So I haven’t written to you for so long e-gads! I guess I just got caught up in the living and didn’t get around to writing about it. Since it’s too hard to remember and write about everything that has been going on here, I’ll single out three happenings: The Ulpan field trip to Tel-Aviv and Jaffo, the trip to the Carmel region, and the fact that I dreamt in Hebrew last night.
The Ulpan organizes field trips for students every so often, and last week, we went to Tel-Aviv. I hadn’t been on a group trip since I was in college, so I almost felt like I was going back to another period in my life. The bus wasn’t rowdy or noisy-since most of the passengers slept the whole way. The noisiest aspect about the bus ride was the irritating Israeli techno music that the bus driver blared. It was during that moment that I craved some music by the Decemberists–my latest fave.
On the bus I sat next to a lovely woman from Bucharest who made aliyah a year ago. She said that she couldn’t start ulpan when she had arrived because she was busy setting up her household in Jerusalem–and I guess she learned some Hebrew that way! Her husband still commutes from Bucharest to Israel every week because he still has his business there. Meanwhile she’s here with her five kids living in a home that they purchased in Katamon.
Our first stop was the Palmach museum. However, since they only let in about 20 people at a time, a group of us first took a detour to Tel-Aviv University and looked around the campus a little.
The Palmach museum pays ode to a group of fighters active in the 1940’s who played an instrumental part in the war for Israeli independence. In Hebrew, the word “Palmach” is an abbreviation for “The Elite Striking Force of the Haganah.” (The Palmach was a part of the Haganah, a left-wing Zionist militia that predates the State of Israel. Two other militias that conflicted with the Hagana were the Stern Gang–or Lechi–and the Irgun–or Etzel. You could say that these other groups possessed a more right-wing Zionist ideology. In fact, the Irgun was the political predecessor to the Herut party which then became Likud. Haganah, on the other hand, was the precursor to the Labor Party) Israeli notables such as Yitzhak Rabin and Moshe Dayan started out in the Palmach.
The group started up in order to address British and Jewish concerns over Hitler expansion into the region. The Palmach soldiers also assisted with the Allies planned invasion of Syria and Lebanon. Once the British no longer needed help from the Palmach, they decided to dismantle it, however, the Palmach went underground and continued to train and support themselves on kibbutzim. They decided that they would no longer cooperate with the British Mandate and instead undertook subversive tactics against it. Such tactics included helping to smuggle Jewish immigrants and refugees into the country. (While Jews were faced with a great deal of persecution in Europe, the British limited the number of Jewish emigres through the so-called White Paper). Palmach units also took part in blowing up bridges and other British infrastructure. In 1946, the British, fed up with their tactics, arrested a large number of Palmach and Haganah leaders.
The Palmach played a major contribution in the War of Independence and you can visit the Palmach Museum Web site to see interactive maps from the battles. After the war, Prime Minister Ben Gurion dismantled the Palmach, claiming that the existence of the IDF invalidated the need for the Palmach and justifying the dismantlement of all organizations that existed before the foundation of Israel. Critics claimed that Ben Gurion’s ulterior motive was to weaken the the Mapam party (United Labor), the rival party in which many Palmach fighters were members. I find a lot of these early politics quite fascinating!
The museum itself was not a traditional exhibit where they display artifacts from the period as well as information about each historical period. Instead, they incorporate three-dimensional displays, photos and films from the period as well as a film that tells the story about a fictional unit in the Palmach. Throughout the museum, the visitor follows the progression of this Palmach unit from their foundation until the end of the Independence War. It was an educational experience about a period of Israeli history that I know little about.
Then we went to the old city of Jaffa (right next to Tel-Aviv) and walked around for 20 minutes. Jaffa contains both Arabs and Jews (and was once completely Arab) but with gentrification setting in, more Arabs are being forced to move out.
During our brief excursion, I spotted Yair Dalal, a musician whom Eric introduced me to and whom we had seen at the Kennedy Center, strumming his oud for a few guests outside of his Jewish-Arab music school called Almaya.
Well it’s getting late, so I’ll have to tell you more about our Carmel trip later this week. I can’t wait to show you the pictures!