Today's blogpost was written by Liat Kastner, a Yahel Social Change fellow living, learning and volunteering for 9-months in the city of Lod.
Lod is a sh*thole, with tons of crime and drugs.
Aren’t there a lot of Arabs in Lod?
I only go to Lod when I need to get to the airport.
Why would you live in Lod?
I prepare myself every time when a friend or relative of mine asks me, “So where do you live?”
I know the answers I am going to get once I say (enthusiastically), “Lod!”
Most of them just don’t know what it’s like, while simultaneously claiming they know exactly what it’s like. And in a way, I don’t blame them. Lod doesn’t have the best PR team, and if I am going to be completely honest, some of their assumptions and impressions aren’t entirely inaccurate. Lod is definitely not the best city in the Land; it does have a lot of drugs and crime; it’s not a beacon of culture and arts. But this city has got a lot of beauty to it, and so I think it’s time for some GOOD LOD HASBARA.
So let’s start.
Lod is the SECOND OLDEST CITY IN THE WORLD. Yes! You read that correctly. Right behind Jericho, Lod is about 8000 years old. The city casually boasts ruins from hundreds of years ago. Old olive oil factories, soap factories, and more, each with a history behind it (which you can read on the signs in front of each ruin).
Lod is one of five major mixed cities in Israel, meaning it has a significant Arab and Jewish population. If you walk the streets of Lod, you will be amazed at the diversity you see and hear. We have observant Ashkenazi Jews, a rich Ethiopian community, Indian Jews (my host family!), Russians, Georgians (many of whom live in our building and cook really good smelling food), young adults just out of college or the army, and a vibrant Palestinian and Arab population. Tel Aviv has great international cuisine and other attractions, but you’re not going to find diversity there like you do here.
Lod’s diversity shapes its activities and geography. In Ramat Eshkol, a largely Arab neighborhood, there is a hopping shuk (flee market) every Tuesday, where one can get fresh fruits, dresses, or odds and ends for the home. You’ll see Jewish vendors next to Arab vendors, and people of all different observance levels.
Just up the road from the lovely shuk, there is the church and monastery of St. George. Outside, it looks like a classic but underwhelming historical building, and inside, it’s like you’re in a European church. The church sports beautiful murals, gold plated candelabras, and a rich history. It is actually said in some traditions that St. George’s is where Christ will slay the Anti-Christ.
Even the monastery highlights Lod’s diversity, because attached to it, there is a huge mosque. The visual of two Abrahamic religions literally touching, nestled in this historical city, is one that you can’t find anywhere else.
Saint George Church and Monastery next to a Mosque in Lod
Lod has one of the best science high schools in the entire country. Honestly, I don’t know much about it, but I know it’s there, and that means we have smart people here.
Lod is also a hub of grassroots organizing and community involvement. Because there is so much potential here, organizations work hard and see results within their communities. The Chicago matnas (community center) is a center where both Jews and Arabs meet for parties and events, and send their kids after school. Community organizing and social improvements are needed no matter where you go, but making an impact here in Lod just has a different feel to it.
On a more personal note, my host family is comprised of the most giving people around. The mother and father of the family made Aliyah from India in the mid-seventies, as young teenagers with no knowledge of Hebrew or Israeli culture. The father trained and became a world-renowned boxer who competed internationally. The mother is the official English translator of the family, and every week, without fail, sends me loving texts wishing me Shabbat Shalom and Shavua Tov.
I work with an incredible woman at Na’am (facebook.com/NaamAWC), a Lod native named Somaia, who is the epitome of kindness and strength. Forced into an abusive marriage at the tender age of 15 and escaping it two years later while pregnant, Somaia now is a board member of a nonprofit, is getting her Bachelor’s in sociology and anthropology, has a husband she loves dearly, and has seven adorable and well-behaved children. During Ramadan, she has opened to her home to friends, Jewish and Muslim alike, and has shown me and her community what perseverance and positivity really look like.
Left to Right: Somaia from Na'am, Hayley M- Yahel Social Change fellow, Liat K- Yahel Social Change fellow
The young adult center has been a hive of activity for the city. Every few Thursdays, you’ll find a lively party on the patio of Hatachana, with live music, dancing, drinking, chatting, and more. Religious, secular, locals, newcomers all come together to party in the heart of the second oldest city in the world. The center also hosts important resources that people would be hard-pressed to find anywhere else. Every Friday evening, there is a partnership minyan, which I love attending. It is traditional and accessible to Orthodox people, but also progressive in that women can lead services and read from the Torah.
Lod has a 24 hour bakery co-owned by a Jew and Arab, and it is never not busy, even at 3 am.
It’s not the first destination on people’s Must See list, and it probably never makes the list at all. But I am telling you guys to put Lod on the list. Sure, go see Jerusalem and Jaffa first. But if you want to see real life, if you want to experience the complexities and complications of coexistence, if you want to delve into the goods and the not-so-goods of Israel, if you want to see history, and history in the making, come to Lod. Find a local business to support. Come to the next film festival here. Try out Friday night services here. Get your fruits and veggies here. Talk to people here.
And once you see that Lod isn’t the sh*thole you thought it was, go spread some more #GoodLodHasbara.