Interfaith Dialogue, Darfur

Hey peeps what’s going on? As I had predicted, my blogging has decreased considerably since I’ve taken on a few more activities. But I’m not giving in to laziness and closing this blog. Never!  

This is my final week at Ulpan Etzion. Overall, I’ve had a really good experience. I’m going to miss the friends I’ve made–but that’s what cellphones and email are for, right?

I’ve relearned a lot of grammar that I had forgotten and I’ve become a lot more comfortable in the language–although it’s one thing to talk in a classroom and another thing to try opening my mouth in the ‘hood. My tongue turns to lead as soon as I’m outside of the classroom and try to utter a sentence. 

Some of it has to do with my being more of a visual learner than a verbal learner. I have to think a little bit before I can formulate a coherent sentence in Hebrew. I have less difficulty writing short compositions and reading texts–as long as I have a dictionary–than listening and responding to someone. But I still force myself to speak even if I feel like I’m fumbling in the dark. I do know that I’m doing a lot better than when we had arrived. I have to constantly put myself out there if I’m actually going to get better at this. 

Unfortunately, I think they placed Eric in a class that was too easy and too slow for him, and he ended up being frustrated with the pace. I guess their placement system isn’t completely foolproof. Fortunately, he can pick up a lot of this stuff on his own and he’ll have time to practice even if he’ll be studying at Pardes. Like I said, you just have to put yourself out there.

Learning Hebrew and studying at Pardes are just two of the reasons for me coming here. Here’s another one: Helping to bring an end to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (Yes that’s a very hard nut to crack and my contribution will be pretty miniscule. But hey I am in Israel where I can have a positive impact. You have to start somewhere, right?).

Last week I started an afternoon volunteer gig for an interfaith dialogue organization called ICCI–The Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel. http://www.icci.org.il/. I had gotten connected to the organization through a friend of mine in DC, who had lived in Israel for several years. She provided a slew of contacts and suggestions for which I am very grateful.

Here’s an excerpt from their Web site, which puts it in a nutshell:

“The mission of the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel (ICCI) is, therefore, to harness the teachings and values of the three Abrahamic faiths and transform religion’s role from a force of division and extremism into a source of reconciliation, coexistence, and understanding.  To accomplish this, ICCI works with youth, women, and religious leaders to promote Jewish-Arab coexistence and peace-building projects.

Working for Reconciliation Among Jews, Muslims and Christians

Founded in January 1991, ICCI is now Israel’s best-known and most-respected inter-religious organization. As an umbrella organization, it comprises 75 Christian, Palestinian/Muslim, and Jewish institutions, including Jewish-Arab coexistence organizations, museums, universities, and other inter-religious organizations.  ICCI also serves as the Israel chapter of Religions for Peace (WCRP) and as a member of the International Council of Christians and Jews (ICCJ).”

My official title is Communications and Marketing Intern (woo-hoo I’m an intern again!). I’ll be helping them write up their communications materials like their email newsletters and press releases. I’ll know more about my additional responsibilities as I go along.

They might have me become involved on the Darfur refugee campaign, but that is still up in the air. The issue is especially relevant here because refugees have been escaping from Egypt into Israel and there is a big dilemma about how to handle them, and now Israel is expelling all but 500 of them to Egypt. They’ve basically been shuttled back and forth in Israel from one place to the next and some have been languishing in detention centers. The mayor of Hadera is reportedly responsible for ordering 20 refugees, who were working for an orchard, to be kicked out, and is quoted as saying that Hadera couldn’t serve as Israel’s garbage can. Nice, huh?

We once had a discussion in my class about this issue. Some people in my class argued that it’s not Israel’s problem–that Israel’s got enough problems of its own, why aren’t more countries chipping in.. I think some people fear that if we let some of them in, we’ll open the floodgates and all of these nonJewish people will come pouring in and that would compromise the Jewishness of the Jewish state. 

Let me just say something: What the??? If these people are sent back to Egypt, they could be killed–and some already have been!  Did we learn anything from our own history???  Please tell me this: what does it mean to be a Jew? Is it observance of the Mitzvot? Is it giving Tzedekah? Yes, but I think it’s also about our being a moral beacon (whether we’ve always been one is another issue). Yes other countries should take these people in and the UN should find a feasible and permanent solution to the situation. But we were slaves in Egypt too. We were victims of human rights abuses too. Perhaps you don’t agree, and I’m sure you’ve got very substantial reasons. And I’m sure the issue is more complicated than my brief sketch has laid out. But I think it’s important for me to use this blog to air important issues taking place in Israel–the more controversial the better.

Okay that was a tangent that I totally wasn’t planning on going on. But that’s one of the beauties (or curses) of blogging. Before I started this blog, I didn’t realize I had so much to write about! Now I realize that I have a lot to say 🙂

Eventually I’ll write a little bit more about volunteering at ICCI.  In the meantime, I’m off to dreamland.

RZ

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