May 30, 2018 – Co-Existence

After a couple of intellectually intense and emotionally exhausting days, today began with a well needed and well executed debriefing session, a chance to process our reactions and see that we were not alone in our feelings of confusion, distress, and hope about the issues with which we had been confronted.  And then, onto the bus to begin another day of new experiences. 

We traveled to the city of Lod, about half of an hour South-East of Tel Aviv.  Lod has a long and rich history.  In the Prophets, we learn that the town was founded by the tribe of Benjamin and was a major center of scholarship and trade as early as the 5thcentury BCE.  By the British Mandate period, the city was a major Arab population center, though mostly vacated during the war of Independence.  Today, Lod has become a socio-economically depressed mixed city of Arab-Israeli citizens, and Jewish immigrants from Ethiopia and the former Soviet Union.  It is not a typical tourist stop.

Our mission took us to several locations to learn about the current condition of Arab-Israelis, as well as the efforts for two or more peoples to live side by side, maintaining their particular identities while building relationships with each other. We visited an ORT funded school (thank you ladies), the Arab Science School, which is trying to help close the increasing wealth gap between Arab-Israelis and Jewish-Israelis, especially for women.  And while the current situation is saddening, it seems that there is a concerted effort on the part of the government to address this very difficult problem.  

On the way to our next stop, we saw Churches, the largest mosque in the area, and synagogues, including one belonging to the Indian Jewish community of Cochin.  Diversity is a hallmark of this working class city.  Nearby, we saw a reconstructed fountain that would have provided water for people and animals along the trade route into and out of the city.  We stopped for lunch, and toured the ruins of a 17thcentury Ottoman inn and market.  We also saw the community center called “Chicago,” refurbished from an abandoned building adjacent to the ruins.  

This community center is the result of work being done by Totzeret Haaretz, an organization that provides scholarships for university students who agree to live in Lod, become community builders, and engage in community service programs for two years.  Many of these students become so integrated within their new community that they remain in Lod after graduating the program.  The success of this program in revitalizing Lod has been so great that the Israeli government has partially funded the expansion of Totzeret Haaretzto other cities in the country.  Next year Totzeretwill serve 13 cities with over 1000 student participants, and have accumulated over 250 alumni.  Again, another bright spot in a difficult situation.

Our final stop for the day was back in Tel Aviv, meeting with Rabbi Noa Mazor, who serves a new Reform congregation in Gedera, and Student Rabbi Naomi Efrat, who serves the Reform congregation of Kehilat haLev in Tel Aviv.  Since 2010, the number of Reform communities in Israel has doubled and numbers over 50.  These two young women are shining examples of the vibrancy and energy that will continue to build a strong and uniquely Israeli form of Judaism, which promises to bring a new sense of fulfillment and approach to Judaism to Israel and the world. 

This was another day during which our mission was introduced to distressing challenges, which face Israeli society, and simultaneously bright spots and hope for a better future. 

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