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Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Nely Trip to Israel Day 4, 5/2010- Continued-

Day 4- continued

After the Museum of the Shoah, we had a sobering lunch. The feelings related to everything we had heard still haunted us and we could not shake them and still have not been able to days later.

Our wonderful guide Mike took us to a bluff overlooking Jerusalem, and showed us all the maps of Israel from the time it became a country up until today. That geography class really was the key in explaining why all we hear about in the States, is about fighting in Israel. The territory that was given and assigned to Israel in 1948, has been continually compromised, re- assigned and cut, to the point where what we now see on a map is a country with a bunch of pockets of unofficial territories that have been settled and taken over by others, often by force. Most of the territories have been settled by the Palestinians ( who want their own official country) but unfortunately, different factions within their group want different things. It is clear to see why negotiating a settlement with the Palestinians has been difficult. Which group can you negotiate with, when the others like HAMAS, might then reject the agreement?

This all became very palpable when we visited the city of Bethlehem. The Christians among us were excited to see where Jesus was born. Bethlehem has been such an integral part of the Christmas story that you can't believe you are actually going to be there and experience the place so many songs and prayers have been written about.

Well, entering Bethlehem, which is 15 minutes from Jerusalem is a bit complicated. It is, as we discovered, a Palestinian territory.
We had to take our passports and cross into " another country". Israelis have been asked by their military not to enter Palestinian territories for fear of violence. So, we entered Bethlehem without our tour guide, or driver , who are Israeli. I have to say this is odd and scary for an American. Imagine you stepped from one side of the street in Santa Monica to the other side of the street ( with a Passport in hand and a military check point in between) in Venice. The Santa Monica side of the street is a first world country and the Venice side is the third world in every way. Very jarring.

Everyone treated us respectfully in Bethlehem, but the holy feeling of the Old City in Jerusalem is not here. There is a commercial feeling to the Church of the Nativity ( which has been split in half between the Catholics and the Greek Orthodox). Jesus' birthplace is owned by the Greek Orthodox, and the church had very mean, old school priests keeping everyone in check, in the assembly line that is the viewing of Jesus' birth place.
We all commented on how different it felt from the sacredness we had experienced before.

That evening, the Palestinian scholar Rami Narallah joined us at dinner ( although he could not stay to eat with us). He was direct and honest. He told us that Palestinians believe this land is their birth right, that they were here first, and that they have rights to the land.

He said that the Palestinians will not stop until they have their own country and until they have the ability to have the kind of economic advantages he feels are accessible to the Israelis.

He admitted that there are different factions among the Palestinians and that they don't see eye to eye. However, he feels that all of this has happened due to the economic hardships they have had to endure in their settlement regions.

He said they also believe the Old City of Jerusalem should not belong to Israel but rather be a neutral zone, belonging to the world.

He also made it perfectly clear that if these things were not achieved soon, violence and terrorism would continue in the region.

Since I noticed how direct and honest he was I asked him what Palestinians and He thought of America. There is obviously no love lost. The only President he thought remotely got the Palestinian point of view was George Bush. He personally likes Obama, but thinks he's incapable of getting anything done in th region. They see us as people who don't understand the rest of the world ( probably true), and a country that is a puppet of Israel. It was hard to hear but I told him even harder to hear is the threat of violence, something we just don't have the stomach or the tolerance for in our country. Israelis live with that threat daily.

Don't the Palestinians realize with the stance of terrorism as solution, it is difficult to sympathize ? They would do so much better in how they are seen and heard around the world, with non violent protests or even a hunger strike. When they figure that out they may actually get somewhere.
For now, I understand it is difficult to give in to terrorism and violence as a means of negotiation.


Nely Galan

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Nely Trip to Israel Day 4, 5/2010

Day 4

Day four began with a talk from a man I would love to continue to study with, Dr. Shalmi Barmore, who is a Holocaust scholar. He personalized the experience of the survivors and the generations that followed. As a psychology graduate student I couldn't help but think of the extreme Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome the Jewish people have experienced.
these are conversations that can't be simplified into a couple of sentences. We had a deep and profound conversation with a learned man but who touched us in a very human way with a pain connection.
There wasn't a dry eye in the room.
I was impressed with the compassion, intellect and love displayed by my travel group on the trip. It has been truly wonderful to see us all, in this light; vulnerable, open and cracked wide open. I have loved it for all of us.

The day only got deeper when we went to The Holocaust Museum.
First, we were told that the word Holocaust means " burnt offering"
and that it was a name given by others to the horrific events. The Israelis have decided to refer to the Holocaust as the Shoah, which means "destruction or destroyed" more appropriately.

We entered the children's memorial, which was beautiful in its simplicity. It had thousands of little lights burning in a blackened room culminating in a series of holographic pictures of children.. Powerful, painful and again the tears were flowing.

We met Bernice, our guide through the museum. She was clearly a New Yorker and she told us she and her husband moved to Israel some years ago and she decided she wanted to share the story of the Shoah with everyone she could.
She did a masterful job of taking us through this extraordinary museum and narrating the story in a way I had never heard. This museum carries the stories of so many survivors of the Shoah that they have been able to tell a complete story from a first hand point of view.
Bernice explained the slow series of events that occurred in Germany and the world, leading up to WWII. She explained the history of anti semitism from ancient times leading to that era. She talked about the rise of a charismatic leader called" The Fuhrer" ( Hitler), and an economy and devastation that would all contribute to create the perfect storm of a the most horrific act in history. We learned all the twists and turns that led to the Shoah and all the times it could have been stopped- if only other countries had taken the Jews in as refugees, if only more people had spoken up or done something ( although the museum does honor the 23,0OO non- Jews who risked their lives around the world to help the them.)

I had to think, What would I do, would I help another and risk my self and my family? Would I speak up and not be a party to injustice? If I was the leader in a country, would I take in a poor group of immigrants, when my own people are suffering for lack of food or jobs? What kind of person would I be? You realize that in life you are tested in small ways daily, and the choices we make lead up to the measure of our character.
It is all very difficult to take in.

The time we spent at the museum was emotionally overwhelming, it was too much to process that much evil available in mankind. When Bernice humanized for us how this all happened slowly with small acts and judgments leading to a progression that came to a head in a terrible economy when Germans desperately wanted prosperity and Jews were an easy target for them.
In these tough times in the world, it makes you realize that as much as you want to believe this kind of genocide could never happen again to anyone, it could and in some parts of the world it is.
The terrible part is that in some way we all contribute to it.

Overwhelming ! I can't help but feel that we live blindly in the U.S, Our concerns seem so trite when you travel almost anywhere else in the world and particularly when you are in a place like Israel, where the real issues in humanity are at the forefront everyday.

I don't think we truly understand how vulnerable the entire world is and how it all could be gone in an instant.


Nely Galan

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Nely Trip to Israel Day 3, 5/2010

Day 3

Today we started ( by popular request) with a tour to Mount Olive. Our incredible tour guide Mike Rogoff, who is beyond educated and cultured, brought so much meaningful color commentary every step along the way. At Mount Olive we were reminded of the message of the olive branch and the meaning of olive trees in ancient Israel.
I finally realized where the universal message of the olive branch came from. We never really speak of ancient things in the US, because there is no "ancient" anything in a country just over 200 years old. Here, the ancient seems so present everywhere you go and in everything that is spoken.

We then spent the morning walking through the old City of Jerusalem , divided by four religious and cultural sections; the Jewish Quarter, the Muslim/Arab Quarter, The Christian Quarter, and the Armenian Quarter.
As you go through each quarter filled with market places and restaurants, they feel distinctly different although at first glance they might seem the same.

In the Christian Quarter, Mike took us to the Holy Sepulchre, were Jesus was believed to be Crucified and where he is buried. There we so many people from all over the world, mostly Russians and Greek orthodox followers on our particular day. Our group, which is mostly Catholic, were very touched with this part of the trip.

We then shopped in the Christian
Shops, which were full of iconic jewelry and chachkis. It made me realize how well the Christians, especially the Catholics have marketed their religion through their merchandised iconography.
I can say that, since I was raised Catholic and I know first hand.
This quarter was very art and collectible oriented, with the highest prices and the most order.

The Muslim/ Arab Quarter was frantic, inexpensive and rapid fire in negotiating prices.

The Jewish Quarter was quieter, more together but the merchandise was less flashy, more cultural and low key. Prices negotiable to a point.

I didn't get to spend time in the Armenian Quarter shopping area.
You are on your own.

In the midst of this unique and holy place where so many religions are in such close proximity , it is so easy to observe the passion and zeal of their followers. When you observe the importance of each culture; its traditions and rituals, you realize how dominant is the factor of religion and each one's respective ideology in this country.

It is something that we do not experience in Los Angeles. It is difficult to even explain how it feels to be in the midst of the power of religion and its supreme importance, when you are here.
Its an inexplicable force dominating both church and state.

Later at the hotel, we were graced with a talk by Dr. David Mendelsson from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
He brilliantly explained the history of Israel, how it became a state and the challenges it has faced, since its inception.

You really feel ignorant coming here. At home, you think you are smart, well read, but once here , you realize you know nothing. Here you are exposed to the complexity of the issues, cultures , religions and most importantly the geography of enemies who live in such close proximity-all while trying to work think out, so far unsuccessfully. It is quite a difficult rubik's cube. There is no easy solution to any of it.

On a culinary note, we have been well fed by the Federation. Each day enjoying local Israeli cuisine.

On this night we found an Argentine restaurant called, The Gaucho Grill, that I highly recommend. Afterwards, we walked all over the city and felt very safe walking at night by ourselves. However, we had to laugh at the directions we got from everyone," go left, then right and then its that way!" Good luck finding anything with those directions! Everyone was lovely but we continually lost our way and luckily found magical neighborhoods along the detours, that enchanted us. We love Jerusalem.

Until tomorrow-

Nely Galan

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Nely Trip to Israel 5/6/2010 Day 1 & 2

This is the first day post jet lag on our Israel Journey.

We are a diverse group of Latinos, Koreans and African Americans from the US, happily invited by the Jewish Federation and the Consul General of Israel in Los Angeles.

Most of the Latinos have been friends or acquaintances for many years and we have been brought together randomly by way of our community leadership on this trip. We have the incredible opportunity to get to know and understand Israel authentically and to get to know each other in perhaps a way we have never had the chance to do..

Last evening, after our 15 hour plane ride, we had the privilege of experiencing the Jewish tradition of Shabbat at the Western Wall. There were Israeli soldiers and citizens, as well as people from all over the world. It was a very interesting experiencing the rituals of the wall. We were separated by sex, Men and Women in separate parts of the wall. This was a very odd experience for Americanized empowered women.

We washed our hands in the fountains three times before entering the wall ( to cleanse everything that has come before) In order to appropriately approach the sacred space.

The powerful feelings the women felt were overwhelming. We found ourselves sobbing at the inexplicable presence and energy we found ourselves in. It was almost too much to take in at once. It is as if we were engulfed in a tidal wave of a shared consciousness of grief, hope and dreams that has been alive here for centuries. We placed our little notes with our intentions and wishes in the niches in the rough ancient wall. It was a magical experience.

We walked away from the wall backwards never giving it our back as one would do in the presence of royalty, as we learned is the custom.

We then had a walk through the old city, on the way to our Shabbat dinner on the roof of Beit Shmuel were we met Rabbi Hal who gave us a special blessing and welcome.

Beneath the stars, with a beautiful view of the old city, we all felt so grateful for the magic we had already experienced on the first day and for all the knowledge to come. We can't wait.

Shabbat, Shalom,
Nely Galan

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