christmas Day. Abe arrived in Israel on Christmas eve, spent the night in Arad and joined us for this seminar. We visited Sousia, a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, south of Hebron. We talked with a former WUJS student and now Sousia resident, about his decision to live in Sousia, raise his family there, and the challenges he faces. A few people asked Avi about interactions between residents of Sousia and their Arab neighbors, to which Avi claimed there was generally not much interaction. The whole time we were there I felt myself thinking more and more about the future of Israel. I am aware that at one time (post 1967) people moved to West Bank in hopes that Jewish people could settle and populate the area in order to ensure that Judea and Samaria become part of the Israeli state... but now it's 2008. The reality is that there are 250,000 Israelis in the West Bank compared to 5,000,000 Palestinians. There will be a two state solution... and what is going to happen to people like Avi and his family? Their homes, their income, their lives are built in the West Bank. It is going to be an extremely challenging, hurtful, and deeply personal process to disengage 250,000 people... With all of this in mind, I just can't seem to grasp why people like Avi would choose, in the last few years, to make their life in the West Bank. What about the Oslo Accords in '93 when Israel vowed to freeze all settlement development? OK, I apologize... I don't want to get political on you... Just sometimes the things that happen here blow my mind.
The next weekend I went to Jerusalem for the final session of the Building Future Leadership (BFL) seminar. It was great to see all my friends again and enjoy the comforts of the Kedem Towers Hotel. We took a trip outside of Jerusalem to a nature reserve where they only have biblical plants and animals. We had teambuilding activities all day, including the challenging task of herding goats and sheep. Let me just say that I now have SO much respect for shepherds! We had a graduation ceremony that was attended by VIPs of MASA, the Jewish Agency, and various other programs. I gave a speech at the graduation on behalf of the participants that you can read here: http://www.masaisrael.org.il/Masa/English/ELLA SPIVACK I am so glad that I decided to participate in BFL (thanks Shay for encouraging me) as I made many new friends and learned a lot about myself as a leader and my vision for the future.
For New Year's I went to a party in Tel Aviv at the apartment of some of my friends from BFL, Annabelle and Joanna. We had a BLAST, partied on the rooftop, and hung out with lots of our BFL friends from all over the world (South Africa, Hungary, Russia, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, France...) What a way to ring in 2008. The next day I met up with WUJS for our last seminar before the semester break, entitled "Israel Opportunities & Aliyah". We visited the IDC (Interdisciplinary Center), Israel's only private college, and spoke with international students there. Later we met with some Jewish Agency reps to hear about the benefits of Aliyah to students, how to make an Israeli CV (resume) and tips on finding a job. All in all, a very practical and helpful seminar. I spent the night at Dahlia's apartment in Tel Aviv and we went for a long, long run on the beach that night followed by a delicious meal of the best sushi in Tel Aviv! I met up with Abe the next day and we walked to my soon-to-be new apartment. It is 1 block form the beach and 5 minutes from downtown shopping, restaurant, bar area. It is an amazing location and my landlord is a sweet, genuine guy. Here's the website for my apartment: http://www.tel-aviv-rental.co.il/ It's just a bit of an upgrade.. =)
The past week I've been on break. I haven't been too keen on doing anything 'big' as I'm pretty drained from the past 3 months of running around this country like a crazy woman. I started marathon training last week, it's going to be a long 16 weeks. I also joined the Tel Aviv Running Club, and I am really excited to start running with them next week! Mom, Lauren and I are officially signed up for the Boston Marathon and we will be running to support Women of Means - a clinic that provides free medical care to homeless women and their children in the Boston area. (If you would like to kindly support us you can donate through the website and please note that your donation is in honor of the Spivack family runners!)
So, I guess that leaves me here... sitting on my bed in Arad at 9:30pm at night... I have successfully accomplished NOTHING today except blogging and uploading pictures. Ahhh rainy days. 48 hours from now I will be living in Tel Aviv and on Monday I start work for One Voice. By the way, One Voice just started a new campaign on December 12th, the date of the first peace talk of the Annapolis conference - called One Year for a Two State Solution. Check it out and sign the mandate to make 2008 the year for PEACE in the middle east!
Hopefully I can overcome my aversion to blogging this semester and provide you all with more consistent updates. As always, feel free to e-mail me for details, clarifications, or just to say hi and you read this ridiculously long entry.