While my other post about my trip to Israel outlined the learning outcomes and cultural/educational experiences I took part in, I wanted to make a more informal post outlining the Top 7 experiences I had while traveling through Israel.
From the cab drivers, to the tour guides, to the servers at restaurants, Israeli people are some of the friendliest people I have ever encountered in my life. As Israel is a relatively new nation in terms of historical length of establishment, most of the citizens have direct family roots to other areas of the world. Many of the people I spoke with loved sharing their stories relating to the their roots, which transitioned into other conversations based on travel, a major component of the Israeli lifestyle. Hearing about the day-to-day lives and aspirations of those living in Israel was a big eye-opener for me, realizing how similar people can be even halfway around the globe.
Throughout our time in Israel, we were able to visit several markets in the cities we visited, including the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem. In the markets, you are supposed to barter and negotiate for the prices. As we were a bunch of ignorant Americans, we used our Israeli guides to get the best deals. I purchased a large quantity of candy as well as some spices to make Apple Cider.
"Come here to enjoy and before I leave let me show you Tel Aviv."
The largest city in Israel, and the city that most countries recognize as the capital of Israel, is Tel Aviv. Known for its beautiful beaches, gorgeous people, and enriching culture, Tel Aviv was one of the best cities I've ever visited globally. In Tel Aviv, we visited an LGBT Center, one of the few across the globe that is funded by the government. Additionally, we met with staff of the US Embassy in Tel Aviv, speaking directly with the officer overseeing the peace process. What I found so interesting was the American diplomat was the most optimistic person we heard from about the process. This was interesting as he is someone who wouldn't necessarily be impacted by the decisions made. We also spent some time exploring the beaches and meeting with various members of the community.
Kay Wilson and Mohammad Zoabi
In 2010, Kay Wilson, on a hike on an Israeli trail, was stabbed multiple times, leaving her moments from death, by Palestinian terrorists. She persevered, walking nearly a mile with multiple stab wounds and lungs filling with fluid, to be rescued by a family having a picnic. The friend she was hiking with was murdered by the terrorists. However, after witnessing her friend being murdered and going through the physical trauma she went through, Kay still remains dedicated to peace and does not hold hate in her heart for Palestinian people. Fast forward to summer 2014 when 3 Israelis were kidnapped in the West Bank. Mohammad Zoabi, an Arab-Israeli, publicized a video of himself asking for the three boys to be brought back home safely with an Israeli flag in the background. This outspoken Zionist was subjected to an abundance of hatred including death threats, leading him to have to seek refuge in America. Now, the two live together and spend time speaking with visitors, sharing their stories and unique perspective/insights into the region and the conflict.
I could not tell you what it is, but there is something about Jerusalem that makes it my favorite city I have ever been to in my life. If Jerusalem was located on the beach, I don't think I would ever have a reason to leave. The majority of our trip was spent headquartered in Jerusalem, traveling throughout the Old City, visiting the West Bank, touring the Knesset (the capital building of Israel), while meeting with many people throughout our time there including Palestinian citizens and journalists.
Throughout the week, we were able to tour the Knesset as well as have a sit down with 2 members and hear a brief piece of insight from another member. What was so interesting to hear about was the fact that while there is so much conflict in the region, the government is still addressing issues such as transgendered education in schools. While it is still an important topic to be discussed, its overall status in a country with many enemies wanting for it to be destroyed, speaks volumes on the Israeli people's beliefs and hopes to go above and beyond to become a thriving and great nation.
One of the most accomplished people that we spoke with in Israel was Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador the U.S. We met with him at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Museum located in Jerusalem. Michael is an American-born Israeli, bringing an alternate perspective to everything going on. After giving a brief insight to his own history, he opened up the floor to questions. Immediately, we all started asking about the Iran Nuclear Deal and his take on it. One of the things he said that continues to stick with me is his capability and interest in understanding the opposing side of any situation. As people, I think this is something that is very important to do in order to have a better understanding of issues that are important to us.
All in all, my trip to Israel was the most eye-opening, engaging, and beneficial experience of my life. Not only was I able to learn about the conflict directly affecting the region, I was able to gain a more diverse skill set and a new insights that will allow me take a broader view when looking at a variety of issues.