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It’s so Complicated

Today’s blog post was written by Liat Kastner, a Yahel Social Change Fellow living, learning and volunteering for 9 months in Lod, Israel.

I don’t think I have ever been so constantly so deep in thought and conversation as I have been here. On a positive note, I feel unbelievably thankful that I am surrounded by people who want to engage in difficult dialogue, and have patience with me as I work through things in my head. I live and work with people who have different points of view, narratives, and interests, and I live in a city with a weird balance of tension, coexistence, with a rough past, and a thorny but hopeful future.

Because new people, places, and ideas encompass my life now, I find myself thinking things I’ve never even thought about thinking about before. So here is a list of all the things I want to learn.

  • All of the branches of Judaism. Who tilts their hat up? Hat down? Why do some men wear gold robes? Why a sheitl versus a head scarf? Who follows the Mishnah, who doesn’t? What does Mizrahi Judaism look like? Why did the customs of kashrut develop differently in different areas? (Shout out to Jerusalem and the HUC for planting these curious seeds in my head)

  • All the dialects of Arabic! Well actually I'll just start with learning Arabic period. But I am hearing subtle differences in each region I go to, and I wonder how communication changes just from city to city, or region to region.

  • Jewish femininity and feminism. I know this one doesn’t come as a shock to anyone, but I find myself falling into wormholes of thoughts about Judaism and what it means to be a woman. Hanaton was fiercely egalitarian, and women wore kippot and tallises. In Jerusalem the family dynamic was drastically different than what I am used to. How does empowerment manifest in different communities?

  • Druze relationship with Israel and other minorities. When we went to Shfaram, we got a small taste of what Druze life in Israel is like. From what I can understand, their experience stands out from other non-Jewish communities in Israel, and their belief system allows for a drastically different dynamic with the state. I’m intrigued and I want to know more.

  • How to cook Ethiopian food. Holy crap that food is incredible and divine, and I would love to know how it’s all prepared, and the history of the cuisine.

  • The occupation. This one is a bit more somber and controversial than my other curiosities, but I would be remiss to leave out the hard stuff. I hear passionate opinions from all angles, and the more I learn, the more I really internalize how fuzzy and complicated and deep the occupation is. I want to know what my role has been in it, as a diaspora Jew who grew up in a Conservative Zionist community. I want to know the Jewish history of the land, and why some feel compelled to live there. I want to know the policies behind who goes where and how people are treated. I want to know the daily experiences of Palestinians, as well as Jewish settlers. I want to learn not so I can form a definite opinion and be loud about it, but so I can grapple with this for the rest of my life, and be better equipped in the conversation and struggle for peace.

  • And lastly, myself. As time goes by, unbelievably quickly I might add, I feel myself changing and growing. I can sense the growing pains and the beauty in this progress. I always knew this experience would transform me, but I didn’t realize how constant that metamorphosis would occur. And I need to figure out how to get to know myself better as I change. I surely can’t imagine who I will be in July, but just as well I don’t know who I will be tomorrow. It’s exciting and it’s scary.

So that’s an abbreviated version of my laundry list of curiosities. Let me know what you want to learn, and maybe we can start a mini school.

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