Friday, May 6, 2011

The Fine Line Between Light and Dark

Today was just about the most intense day of Year Course thus far. I know that the experience of Yom Ha'Zikaron (Israeli memorial day) and Yom Ha'Atsmaut (Independence day) will undoubtedly top today's experiences, but I feel as though I got a real taste of it, and in a context that was inadvertently drew parallels to unexpected issues.

We began with a trip to South Tel Aviv. Now, before I explain this aspect of the day, let it be known that this whole week, in my two favorite classes, we've been speaking about Asylum seekers/foreign workers in Israel. In my Zionism course, we briefly examined it from a critical standpoint (critical of the government, that is). In my 'Israeli society through film' course, we watch "Noodle" (strongly recommended), which is an Israeli fictional film about a foreign worker's son. Today, we took a trip to South Tel Aviv where Noodle takes place. South Tel Aviv is an area that is mostly non-citizen foreign works. Many of them are here legally, bound by a contract with their employer. If they lose their job by means of quitting, being fired, layed off, ANYTHING, they are no longer here legally. Thus, many of the foreign workers reside in S. Tel Aviv illegally. Let me tell you, its not pretty. Immigration police raid homes and work places, asking for papers and passports, all of which are in the possession of the employers. Sex trafficking has a strong presence - women will come with the promise of having a job as a masseuse, but end up being forced into prostitution. And to describe the vibe of this area, about a five minute bus ride from wealthy clubs, beaches, bars, parties, vacation homes --in three words - Poverty, poverty, poverty.

We, of course, proceeded to the group discussion of Asylum seekers. The guide, myself, and Alexis explained the story of Refugees from South Sudan, and talked about our experiences working with them, leading to the oh-so-complex-bang-your-head-against-the-wall-because-everyone-is-correct debate of the governments political and financial obligations to its statehood vs the moral obligations on which the state was founded (Judaism, Holocaust Asylum). Where do I stand on that debate? I simply don't know. I thought that after living here for what has been over 8 months I would have my answer, but I don't. All I know is that this is an issue that needs to be dealt with and these are people who suffered our grandparents' fate and deserve rights.

The next part of the day was a part of YC's leadership track, where we learned about Michael Levin, the first American-Israeli lone soldier to die at war. He spent his whole life planning to join the IDF and eventually did. During the one month break that he's entitled to as a lone soldier, he went home. During his trip home, however (2006) the 2nd Lebanon war began, and Michael chose to go back. He rejoined his paratrooper unit a week early, eager to fight for his country that he loved. But he was shot and killed during his invasion in Lebanon. He's famous all over Israel and the Diaspora community for his heroism, determination, and Zionism. Today, we met his Mom and sister at Har Herzl (mt. Herzl), the mountain in which all soldiers lost at battle are entitled to be buried at, with honor. We spent two hours asking questions and speaking to them about their loss.

When I began writing this, I was hoping that I'd find some sort of parallel along the way between the two experiences I had today. Really, there isn't a parallel. They were just two very emotional hands on experiences that I wanted to share, and if you can find one, let me know.

There's something beautiful that happens in Judaism - a transition between negative and positive; somber and excited, painful and celebratory. We see this phenomenon in Judaism all the time - Shabbat into Havdallah, Yom ha'Zikaron into Yom Ha'Atsmaut, Yom Kippur, Peasach, Independence and the War of Independence, its everywhere, this fine line between positive and negative - perhaps to show us that one cannot exist without the other. Would Israel exist without the Holocaust? Would South Sudan be a free nation without suffering a genocide? I guess its the pursuit of balance between the two that we're ultimately striving for in our mission here.

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